CLOSED - until further notice

June 2018 - On the evening of Tuesday 12 June, a culvert collapsed on a 27 mile lock free pound of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Surrounding farmland was flooded together with property resulting in the closure of part of the canal. The collapse follows another culvert collapse just a few days earlier on the Wyrley & Essington Canal which has also resulted in a closure. As boaters are aware, the Marple flight was closed for many months, reopened for a few days but is now closed again and, of course part of the Middlewich Branch is closed due to embankment failure. Allan Richards takes a snapshot of current closures with some surprising findings.

The snapshot was taken by using C&RT's 'Route planning, notices and stoppages webpage' at -

The box on the right of the page was amended such that Navigation Closure Notices (only) would be displayed for all waterways for 13 June 2018 (i.e. 'Date from' and 'Date to' set to 13/06/2018) . A Navigation Closure is defined by C&RT as 'anything that completely closes the navigation to boat traffic'.

Richard Parry and the C&RT team have a Key Performance Indicator for the number of days of unplanned closures to navigation over 48 hours. Last year there were 441 and this financial year the target was 400. With two months still to run the January figures were 458, already well beyond the KPI target, and the current failures mean the Trust is very unlikely to hit target for the current year.

The search produced 13 Navigation closures. However, it was found that the Middlewich Branch closure was duplicated and another closure appears to be an error. So the actual number of closures is a couple less. Lets deal with the closures where end dates are given first.

Lock 31, Horton, Grand Union Canal

This is a short emergency closure to repair leaking lock gates. The canal should be open by the time you read this.

Lock 4, Aston, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal

This seven week closure is to replace the bottom gate and repair the top gate. Additional work will be carried out at the lock to repair the chamber brickwork, repair copings and to improve the lock ladders. C&RT's notice justifies a summer stoppage by saying 'This could not be completed during the winter stoppage programme due to the huge amount of other work that needed to be achieved across the area'.

However, as C&RT has previously stated that it would spend £7m less over last winter than the previous year, one is left wondering if that statement is true.

An alternative explanation is that Lock 4 was deferred due to arising defects taking precedence and C&RT not wanting to go over planned maintenance budget in its 2017/18 financial year.

The stoppage will last until 20 July with C&RT keen to point out that alternative routes are available.

Teeces Bridge (Stoney Lane Little Bloxwich) Wyrley & Essington Canal

This is an emergency closure due to a culvert collapse on 2 June. The waterway will not reopen until 6 July. C&RT point out that the Northern and Southern sections of the canal are still open and that responsibility for repair lies with Seven Trent.

Now lets deal with the error -

Shropshire Union canal, between Lock 13 Tilstone Lock and Bridge 105, Bunbury Lock Bridge

C&RT says 'Due to a problem with the lock the canal is closed between Lock 13 Tilstone Lock and Bridge 105, Bunbury Lock Bridge. We will be able to provide a further update when our teams have carried out investigations'.

It claims the Navigation closure started on 28 October 2017 and was not lifted until midday 13 June 2018.

Other sources suggest that a minor embankment collapse or silt build up took place but the canal reopened within a day or two with a navigation restriction which has now been lifted.

Possibly an error?

... and now on to the numerous navigation closures where C&RT is unable or unwilling to give a reopening date.

Anderton Boat Lift

Closed in 1983 due to corrosion but restored and brought back into operation in 2002, the Anderton Boat Lift has been plagued by operational problems ever since. The latest on 12 June caused a backlog of pre-booked boats and at the time of writing has only been partly rectified.

The notice confusingly states that the lift is closed 'until further notice' but also that it is operating on one caisson only ...

Bridge 10 (Holmes Swing Bridge) to Stanley Lock Flight / Eldonian Village - Leeds & Liverpool Canal

This latest closure was caused by a culvert collapse. Newspaper reports suggest that C&RT had been made aware of a leakage problem prior to the incident.

Marsh Lock, Weaver Navigation/Manchester Ship Canal

Closed 'until further notice' from 2 June due to damaged lock gates (a boat strike). C&RT say that repair 'will be a long process' and give no estimate of a reopening date.

Drained of water for the first time in almost 50 years, Marsh Lock was repaired in the winter of 2016/17 at a cost of £500,000 with C&RT saying - 'Once finished the lock will be back in use and easier to operate for many years to come'. Less than 18 months later, it is out of operation 'until further notice'.

Lock 11 Peak Forest Canal, Marple

The story of the Marple flights long closure followed by its reopening and, a few days later, closure again reads like a Monty Python sketch.

The latest update to the notice states -

As a short-term measure we have successfully moved back the tow path side copings which were causing some of the pinch-points in the lock and we are currently considering how we can address the movement which has occurred lower down in the chamber wall. Our immediate aim is to provide a short-term solution which will provide sufficient clearance to enable all boats with a beam of up to 6’ 10” to safely navigate through the lock.

One option that we are investigating is the possibility of jacking the walls back to provide more clearance and if this proves a feasible option, we will aim to do this as quickly as possible however, we realise that this will not be satisfactory solution in the long-term and so we are currently also undertaking further analysis and design to enable a more permanent repair to be developed.

