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Lord Lieutenant unveils plaque at new Montgomery Canal bridge

Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire Anna Turner unveils the plaque at the opening of  Whitehouse Bridge

THE REINSTATEMENT of Schoolhouse Bridge on the Montgomery Canal was marked on Friday when Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire Anna Turner unveiled a plaque.

The ceremony celebrated the culmination of years of planning and fundraising by local canal charities working together as Restore the Montgomery Canal!

Guests included High Sheriff of Shropshire Brian Welti, Councillor Lezley Picton, leader of Shropshire Council, other councillors and senior officers of the Canal & River Trust, the canal owner.

Also there were a director of Shrewsbury contractors Beaver Bridges, who constructed the new bridge, Mike Wills, national chairman of the Inland Waterways Association, which contributed a sizeable grant from a legacy fund, trustees of The Walker Trust, another donor and Charles Lillis and Sue Turner who launched the bridge appeal in April 2017 when they were High Sheriffs of Shropshire and Powys, respectively

John Dodwell, Montgomery Canal Partnership chairman, noted that the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire is the county representative of the King whom, he said, had taken a keen interest in the Montgomery Canal and was involved in promoting restoration in the Welshpool area as the Prince of Wales.

He also noted that the Marches Forward Partnership had been recently established by Shropshire, Powys, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire councils to focus on cross border projects, of which Montgomery Canal is a classic example.

Shropshire Council had recently supported the canal with a £177,000 grant from the Rural Prosperity Fund for re-watering works.

“I thank the public at large for donating the money we needed to rebuild this bridge – about £1.1m. Special thanks to The Inland Waterways Association for £70,000 from the Tony Harrison Memorial legacy and to all those who made individual donations and continue to do.

“One person donated £10,000 and others have given £5,000. On top of that, we had the enormous help from an anonymous donor who provided many thousands of pounds. We have one person who donates £5,000 a year and another who donates £100 a month.”

He also thanked the Walker Trust, Tarmac Landfill Communities Fund, the Millichope Foundation and the Friends of the Montgomery Canal, who have contributed over £30,000 and the Shropshire Union Canal Society who started the fundraising with £12,000.

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Mr Dodwell praised and thanked volunteers, led by Chris Bushnell, for their work on the project, three adjacent landowners who allowed their fields to be used without charge and the owners of an adjacent cottage for putting up with the disruption.

The original bridge was flattened in the 1950-‘60s and an earth causeway was put across the canal. Montgomery Canal Partnership assembled a team of skilled and experienced volunteers to take on the project which took eight years from start to finish.

Mr Dodwell singled out three volunteers – retired solicitor Michael Limbrey and retired civil engineers Phil Parker, who was the project manager and Roger Bravey, an expert in bridge building – for their key contributions.

“We have only two miles left to restore in Shropshire – where 80% has been completed,” he added. “We need money for the equipment hire and materials used by volunteers. That’s why last year we launched a new public appeal for £250,000.

“I’m pleased to say that – excluding the Rural Prosperity Fund grant – we are more than half way there with the total now being about £130,000.”

Mrs Turner said she would be pleased to report back to the King about the event and thanked Mr Dodwell for galvanising the project team.

“I also want to celebrate everyone that’s here,” she added. “You have done an incredible job. Our future generations are going to benefit from everything you have done.”

Refreshments included beer from a barrel of Navigation Ale donated by Monty’s Brewery of Montgomery who make a donation to restoration from every bottle sold. Porthywaen Silver Band, whose hall has been a base for visiting working groups, entertained guests,

Michael Limbrey, Restore the Montgomery Canal! chairmansaid, “While the new bridge removes the last highway blockage in Shropshire, engineers are working on plans for new bridges in Powys as part of substantial investment under the UK Government Levelling-Up grant.

“Plans for the Welsh section also include new nature reserves to safeguard the canal’s valued flora and fauna to match the reserves in Shropshire. All this is part of a vision of a revived canal which values its built and natural heritage and offers amenity, wellbeing, business and employment opportunities to its local communities and visitors.”

Donations to Restore the Montgomery Canal! can be made online here.