VOTE: Is the canal trust’s new visitor centre a welcome addition to Loxwood?

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The Wey and Arun Canal Trust’s new visitor centre has been officially opened, with no sign of the protests which greeted the granting of planning permission in June last year.

Trust chairman Sally Schupke said she believed most objectors had come round to the view that the building, situated at the canalside in Loxwood, was not the eyesore they feared.

More than 150 people had signed a petition against plans for the visitor centre.

They feared it would bring more traffic congestion to that part of the village and they labelled its contemporary design completely out of keeping with the neighbouring Grade II listed Onslow Arms pub.

But after the opening ceremony on Sunday, Mrs Schupke told the Observer: “Most people love it.

“They did not realise it would be like this.

“But now it is completed and landscaped, it does look splendid.

“I have not heard anything from the objectors.”

More than 200 trust supporters and guests watched as Mike Coleman, chairman of West Sussex County Council, cut the red ribbon and saluted the exceptional work by all the volunteers involved in the project to restore the waterway.

Mrs Schupke told the gathering the history of the canal centre went back a long way.

It had started with the trust planning a wooden ticket office in the car park, and then moved on to considering a log cabin.

A ‘fortunate’ meeting with generous sponsors led to more ambitious thoughts and the new building was the result.

She said the trust was an environmentally aware group and had wanted a very ‘green’ building, constructed from sustainably-sourced materials and with exceptionally-low energy requirements.

The new centre is a far cry from the trust’s first building: a corrugated iron lean-to, known as ‘the black shed’, behind the Onslow Arms.

It was used as the publicity centre for the canal but in latter years proved inadequate to cope with the growing numbers of visitors.

In 2011, 10,000 passengers took trips along the restored section of the waterway aboard the trust’s boats, and many other people visit to walk along the peaceful canalside paths.

The new centre was constructed by Sussex company Fordingbridge.

The company also gave sponsorship towards the building project and there were generous private donations, Mrs Schupke said.

The canal centre is open every weekend until the autumn.

See the trust’s website www.weyandarun.co.uk for further information about the organisation and its events.