A vision for a £2.5m community watersports hub aims to get more youngsters on the river as well as producing top athletes like ex-Royal Chester’s Ruth Siddorn, a former Abbey Gate College pupil, who was part of the victorious Oxford squad in the women’s boat race at the weekend.
Plans are being worked up to redevelop Queen’s Park High School’s boathouse in partnership with Royal Chester Rowing Club, British Rowing, British Canoeing, Active Cheshire, Sport England and Cheshire West and Chester Council.
However, Friends of Chester Meadows, which involves local people in managing the important area of nature conservation and recreation, is concerned the brand new development would encroach on to part of the Meadows.
Supporters argue the scheme will deliver health and educational benefits for the community as well as helping to maximise the potential of the Dee as a key asset for the city.
Support for the hub
Ex-Meadows ranger Mike Dix, the council’s senior manager for culture and environment, said: “The concept of a community watersports hub on the Dee has been around for some time and is included in the Chester Waterways Strategy. The River Dee is one of the top rivers in the country for rowing and provides lots of opportunities for other watersports as well.
“We have a steering group made up of local interested parties which is developing the project, but we’re still some way off having a design to share.”
He added: “We held a meeting for residents at the end of February and will continue to keep local people informed and listen to their views as the project develops. Separately, there would be consultation as part of any planning application.
“Car parking will need to be considered as part of the project and this only includes land occupied by the current boathouse and the land immediately next to it. There are no proposals to build anything on the main part of the Meadows.”
Fears for a 'big commercial enterprise'
Friends of the Meadows is against ‘any loss that occurs on Chester’s premier green space’. Chairwoman Rachel Cross is wary about what she fears could become ‘a big commercial enterprise’ in a scheme ‘at least double the footprint’ of the existing site and ‘at least two storeys’ in height, possibly including a social element.
Rachel, who said workmen have already been on site with theodolites ‘sizing up the area for a new car park’, commented: “There are concerns about having a social centre and the associated noise, the impact on the environment, parking, highways and the proposed encroachment on to the Meadows which were given to the people of Chester as recreational space.”
Royal Chester Rowing Club, whose current boathouse is ‘seriously overcrowded’, had already been working on plans relocate to a £1.3m community water sports centre up-river but this proposal is now on hold.