Having undertaken further investigations we are now in a position to allow supervised passage through Lock 11 (Permitting specific width requirements). There will be no width restriction for boats up to and including 45ft (13.75m) long, boats that are over 45ft long must have a beam of 6”9 or less should be able to navigate through the lock. The lock will be opened and supervised on a daily basis between 9 - 10 in the morning and 3 – 4 in the afternoon. (Subject to change at short notice)'

However, boaters are reporting that no boat over 45' is being allowed to pass through the lock (C&RT have subsequently confirmed that the restriction has been changed with no boat over 45' being allowed through).

The notice says Lock 11 (Brick Row Lock) is closed 'until further notice'. In fact, it says it twice as the notice is duplicated.

Stanthorne Lock to Wardle Lock

This is, of course, the Middlewich Branch breach. C&RT appears to have lost interest in updating this notice. Whilst it says 'Further updates and information to follow once our engineers have had the opportunity to fully assess the situation', the notice has not been updated for almost three months. One suspects that C&RT have got a bit further than carrying out a fish rescue and putting a portadam in place to refloat stranded boats ...

The appeal for this breach has about three weeks to run. At the time of writing it has raised £24,368, about 1% of the estimated £2-3 million cost of repair.

Three Mills Lock

Three Mills Lock, otherwise known as Prescott Lock (and sometimes the White Elephant for reasons to be explained) was built to provide access to London's Olympic Park site. It was promoted as a green way to move two million tons of building and waste material to and from the site during construction using 350 ton barges. A cost overrun meant that construction cost was £23.8m, some £2.3m higher than expected with claims being made against BW by the builder for the difference. Another claim against BW was made by Transport for London, who had provided the funds for building after it was found that only 600 tons (less than two barge loads) had ever been carried!

It is not known if these claims were successful. The current situation is that the lock, as with the Olympic Park waterways, is rarely used. A White Elephant!

The closure notice originally stated 'Three Mills Lock will be closed to navigation on the following dates,16th-20th October. This is for core contract AMCO inspection and minor repairs to the gates an seals. Also, this will give us the opportunity to relocate the stop planks from Studio land onto the island-on a free standing rack.'

For those wondering what AMCO is, it is the company that was awarded a seven year, £3.5m p.a. Mechanical, Electrical, Instrumentation, Control and Automation (MEICA) contract by C&RT in April 2017.

However, the reopening date was extended from 20 October until 27 October and then 1 January 2018. C&RT then seemed to think that the lock would reopen earlier and stated 30 November 2017. This was subsequently changed to 22 January 2018 and then 22 February.

22 February came and went without the White Elephant reopening. Two months later C&RT announced that Three Mills Lock was 'closed until further notice' requiring 'extensive works'.

Manchester, Bury & Bolton Canal (Middlewood Locks)

Closed on 30 July 2017 to facilitate the demolition of the two footbridges and installation of a surface water diversion under agreement with Network Rail, delays outside C&RT's control has meant Middlewood Locks remaining closed for almost a year.

Another 'closed until further notice' .

Stainton Aqueduct - Lancaster Canal

... and finally the Grade II Stainton Aqueduct, whose arch was broken in December 2015 by Storm Desmond. Whilst £250,000 of stabilisation work was carried out in 2016, the last update to the notice was in January 2017, some 17 months ago. Peculiarly, the notice provides a link to another document - Storm Desmond-related damage to Grade ll Stainton Aqueduct

The last announcement from C&RT regarding the aqueduct was in August 2017. It stated that C&RT had secured initial funding (£41,000) from Heritage Lottery Fund to develop plans to for a £1.5m bid to reopen the aqueduct. Since then silence ...

However, according to minutes of Stainton Parish (26 March 2018), it was reported that the bid had been successful and that work would start in June, finishing at the end of October.

This somewhat negated by a report in Canal Boat (May 2018). Canal Boat say a planning application for repairs has been approved but C&RT is still working on raising the £1.5m funding. It quotes C&RT's Stephen Higham as saying planning approval is a 'welcome step' as the Trust can now show potential funding partners a 'comprehensive and fully approved programme' of restoration.

After two and a half years, Stainton Aqueduct on a navigable part of the disconnected Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal, remains closed and partially dewatered.

What is surprising is the high number of 'Navigation Closures' due to infrastructure failure. What is even more surprising is proportion of high use canals where a 'Navigation Closure' is 'until further notice'.

Photos: (1st) CRT stoppage notices, (2nd) Lock 4, Aston, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, (3rd) Teeces Bridge (Stoney Lane Little Bloxwich) Wyrley & Essington Canal, (4th) Anderton Boat Lift, (5th) Homes flooded by the Leeds and Liverpool breach, (6th) Marsh Lock, Weaver Navigation/Manchester Ship Canal, (7th) Lock 11 Peak Forest Canal, Marple, (8th) The Middlewich Branch breach, (9th) Three Mills Lock, (10th) Middlewood Locks, (11th) Stainton Aqueduct.

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