ANNEX V: NOTE BY THE RT HON GERALD KAUFMAN
REPORT ON FALKIRK VISIT
On Monday 23 April I visited the construction site
of the Falkirk Millennium Wheel, the most ambitious element in
the £78 million Millennium Canal Link project, which the
Committee has visited before in other locations. The construction
site is vast, and my visit took some two hours. The Millennium
Link scheme links the Forth and Clyde Canal, which has not been
navigable since the 1960s, and the Union Canal. These at present
are separated by one kilometre laterally and 35 metres vertically.
The Wheel, which will be 35 metres high and will weigh 1,800 tonnes,
will raise and lower craft 35 metres in one movement. It will
be the world's first rotating boatlift. Its components are now
being completed at Ripley, Derbyshire.
I had discussions with British Waterways officials
responsible for the project, including Mr Jim Stirling, the Director
of British Waterways in Scotland, together with representatives
of Visit Scotland (as the Scottish tourist organisation has now
been re-named) and the local authority. I also toured other visitor
attractions in the area.
Falkirk itself has not been afflicted by foot and
mouth, but the vast construction site has disinfection facilities.
Some nearby canal towpaths have been closed to walkers because
of foot and mouth, and are now being re-opened. The Visit Scotland
representative told me that tourist revenues in Scotland had fallen
substantially over the Easter period because of foot and mouth.
The Falkirk Wheel represents one of the major opportunities to
re-establish and increase visitor numbers. Although it is on time
and on budget for completion later this year, it is not planned
to be opened formally until next spring, first so that any teething
problems can be eliminated and secondly to take advantage of the
start of the 2002 tourist season.
The engineering project at the Wheel has included
restoring the largely disused canal structures, building an aqueduct,
burrowing 150 metres through and under the Roman turf Antonine
Wall, and raising a motorway by several feet. The site is also
to include a large visitor centre, architecturally adventurous
and made of glass, which is now nearing completion and will be
able to accommodate 100 visitors at any one time. It will provide
merchandising and refreshment, plus a dramatic close-up view of
the Wheel. Visitors to the Wheel will be able to take a boat ride
along the canal and through the tunnel, finishing at the visitor
centre. Family tickets are likely to cost £20. A quarter
of a million visitors are expected annually. They will have the
opportunity not only of touring the Wheel site but visiting the
Antonine Wall, nearby battlefield sites, and the huge Georgian
mansion Callander Park, set in a large and attractive park.
The project was far larger in size, area and scope
than I had anticipated. Properly exploited, it could be an attraction
that would bring visitors both from the United Kingdom and abroad.