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Bury Canal Society

Frequently Asked Questions

In these times of ‘false and misleading information’, here are some real facts about the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal and its Society, and what we are doing to restore the canal. Why not join MBBCS today to make a real difference and achieve some practical results?

The Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal

Q: What is the Society’s attitude to rebuilding the canal to Church Wharf in Bolton?

  • One of our aims is to restore the canal into Bolton.
  • But we recognise that any such restoration would be extremely difficult and expensive.
  • First, there are three missing aqueducts at Hall Lane, Fogg’s Colliery and above all at Damside.
  • Second, most of the final length of the canal lies underneath the southbound carriageway of the A666 (St Peter’s Way), and there is no room to restore it alongside that carriageway.
  • Third, the proposed Church Wharf development area is on the other side of the northbound carriageway, and that would require the canal to be reconstructed to pass underneath the A666.
  • When British Waterways announced the restoration of the canal in 2002 they did not envisage restoration going beyond Hall Lane in Little Lever.

Q: What was the Society’s attitude to the sale of Bury Bridges Trading Estate which covers the Bury terminus of the canal?

  • We were not informed in advance of the sale. When we found out (from a third party) we wrote to object most strongly, first to the C&RT Area Manager, and then directly to the Chief Executive Officer of C&RT.
  • However C&RT Estates Division has a policy of selling off land wherever it can, and the sale has gone through.
  • This does not mean that the possibility of restoring the canal terminus has gone. If the new owner were to redevelop the site then Bury Council has a view of this area as Bury’s Western Waterside, and the canal could be reinstated and indeed improved.
  • We have ensured that the line of the canal is protected through the new adjacent Fire & Rescue Service Training Site.

Q: What was The Society’s attitude to the demolition of the workshops at Nob End?

  • The workshops were not original features of the canal; in fact they were built some time in the mid-19th century.
  • We had drawn up plans for restoring the workshops with a visitor centre and café in 1994 at a cost of £¼M. However, the buildings became increasingly unsafe; the walls had virtually no foundations which meant that any work on the walls or roof was impossible, and simply entering the building was dangerous.
  • We tried to get the workshops listed by English Heritage in 2012, without success.
  • We objected most strongly to British Waterways’ plans to demolish the workshops. Sadly the buildings were demolished by them in 2012, though parts of the walls remain.
  • It would be ideal to have a visitor centre and café at Nob End, but it would require a completely new building (it is not possible to build on the old footprint), which would need services (water, electricity, sewage), massive security, planning permission and sufficient parking spaces. To run a centre and café would require a lot of volunteers, hygiene training, and various H&S considerations.
  • At present we have two cabins on site which retain some of the functions of the old workshops.

Q: Why do you not have a trip boat at Nob End?

  • The Society had a trip boat at Radcliffe in the 1990s, and lessons were learnt from that experience about costs, vandalism and staffing which tell us that, at the moment, a trip boat is not a good or viable idea.

Q: What action are you taking about the steam crane?

  • The crane is a Grade II listed structure which means that any work has to be done in agreement with Historic England.
  • Whoever owns any listed structure has the principal responsibility to maintain and repair it. Unfortunately the crane sits on a small triangle of land which is not registered with the Land Registry, so the owner is unknown. There appears to be no easy way to proceed.
  • Simply getting the crane off site for any sort of repair would be an expensive proposition.

Q: What was the Society’s involvement with the Meccano Bridge?

  • This was a complex affair, and we only became involved towards the end of the process.
  • The original idea was that Section 106 money obtained by Bolton at Home should be used for an artwork in Little Lever; they commissioned Liam Curtin to come up with an idea. He first had the idea for a bridge near Top o’ th’ Lodge, but the locals didn’t want it, and the Society suggested that he look at the site of the old wooden horse bridge which had fallen down many years ago, but which was still a public right of way!
  • Liam came up with the idea of scaled-up Meccano, and the whole process of design, engineering and planning took a long time.
  • Eventually the Society was appointed as Principal Sub-Contractor for the building the bridge and the abutments, and we completed this major construction work over the winter of 2012-13.
  • The bottom line is that the Meccano Bridge was designed as a work of art, and as such anyone is entitled to like or dislike it as they please. That’s art for you – and you can’t win with colours! In fact most folk like it.
  • In canal terms it restored a missing bridge at full navigable height and width, and restored a public right of way.
  • As a unique structure it has become the focus of much interest and has raised the profile of the canal both locally, nationally and around the world.

The Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Society

Q: When was the Society formed?

  • In July 1987.
  • Our President, John Fletcher OBE, was a founder member, and two present members of the Society’s Council joined in the first year.
  • We have three new young members who have joined the Council in the last few years with fresh ideas and energy to help achieve our aims.

Q: What are the aims of the Society?

  • To restore, reconstruct, preserve, maintain and improve the canal between Salford, Bolton and Bury.
  • The Society works actively and constructively to achieve these aims, and is not just a protest group.

Q: What has the Society achieved so far?

