Why do we have part time canals?

March 2017 - Peter Underwood has been looking at a canal which is being blocked at both ends by C&RT's insistence on winter closures.

Few canals have had as much spent on them as the 200 year old Leeds and Liverpool with major urban developments at either end involving millions of pounds in public and private money.

The canal itself has been massively improved in Liverpool and Leeds and is supposed to play a key role in urban regeneration in both cities, although the most spectacular is the £22m creation of a new canal link through Liverpool's Docks which opened to boats in April 2009 and extends from Stanley Dock Lock Flight via Albert Dock to the South Docks.

Yet, despite the fact that boaters are apparently so keen to spend time in Liverpool that C&RT cut the maximum stay from 14 days to seven, the link is closed for almost half the year.

And at the other end of the magnificent Pennine canal access through the iconic Bingley five rise lock flight into the attractive centre of Leeds is only fully available from mid-March till the end of October.

Despite the fact that every boater pays a licence for a full year these major parts of the waterways in the North West are closed for five months out of 12.

Although just 10 boats – less than half the capacity - are able to buy winter moorings in Salthouse Dock in Liverpool they are marooned there from the last passage along the Liverpool link in early November until March 1st when they are escorted out in a special convoy – even though the link itself is not open for bookings for another three weeks or more.

Boaters are missing out on a fascinating stretch of canal in Liverpool which was held up as a prime example of canal restoration and expansion tied in with urban regeneration when it was built.

As the blurb says “This stretch of canal travels along the city’s historic waterfront passing museums, restaurants and galleries making it a great option for a family day out.

“The canal also passes many listed buildings on its route into Liverpool including the photogenic Three Graces.”

Back around the millennium it was part of a series of substantial canal projects including the Huddersfield Narrow, Ribble Link and Rochdale canals.

The Waterways Regeneration Task Force, part of British Waterways took over the South Docks from English Partnerships. The Task Force approached the Liverpool City Council's Liverpool City Vision with the suggestion of linking the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the South Docks by building a new waterway across Pier Head.

Funding for the work came from the North West Regional Development Agency, (50%) with the rest coming from Europe.

The chosen route includes two new locks, open channels, tunnels and culverts. Two new highway bridges were built.

All that public money spent and a massive attraction for boaters created yet it is closed so much of the year.

We asked C&RT's North West office why?

After nearly a week of musing on the question we got a response:

“The Canal & River Trust employs seasonal staff to operate the Liverpool Link during the busiest months of the year (April – October).

“During the winter months there is a much lower demand to access this part of the North West waterway. Stoppages and wintery weather (November – March) inherently prevent boaters from gaining access into or out of Liverpool Docks. “The dock system is closed during high winds.

If there is a demonstrable demand from boaters for access through the Liverpool Link during the winter months we could trial a one-day passage at this time of the year and monitor this going forwards.”

So it seems the combination of not wanting to pay full time staff to operate the link along with excuses about the weather is to blame – and C&RT doesn't think the demand is there.

Certainly the winter mooring numbers indicate that there would still be plenty of moorings in Salthouse Dock for visitors during the winter months and, if the national pattern is followed, those berths would become 14 day stays in the winter months.

The idea of spending Christmas in Liverpool would certainly be attractive to some boaters.
It remains to be seen whether Chantelle Seaborn, NW Waterways manager, will open up the whole length of the Leeds and Liverpool canal to boaters for the full length of their licences.

Photos: (1st) The Liverpool Canal Link passing between the Cruise Ship terminal and the Three Graces building, (2nd) Heading into Liverpool's south docks (Picture Sue Adair), (3rd) Historic vessels in Albert Dock - part of the canal link route, (4th) Historic vessels in Albert Dock - part of the canal link route, (5th) Boats moored on the C&RT moorings in Salthouse Dock (Picture Nigel Homer), (6th) The Leeds end - Bingley five rise locks (picture Dr Neil Clifton), (7th) Looking down the Bingley five rise towards Leeds.

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