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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 08:18 GMT
Canal age dawns anew in UK
Stream and bridge
Savick Brook, which will form part of the Ribble Link
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Over a century after the building of the last canal in the UK, the country is set to have a new artificial waterway.

The canal, to be dug in Lancashire in north-west England, will link the national waterway network to an existing but isolated stretch of canal.

Costing 6m, it will stretch for six kilometres (3.5 miles), and will involve the construction of nine locks.

And its promoters hope to build more canals in other parts of the UK.

Plans for the new canal, to be known as the Millennium Ribble Link, have been drawn up by the Waterways Trust, which is raising the money to build it.

Too ambitious

The Trust was set up by the operator of the UK's 2,000-mile national canal network, British Waterways, but is now an independent charity.

It says there are several hundred kilometres of neglected canals which it believes could be restored, if the money were available.

Stream in fields
The Link crosses flat and open country
But its chief executive, Roger Hanbury, said: "There isn't the money out there to restore anything like several hundred kilometres. We're looking for the most fundable projects."

Apart from the Ribble Link, the Trust is finding funds for the restoration of the Rochdale canal, a canal across central Scotland, and the Anderton Boat Lift, a device which hoists barges from one level to another.

Mr Hanbury said the canals were thriving, with between 20,000 and 25,000 boats on the British Waterways network and a similar number on the River Thames.

He says the regeneration of urban waterfronts is an integral part of canal restoration, with premises fronting on to waterways now desirable assets.

Mr Hanbury told BBC News Online: "Waterway regeneration has brought life back to places like central Birmingham.

Focus on people

"Ten or fifteen years ago, that used to be a pretty grotty area, but now it's vibrant and safe. That's the formula we want to repeat elsewhere.

"And restoring canals is not just about boats, it's about regenerating communities.

"The boats provide the cabaret on the water. But the real focus is the people on the bank."

The new canal will run from the river Ribble, close to the town of Preston, to link up with the Lancaster canal, which has remained landlocked since it was dug two centuries ago.

Men and digger
Work starts on the new canal (Photo: Mike Poloway)
From 1820, it saw fast packet boats, able to provide an express passenger service from Kendal to the south, and travelling at 16 kilometres (10 miles) an hour.

The northern reaches of the Lancaster canal are now blocked, but the Ribble Link will mean the southern reaches are for the first time connected to the national canal system.

New horizons

The Waterways Trust says that virtually no new canals were dug in the UK after 1860, by which time the railways had established their supremacy.

But it is spending 15m a year on restoration, and is conducting feasibility studies on the reopening of the Droitwich canal in Worcestershire and the Cotswold canal, to link the rivers Thames and Severn.

And it hopes to be able to build another entirely new canal between Milton Keynes and Bedford, linking the Grand Union canal to the river Ouse and the waterways of East Anglia.

Photos courtesy of British Waterways

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See also:

25 Oct 00 | Scotland
Canal plan offers job hopes
27 Jun 00 | UK
Boost for forgotten canals
21 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Canals making a comeback
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