Chi Riviera?

WHAT a glamorous and glitzy prospect you held out in your headline ‘Boats of the world may sail into city’ (Observer, February 2). Intrepid sailors will negotiate the canal entrance by Chichester Sailing Club, a lock underneath the main road to the Witterings, a ‘moving bridge’ at Donnington, and navigate round Hunston corner and under the footbridge. Not far now.

The stretch immortalised by the artist JMW Turner leads to the next hazard: the A27, or has the Canal Society arranged to divert the bypass north of Chichester (there’s a thought!) – allowing free-flow direct to the sub-Venetian splendour of the Canal Basin with its ‘brand-new shop’, educational hub and offices. Dream on!

Two hundred years ago, when canal engineers built with bricks, stone and mortar, George Obrien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, sank a lot of cash into the Chichester Ship Canal and wished he hadn’t. As a commercial venture it was a disaster, as has been well recorded.

We live in a democracy. Unlike the French, who don’t ask the frogs when they want to drain the swamp, we must ensure all those who live in, work in, or visit the Manhood Peninsula are asked if they think the price is worth paying.

The answer to this question should be informed by the publication of a feasibility study, a five- to ten-year business plan, and a cost/benefit analysis. I will take a punt that the answer will be ‘no’ when, with limited and dwindling financial resources for the foreseeable future, there are so many more important calls on our cash.

The canal now is a pleasant place much enjoyed by fishermen, canoeists, boat-trippers, walkers, joggers and cyclists, a natural lung for an increasingly-polluted city. It also provides occupational therapy for a bunch of people to practise tree-pruning, path-laying and other skills. Unlike their 19th-century predecessors, they shore up banks with timber, scaffolding boards and builder’s rubble, with predictable results. At least we probably know more about voles – and they about us – than we did.

Is it too much to suggest we let nature reclaim the canal, let the habitat recover and the wildlife return, and leave this project, like the Costa Concordia, on one side?

Noel Osborne