Published: 15:30, 06 September 2017
The new and improved East Farleigh Lock was officially reopened on Saturday.
Residents and officials turned out for the ceremony marking the end of the delayed 10-month £3.6 million project.
The first boats were able to use the key access on Friday July 21 and should be able to continue to do so for the next 100 years, according to the Environment Agency (EA), who commissioned the works..
The opening of the new lock coincided with the annual Court of Survey Cruise led by the town's mayor Cllr Malcolm Greer.
The procession, organised by Hamstead and Yalding Cruising Club (HYCC) was greeted by the Maidstone Sea Cadets and Mark Smurthwaite, commodore of HYCC and chairman of the Medway River Users Association.
The practice dates back to 1559, when Queen Elizabeth I granted the town, then a tidal fishing port, the right to inspect the waterway.
In 1619 King James I extended these privileges to cover the keeping swans and cygnets, meaning Maidstone is the only borough in England where the swans belong to the mayor rather than the monarch.
The practice, called swan upping, was revived in 1975.
The lock is the second boaters arrive at if visiting from the tidal river and heading upstream.
The project has gone through choppy waters after a major structural fault was discovered with a section of wall behind the left-hand lock gate, setting the project back almost three months while a large section of wall was demolished and rebuilt.
New features at the lock include improved mooring systems, new access steps, and new rubbing timbers and fendering to reduce the risk of damage to visiting vessels.
Wildlife will also benefit. A new fish pass has been installed alongside the weir, providing climbable slopes for fish wanting to travel upstream, meaning freshwater fish, such as barbel, roach, perch, dace, chub and pike, will be able to pass the site freely.
Julie Foley, area manager at the EA, said: "With a newly refurbished lock and weir we will be able to continue to maintain the upstream water levels for boaters, anglers, cyclists and walkers to enjoy, and the lock is essential for a number of commercial river operators.
"It’s great for the river that 9 of the 10 locks on the River Medway now have fish passes in place.
"Allowing free movement of fish will ensure that it becomes a healthier river than it has been in at least the last 250 years, offering better access to spawning grounds for fish."
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