Dr Altaf Hussain to Martyn Evans, Head of operations South Wales West for NRW.
Dear Mr. Evans,
I have been contacted in recent months by residents of the Neath and Jersey Marine areas worried about water levels in the Tennant Canal. My staff have met on site with them and have walked part of the canal.
This was done in December when water levels were quite high. There was an abundance of wildlife to be seen along the canal including three separate families of swans, numerous ducks, and other waterfowl. They were also made aware of the presence of fish and of otters. At one point, the canal runs alongside a fen which is the habitat of the rare fen raft spider.
I know that you are aware of the issue with regard to the weir and the difficulties now in topping up the canal as the sluice gates at the river Neath at Aberdulais cannot function without the weir which was broken, I understand, several years ago as NRW was installing a fish pass.
I have also seen the letter that you sent to David Rees MS in August when he raised the issue with you. I fear that once the summer arrives we will be back in the same situation as last year now that the pumps are removed and no water is being pumped in from the river.
I have been informed by the Neath and Tennant Canal Trust that NRW is preparing a report on the whole situation which also includes the future of the aqueduct at Aberdulais which has been damaged by storms.
I would be grateful if you could provide me with any update on what’s happening with regard to this report which I understand was expected in October. I would also be grateful if you could send me a copy whenever it is produced.
I appreciate the point being made that the canal is privately owned but it has massive environmental and ecological significance as an important wildlife habitat that must be preserved at all costs. I am hoping that some way can be found to facilitate the repair of the weir so that the sluice gates can again operate as they have done for the best part of 200 years.
The canal also has recreational and tourism potential and part of the towpath is incorporated into the Wales Coastal Path so many people from far and wide enjoy walking along it.
I understand from the owners of the canal that there is no income at the moment since the closure of the Calon Power Station at Baglan which was buying the water and which enabled the owners to cover the costs of running the pumps taking water from the river Neath and also for the abstraction licence. They have given this up because, without income, the costs are prohibitive. Similarly, the pumps have been removed because of the running costs.
Unless the owners can find an alternative source of income, it would appear that the canal’s industrial and commercial use may now be at an end and its future may lie entirely in being a wildlife habitat with a possible longer-term tourism use if canal boats could be run along it.
There were plans to run boats from the Neath canal via the aqueduct onto the Tennant Canal. This scheme seems to be in abeyance at the moment.
I am concerned that the owners, who are not obliged to spend any of their money maintaining water levels, may not be in a position to fund the Flood Consequences Assessment that you are asking for before the weir can be repaired especially if there is no prospect of any income in the future.
We could lose the Tennant Canal by default unless action is taken to ensure that the water levels are topped up as and when necessary so I urge you and NRW to look at ways in which you can assist with this aim by working with local partners, the canal owners and all interested parties to reach a suitable solution to this problem.
I would be most interested in hearing your views on this whole matter.
Altaf Hussain MS