Digital vision unveiled as lift project put on ice

This painting by Alex Riddett shows how the boat lift would have looked during its working life and (below) the lift when it opened in 1900
This painting by Alex Riddett shows how the boat lift would have looked during its working life and (below) the lift when it opened in 1900

Foxton’s Inclined Plane Trust has unveiled plans to create a digital model of its historic boat lift after conceding plans for an £11m restoration are out of reach.

The Trust has been working for years in a bid to rebuild the lift but voted for a new approach at an Extraordinary General Meeting recently after admitting the project would be too expensive.

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Rebuilding costs for the lift are estimated at more than £11m, while health and safety legislation would require annual replacement of the lift’s cables at a cost of £30,000.

Instead, the Trust will focus on bringing the boat lift to life digitally, with a computer generated model, an improved website, and apps for mobile phones and tablets which visitors will be able to download.

Mike Beech, curator of the Foxton Locks Museum, said: “An investment in digital technology will provide the basis for new and exciting presentations as well as an opportunity to interact in real time with an operating digital model.

“This will provide a unique use of current technologies and give a greatly enhanced visitor experience. In the longer term we will look to expand the museum through the recreation of the historic Winding House.”

The boat lift was built in 1900 to speed the flow of traffic through Foxton Locks.

It lifted barges - floating in tanks known as caissons - 70ft up an inclined plane.

But it was mothballed in 1911 and scrapped completely in 1925 as the expanding railway network saw the decline in canal transport.

The Inclined Plane Trust was set up in 1983 with the aim of restoring the lift.

It is a member of the Foxton Locks Partnership, which with the help of a lottery grant has already spent more than £3m clearing the inclined plane and developing the area for visitors.

Trust president David Stephenson said: “The Trust has reluctantly accepted that the complete physical restoration of the boat lift would no longer attainable in the foreseeable future. We have estimated the rebuilding costs would be in excess of £11m and we believe it unlikely that the Heritage Lottery Fund would give financial support to the lift replication project.

“Nevertheless, the Trust remains open to the possibility of full restoration in the longer term should circumstances allow, and would appreciate contact details of sympathetic millionaires!”

Martin Peters, chief executive of LeicesterShire Promotions, which works to develop tourism across the county, said: “Working in partnership with the Trust, their enthusiastic volunteers and others has meant the site is now in a much better state than it was in the 1980s. I look forward to continuing to work with the Trust to maintain Foxton Locks as a cornerstone of tourism in this part of the county.”