  • The Society has brought and kept the canal in the public eye, not least by continuous contact with the three local authorities and British Waterways/Canal & River Trust.
  • The Society continues to publicise the canal through its magazine, publications, website, talks, press releases, and its Facebook pages.
  • In practical terms it has run working parties since 1988, mainly concentrating on towpath improvements. The Society is a Partner Group for volunteering with C&RT (this replaced our previous Self-Supervised Status).
  • It helped ensure that Agecroft Road Bridge and Appleyard Bridge were both rebuilt at full navigable height and width; it had a strong input into the design of the restored length at Middlewood, and has more recently concentrated its efforts at Nob End, notably building the Meccano Bridge and excavating the lock chambers.
  • The Society organises Open Meetings throughout the year.
  • The Society has published numerous books about the canal, including four versions of a Towpath Guide (most recently in 2013). 
  • The Society has substantial display and sales stands to promote the Society and the restoration of the canal.
  • A short history of the Society can be seen here.

Q: What does the Society offer its members?

  • Membership helps support the Society financially, and thus helps our campaign for full restoration.
  • Members receive a full-colour quarterly magazine, and they have the right to attend and vote at AGMs and to stand for Council.
  • The Society usually has six Open Meetings each year with canal-related speakers.

Q: What plans does the Society have for restoration?

  • A Restoration Feasibility Study for the summit level from Hall Lane to Bury was undertaken in 2020 by outside consultants, suggesting a cost of just over £6M; the executive summary can be seen in magazine #130.
  • A Vision document was drawn up in 2021 and an early draft was seen in magazine #131.
  • The roles of C&RT and the local authorities will be vital, and we have a Restoration Partnership Group which meets with these bodies several times each year.
  • Discussions are ongoing with the Canal & River Trust, the three local councils and other stakeholders. The Mayor Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham is chairing a series of roundtable metings from 2023, aiming to investigate funding the restoration of the summit level and to see how it can be managed.
  • Restoration will almost certainly go hand in hand with canal-side developments as well as through outside grant funding.
  • Full restoration is likely to be well over £100M. Medium and long-term plans will need to be formulated to spread the cost over several decades, so that our plans for restoration will be realistic.
  • Our Fundraising Manager will help us to secure matched grant funding for specific improvement projects along the canal.

Q: Why does the Society keep almost £80,000 in its accounts?

The Society has healthy finances. A large proportion of the money in our accounts is specifically set aside for ‘restoration’.

When Middlewood was opened in 2008 one of our members generously gave the Society a gift of £42,000, with the condition that it should be used to buy a set of lock gates. When that same member died a few years later she left the Society a bequest in her will of almost £7000.

For many years we showed her gift and bequest as a ‘Restricted Fund’ within the accounts, but this financial distinction was removed in 2016 with the agreement of our accountants.

We later wrote to her executors (a firm of solicitors in Rochdale) to ask them to agree to change the condition to allow the money to be spent on ‘general canal restoration’ rather than just on a set of lock gates. The solicitors agreed to that change. So her money is still morally set aside for restoration, but the only major restoration has been the two Big Digs in 2015-16 which made the locks at Nob End much more visible.

Our restoration funds are kept in a separate Deposit Account which currently stands at £47,000. In terms of current restoration we have offered £5000 towards the repair of the steam crane, and repairs to the bullnose at Nob End will also incur a cost. Other ongoing work includes fencing, pointing and general vegetation clearance.

This leaves the Society with around £30,000 for its other expenditure. As well as routine expenditure such as insurance, legal fees, training, the magazine and postage, we contributed £4000 to the 2022 Restoration Feasibility Study.

And now the legal stuff:

Q: What is the legal status of the Society?

  • It is a Company limited by guarantee with Companies House (No. 3074574).
  • It is a Registered Charity with the Charity Commission (No. 1048407).
  • Both bodies require directors/trustees to be vetted and listed.
  • Annual financial returns have to be made to both bodies.

Q: What documents govern the running of the Society?

  • Two detailed documents were agreed when the Society was incorporated under the Companies Acts in 1995. The Articles of Association and Memorandum of Association total almost 9500 words.

Q: Who runs the Society?

  • It is run by a Council whose members are elected at Annual General Meetings (usually held in October). Any member of the Society may stand for membership of Council. There may be between two and twelve members of Council; in 2021 there were nine members. Each Council member normally retires every three years, but may stand for re-election.
  • Once elected the various roles within Council are decided by agreement; the roles are listed in each quarterly magazine.
  • Each member of Council is simultaneously a Director of the Company and a Trustee of the Charity – a very responsible position.

Q: What financial controls govern the running of the Society?

  • The Society’s accounts are run on a daily basis by the Society’s Treasurer.
  • The accounts are audited annually by an external Senior Statutory Auditor (currently at Harts Chartered Accountants in Macclesfield).
  • Summarised annual financial statements are published in the August edition of the Society’s magazine.
  • The Society’s activities are fully insured.

In short the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Society

  • has precise aims,
  • has achieved a great deal over many years,
  • has an up-to-date restoration strategy,
  • is legally established as a Company and a Charity,
  • is recognised as the official restoration group by the C&RT and by the three local authorities,
  • has detailed legal governing documents,
  • is well and democratically run, and
  • is competently and legally financed and insured.
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