The Maidenhead Waterways project aims to restore and enlarge the neglected town centre channels into an accessible waterway that everyone can enjoy, whether for boating, walking, cycling, fishing or simply interacting with nature. Better yet, this will be in the heart of Maidenhead - "bringing the Thames into town".
It is intended in the longer term that improvements can also be extended south along Bray Cut which takes the water back to the Thames at Bray: this is currently unknown, unmanaged, inaccessible to residents and prone to blockages & flooding.
The waterways come into town from the north, dividing at Town Moor and meeting up again at the weir by Green Lane, forming a kind of "ring". Most of the restoration has taken place on the western arm, York Stream.
Wider map shows how water comes from the north through the town and then flows through Bray Cut back to the Thames.
We hope to make Bray Cut navigable again, along with improved footpaths
The overgrown, dried up and neglected channels were once substantial lakes and rivers. The channels were enlarged in the 1960s for flood defence, a purpose now served by the Jubilee River to the east of the main River Thames. As the waterways fell into disuse, Maidenhead town centre lost its waterside setting, yet the old channels were still there.
Running south from the Thames near Cliveden, the channel divides into York Stream - passing under the historic Chapel Arches - and Moor Cut, which crosses Town Moor. The channels re-join at Green Lane and broaden out before returning to the Thames by Bray Marina.
The project got going as an idea in the mid 2000s and, after proving technical feasibility, secured planning permission in 2012. The project is owned and managed by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, and our charity exists to support and inform that work, supplying data, know-how and volunteer manpower (not necessarily male!).
The project has been extremely complex, involving issues like hydrology, engineering and ecology, the last of these being especially important in creating a green/blue corridor through the regenerating town centre. This will become even more important as the population of the town centre increases, with the new residents mainly living in apartments.
The project has been tackled in stages as funding allows, and most of the work has focused on the York Stream side of the "ring". The original vision - for which planning consent was given - was to restore Moor Cut in a similar way, and to allow boats down Bray Cut to rejoin the Thames.
The opening of the Green Lane weir in March 2020 (just before the first Covid-19 lockdown) marked the culmination of the first part of the restoration, with the water levels raised and stabilised. The weir features boat rollers, and also a fish-pass and an eel-pass, which means that aquatic life can move freely through the town centre - whereas before the channel conditions were highly unstable.
When the project got going, the waterways were in a terrible state: litter-strewn, blocked by self-sown trees, with the alternating flooding and drying-out making a very poor environment for aquatic life. The water flow was also very meagre, with many blockages having developed upstream towards Cookham.
Because of fears about disruption to wildlife in the course of the project, the planning application included specialist Environmental Assessments (1,000+ pages), which concluded that, despite short-term disruption, there would be a net gain in terms of biodiversity, which meant the Environment Agency could support the proposal.
Nature conservation was always on the agenda during the works, to ensure mitigation of the effects on local wildlife - for example, a large scale fish-rescue was organised when Moor Cut was closed off.
So it has been a delight to see the return of swans, coots, mallards and kingfishers. The return of various fish species is evidenced by the number of anglers at the waterside, especially near the weir.
A careful approach has also been adopted for maintenance, following EA guidelines, for example avoiding the nesting season when clearing the feeder channels to the north to maintain the crucial water supply into the town..
Regular maintenance will be required into the future too, to preserve the all-important green/blue corridor through the town, with needs of nature and the growing town centre population requiring a careful balance.
FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions
Who has paid for the waterway restoration?
Early technical feasibility studies were funded by Summerleaze Ltd, a local aggregates company and landowner. The planning consent stage was mostly paid for by RBWM, using developer contributions accumulated under the previous S106 (planning obligations) system.
RBWM has also funded and contracted the first stages of the York Stream arm of the waterway, with Shanly Homes funding and undertaking construction of the final linking Chapel Arches channel.
When will the Moor Cut arm be restored (eastern side of the "ring")?
Restoration of the Moor Cut arm of the waterway is not currently funded, but could form part of future developments proposed for the Reform Road area in the new Borough Local Plan.
The new Green Lane weir (with its fish and eel passes, plus boat rollers) is designed to serve both town centre channels. It will lift the surface water and permanently fill Moor Cut once restored, as it already has for the York Stream arm.
Will boats eventually be able to come up Bray Cut from the Thames?
Yes. Bray Cut was enlarged for flood protection in the 1960s and is still 14-15m wide, but neglected and badly overgrown. Its flood role has since been replaced by the Jubilee River.
No structural works are needed to allow Bray Cut to be opened for through navigation by small craft. Like the upstream and town centre channels, it remains officially part of the River Thames. As such it already has a perpetual right of public navigation.
What kind of boats will we see on the water?
Small open boats (powered and unpowered) with a maximum air draft of 1.4m and water draft of 0.4m will be able to use the section of the waterway already completed. Water draft is currently dictated by high inverts under some road bridges, which will be addressed at a later stage. The new sections of channel are in the meantime designed for and being constructed to support a long term water depth of 1.2m throughout.
Where can I put my canoe/kayak/rowboat into the water?
If you have a light canoe or kayak, the water can be accessed in many places where the banks are low, for example by the library bridge. Heavier craft can be launched by the boat rollers at Green Lane weir.
Isn't the water flow in danger of drying up?
The town centre waterway is fed from the River Thames, via Strand Water and the larger Widbrook channel. Downstream of the new Green Lane weir, Bray Cut continues south to rejoin the Thames by Bray Marina. Like any watercourse, the channels need to be regularly maintained to allow them to flow freely and avoid them becoming blocked over time. Fallen trees and reeds need to be removed or cut back and the channels periodically de-silted.
A low consumption Larinier fish pass has been used for the new Green Lane weir to conserve water and the weir itself will hold water levels up throughout the town centre, even during extended dry periods.
Will we be able to hire boats?
The waterway has a number of locations (e.g. the Library and Chapel Arches) that would make ideal bases for the hire of rowing boats, skiffs or other small craft. A suitably licensed operator would be encouraged, to add more colour and activity to a regenerated town centre and the restored waterway.
Is it okay to swim in the waterways?
The water in the waterway is of similar quality to that of the River Thames which feeds it. Swimming is not prohibited, but cannot be recommended due to the risk of Weil's disease.
Who is responsible for the upkeep of the waterways?
Every section of the waterway has an existing riparian owner (= owns the land next to the water), responsible for basic maintenance - sufficient to allow water to freely pass in accordance with the Land Drainage Acts and other legislation.
Responsibility for additional preventative and reactive maintenance of the waterway, to support navigation and also the standards expected of a public amenity, rests with RBWM. As a volunteer group and registered charity, Friends of Maidenhead Waterways is committed to supporting RBWM in maintaining the restored waterway and continuing to progress the waterway plans - for the benefit of all, who live, work or spend their leisure time in Maidenhead.
Who should I contact if I see a problem on the waterways?
The Environment Agency is the Navigation Authority for the waterway and as such it manages boat licensing and oversees operations. It is also responsible for flood, ecology and pollution issues relating to the waterway.
Damage to structures or public health issues in the water, on the banks or public spaces adjoining the waterways would generally be for RBWM to deal with.
Can I operate my model boat on the water?
All forms of use of the restored waterway are encouraged, provided due consideration is given to the safety of operation, to other waterway users and to adjoining property owners and residents.
Access to private property to launch and operate model (or full scale) boats on the waterway in any form needs to be agreed with the relevant property owner(s).