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Posts Tagged ‘canals’

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Photo: John Sturrock
“A modern mania for canal developments is reshaping cities by offering oases of calm in fast-moving town centres,” says the
Guardian.

When our kids were small, the Barge Canal (otherwise known as the Erie Canal) was as familiar to them as their friends’ backyard, as the elementary school, as the Hicks and McCarthy luncheonette. It ran right through town. I remember taking a canal-boat ride up and down (vertically) through the locks with a visiting grandmother and a picnic lunch.

In today’s story, John Vidal writes at the Guardian about a new focus on canals in England.

“Every second Monday of the month, a small group of volunteers meets in the training room of a Birmingham supermarket. They discuss what has long seemed to many of their friends a crazy and probably doomed idea: how to excavate a contaminated 40-year-old waste dump, create an urban marina, restore three miles of derelict canal and build several new bridges and locks.

“Last month, however, the meeting of the 18-strong Lapal Canal Trust committee was joyous. After 20 years of trying to restore this short stretch of the 200-year-old Dudley No 2 canal, permission had finally been granted, they were told.

“What’s more, a feasibility study showed that the plan – which would link the suburbs of California and Selly Oak by water – could be a catalyst for nothing short of the economic and ecological renaissance of a large area of south Birmingham.

“The new canal will generate jobs but also provide space for new houses, as well as pollution-free walking, boating and cycling routes. The marina for 60-100 boats will stimulate businesses and bring in tourists. The wildlife corridor created along the canal will attract herons, otters, fish and waterfowl. And although the whole project will cost about £5m, the study said it would pay for itself in six years.

“ ‘It will improve life in the city. It will complete an old canal loop around the city – we owe it to the future to restore it. … No one is objecting and we have nearly raised the first £250,000 – enough to start work,’ says the Lapal trust CEO, Hugh Humphreys.The Lapal plan is one of at least 80 canal renaissance projects currently making British towns and cities suitable for populations seeking tranquility, leisure space and new ways to move around. …

“It’s not just happening in Britain. … But few countries have as many urban canals as the UK, a legacy of British industrial might – and now a golden opportunity for transformation. Some, such as the Aldcliffe yard development in Lancaster, will see just a few expensive houses built on old industrial canal works; but many seek to create large new ‘liveable’ urban communities in what were some of the Britain’s polluted places, such as Wolverhampton, Leeds, Manchester, Lancaster, Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham. …

“Three things unexpectedly changed everything. A postwar infant canal leisure industry emerged; dozens of passionate heritage charities like the Lapal trust voluntarily restored many of the old waterways; and water proved to be the vital ingredient to kickstart a new, property-based canal mania.

“ ‘The restoration of the canals in the 1950s and 60s was thanks to a remarkable act of defiance by unpaid volunteers against the authorities,’ says canal historian Mike Clarke.

“ ‘Volunteers were vital. It’s unlikely there would be many canals today without them. The government, many influential people, and the British Waterways board, were all happy to see the majority filled in. … They told the government, “if you want to complain, take us to court.” …

” ‘They formed isolated stretches of peaceful country within the urban environment. Planners eventually saw them as an asset, and government at last understood their potential for leisure.’ …

” ‘The job is only half done in Britain,’ says Alison Smedley, policy officer of the Inland Waterways Association. ‘The restoration of Britain’s canal system is in full flow but there is so much left to do. … There are still about 1,800 miles left to be restored, although many [canals] have been filled in and are unlikely ever to be reclaimed,’ she says. …

“Canal and River Trust (CRT), the government-part-funded charity set up in 2012 to take over and manage the 2,000 miles of state-owned canal formerly run by British Waterways, [calculates] that about 10 million people a year visit the canals to fish, walk, cycle, observe wildlife or go boating. …

“In addition, canals have become a real alternative for people unable or unwilling to buy city property. .. Ten years ago 10% of the boats on British waterways were used as primary residences. It is now 26%, says the CRT. …

“ ‘Almost unnoticed, the canals have become important sanctuaries for urban and rural wildlife,’ says Simon Atkinson, head of conservation at the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust. … Otters, water voles, kingfishers, ducks, herons, fish, dragon- and damsel flies, even rabbits, are seen on the 100-odd miles of Birmingham canals, some of which are classed as local nature reserves. …

“ ‘If development is done well, it can enhance nature. The canals have never been more important, but it could go the other way. There is a real opportunity for high quality inner-city development and nature to flourish together.’ ”

For me as a lover of Dickens (the novels, not the man), I can’t think of English canals without thinking of the dark spirit of Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. In fact, maybe I’m ready to read that one again.

Learn more about the benefits and challenges of canal popularity here.

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