Re-embracing Derby’s waterways

PDP_Derby's waterways

Impressed by the Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust’s plans to restore and develop The Derby Canal, Chartered Town Planner Jon Millhouse, of Derby-based Planning and Design Practice, offers a few ideas of his own for re-embracing Derby’s waterways and achieving a waterside renaissance in the city.

“I recently attended a presentation by the Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust in which they outlined their vision to reinstate parts of the old Derby Canal, build a new marina and boat lift at Pride Park, and run a riverboat along the Derwent between Exeter Bridge and Darley Abbey Mills.

I applaud the Trust’s ambition and wish them every success. If their plans become a reality, and the city centre becomes navigable once again by boat, this could be the catalyst for further water-based projects in Derby, allowing the city to re-embrace its waterways in a way it hasn’t done for 100 years, but in a manner suited to the challenges and opportunities of the twenty first century. I outline below some ambitious ideas of my own for the city’s waterways.

1: A Riverbus

A riverbus, of the type which runs along the Thames in Central London, could ferry commuters, shoppers and visitors along the Derwent from the northern to the eastern outskirts to the city centre. Derby lacks a tram system like Nottingham’s but this would provide an unusual and enjoyable alternative. Admittedly, it may not be the quickest way to travel, but personally I would be prepared to add a few minutes to the daily commute to my office in return for as pleasant journey along the Derwent! With major infrastructure works soon to commence on the A38 (and associated traffic disruption likely to follow) and people increasingly looking for more environmentally friendly ways to travel, a riverbus could be an attractive proposition.

2: Re-creating a city centre dock

The Derby canal once terminated in a large dock, in the North Riverside area between the River Derwent and Nottingham Road in the centre of Derby, now occupied by the Darwin Place car park and car lot. Historic maps show wharfs, cranes, foundries and terraced housing surrounding the dock – it must have been a hive of activity in its day.

If the Canal Trusts plans to build a boat lift at Pride Park become a reality, this would allow boats to navigate from the national canal network as far as the weir in front of the Council House. The Darwin Place car park could be transformed into a modern day dock, accessed via a lock on the River Derwent. This could be cross-funded by the development of waterside offices and apartments, creating a mini London docklands in the heart of Derby!

3: Re-opening the Markeaton Brook in Derby

The final kilometre of the Markeaton Brook before it reaches the Derwent, now runs in Victorian-built culverts beneath Sadler Gate Bridge, The Strand, Victoria Street and Albert Street. Re-opening this waterway would breathe new life into these historic streets. Imagine the graceful curve of the Strand terrace facing (and being reflected by) water rather than tarmac. Imagine a waterway running down the centre of Victoria Street, overlooked by landmark buildings such as the Old Central Post Office and the HSBC bank, flanked by cafes and pedestrian walk ways, and crossed by an Amsterdam style arched bridge as its junction with Cornmarket and St. Peter Street.

Such an operation would not be easy, but if Victorian engineers could manage to put an entire water course inside a tunnel, surely it is not beyond our capabilities in the 21st Century to ‘take the lid off’ again. The cost of such infrastructure works would be re-paid in time by an increase in property values and economic activity brought about by an enhancement of the city centre environment.”

Historical map of Derby city centre

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