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Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK


Canals making a comeback

The Forth and Clyde canal: Opening the way from east to west

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

British Waterways, the agency responsible for most of the UK's canals, plans to make almost all of them navigable by 2001.

The agency owns or manages 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of inland waterways in England, Scotland and Wales and says 1,740 miles (2800 km) are already open to navigation.

It says it will restore or re-open 200 miles (320 km) of the rest within the next 18 months.

A golden age

Dr George Greener, chairman of British Waterways: "This could mean thousands of solid, permanent jobs"
Chief executive, Dave Fletcher, said: "Nothing like this has been seen since the 1790s, when investors galloped across the country to snap up shares in new canal schemes.

"Partnerships with local government, developers, private companies and funding bodies have helped us embark on the most ambitious programme of canal restorations ever."

British Waterways' annual report says it has repaired 800 locks and carried out 600 miles (1,000km) of environmental improvements since 1997.

[ image: The Kennet and Avon canal]
The Kennet and Avon canal
It has almost doubled the income it generates itself, from £51m to £100m.

Its plans include the complete restoration by 2001 of canals in southern England, Yorkshire and Scotland.

The Kennet and Avon canal meanders through Berkshire and Wiltshire to link the Thames to Bristol.

It was restored to limited use in 1990, after 40 years' neglect, but structural problems and difficulties with the water supply mean it does not yet carry all the boats it could.

Scaling the heights

The restoration of the Huddersfield narrow canal in Yorkshire and Cheshire is costing £30m.

[ image: Standedge tunnel, three miles beneath the Pennines]
Standedge tunnel, three miles beneath the Pennines
It is Britain's highest canal, and incorporates the three-mile Standedge tunnel, the longest on the entire canal network. The tunnel is also to be re-opened.

The restoration work in Scotland involves re-opening both the Union canal and the Forth and Clyde canal, and building an entirely new section to join them.

The completed scheme, which will be known as the Millennium Link, will mean it is possible to travel inland by water from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

At Falkirk, on the new section, a nine-storey high "Ferris wheel" will be built to transfer boats between the two systems, whose levels will differ by 25 metres.

British Waterways also plans to restore the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire, which transfers boats between the Weaver Navigation and the Trent and Mersey canal.

Last month, British Waterways announced a national consultation on how best to use the canal network.

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New life for old canals

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British Waterways

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Wilts and Berks Canal

Cotswold Canals Trust

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Wey and Arun Canal Trust

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