'We want to encourage people to visit March' - river revamp could boost tourism and clean up Fens waterways
PUBLISHED: 11:28 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:25 17 September 2019
Overgrown river banks, litter and unlicensed boats will be the focus of a major revamp of Fenland waterways to boost tourism in March.
Council bosses joined officials from Middle Level Commissioners (MLC) on a narrowboat tour of the town yesterday (September 16).
Overhanging willow trees and dilapidated moorings were shown, alongside bottles, crisp packets - and even disposable barbecues - left in murky water.
But the potential of the river was also brought into the spotlight, with ideas for more scenic day trips, picnic areas for families and discovering the history of the town.
Mayor of March Cllr Rob Skoulding said: "This is a beautiful area and the main artery to the town, so we want to encourage people to stop and spend time here.
"We need to get the willows trimmed back and get it to look a bit more presentable.
"We are hoping that we can get some volunteers to help with this and Middle Level is doing a good job in assisting us too.
"At the minute the problem is that we've got youngsters throwing bottles and rubbish because it is so overgrown."
New bylaws set to improve maintenance of more than 120 miles of waterways between the Rivers Nene and Great Ouse are also set to come into force next year.
It will mean that river users will have to get their boats registered, insured and safety checked.
David Thomas, chief executive of MLC, said: "The river is an unexploited resource.
"When our bylaws come into force it will mean boat users will be charged for the first time using Middle Level waters.
"More importantly it will require boats to be insured and have a safety certificate.
"There will be better facilities too, so it will springboard opportunities to create great tourism in the area."
Dredging of the river, which removes silt and other debris from the bottom, could also be an option in the future - but would come at a hefty price.
Mr Thomas continued: "Dredging is something that is on our radar but it could cost in excess of £100,000 through March.
"Cutter-suction dredging could be a better solution as it would pump out silt instead, but at the moment we are just concentrating on the short-term opportunities."
Cllr Gary Tustin, who represents the March East ward as well as hosting the annual summer festival, said that the river banks needed to be cleared to encourage families to visit.
"People wouldn't just be lobbing stuff into the river if it was all properly cleaned up and families could get there to sit and enjoy a picnic," he added.
"But at the minute they don't want to do that because they would just be sitting besides a mucky river.
"I think it is not properly utilised and despite it running through the centre of town I don't think people want to claim ownership of it.
"We need to spruce up the unused river gardens and clear the brambles and bushes."
The MLC are currently working alongside Fenland District Council and local businesses, such as rental operator Fox Narrowboats, to get the river up to scratch before the new bylaws come into force around September 2020.
It will still be the responsibility of FDC for enforcing the moorings management scheme, but the new powers will make the process more "effective".
Earlier this year boat owners were warned that they would be fined for overstaying on moorings in March and Whittlesey.
Access to the River Nene moorings is free of charge for 36 hours, but FDC revealed that in 2018 several boats overstayed the restrictions in March for a "considerable length of time".
Fox Narrowboats added: "We need to make sure that more regulation is in place to give people the chance to come through and moor here.
"March is a major link and this could be a focal point of the Fens."