Canal boats stranded after sluice gate fails on the River Avon in Bath

  • Report by Caron Bell

20 boats have been left stranded on the River Avon in Bath after a broken sluice gate caused water levels to drop dramatically.

The incident at Twerton also saw two houseboats sink, leaving two people homeless.

Emergency services were called to Lower Bristol Road at 6.45pm on 15 September after some of the boats tipped over.

The water drained so rapidly that they caught on sandbanks and capsized before they could be moved.

Avon Fire and Rescue Service's swift water rescue team entered the river to check that no one was inside the boats.

It is thought river levels dropped by around 1.8m between 5pm and 6.30pm - witnesses said it was a bit like a plug being pulled out.

James Stewart-Wigley has lost his home and belongings after his houseboat sank in the incident. Credit: ITV West Country

Narrowboat owner James Stewart-Wigley is devastated. He says, "I'm just in pieces. This is my home for me and my two rescue dogs.

"This is everything I own and I was struggling anyway because of lockdown. I haven't had any work and now this.

"It's my home. I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know where to start."

A gofundme page has been set up, you can donate here.

The Environment Agency is aiming to restore the water level as soon as it is safely possible, to try to re-float the boats. 

Engineers had been working on the gate the day it failed. Credit: ITV West Country

This is not the first time that the sluice gate has jammed, allowing water through. A similar failure in October 2019 saw a number of boats stranded as well.

Engineers were carrying out routine repairs on the gate on Tuesday, which might be connected to the problem

Ian Withers from the Environment Agency says, "The gate is a really important asset on this bit of the navigation. Maintenance and repairs are routinely going on.

"Yes, there was some work underway yesterday. And until we've absolutely established the exact cause I'm not going to speculate on what went wrong. Clearly something did.

"We're fully engaged today in trying to establish that."

In the meantime, the houseboat community are trying to salvage what they can.

Ben Pierce (on the left) tries to save what he can from his houseboat. Credit: ITV West Country