Birmingham cut off by canal closures?

February 2018 - It takes a certain type of genius to block off access to the heart of the canal network from virtually every direction but Canal & River Trust appears to have done exactly that until it decrees the start of the 'boating season' in mid March. Peter Underwood has been checking it out.

Despite the fact that C&RT boasts Birmingham is the 'heart of Britains canal network on signs across the city, the vast majority of boaters are now unable to get in or out of the city – and that will the case until the middle of March.

From the East work at Minworth closes the Birmingham and Fazeley canal until March 16, so no route through to Farmer's Locks and the city centre.

From the south, on the Worcester and Birmingham canal, various locks are closed on the Tardebigge Flight and, in a double whammy, the work to narrow the Edgbaston Tunnel for cyclists and pedestrians to have a wider towpath has hit snags - although C&RT are currently claiming this won't mean extending the closure beyond the March 16 end date.

Access up the Grand Union is also cut off with work on Hatton Flight until March 16 – ruling out the route through Catherine de Barnes.

The New Mainline to the west of the city centre is shut until nearly the end of May for 'extensive waterway wall repairs' and C&RT claims a diversion is available using the Old Main Line although a lock closure on the Wolverhampton flight until early March makes access from the North West pretty impossible.

So that leaves the South West Route from the Staffs and Worcester and up the Stourbridge Canal doesn't it?

Not really – lock 4 on the Stourbridge locks is also shut from mid February to mid March.

It seems like overkill, but the Curley Wurley ( Wyrley & Essington Canal) is also closed until mid March, even if you could get to Wolverhampton.

We asked Canal & river Trust if we are missing anything and if there is some secret back door route into Birmingham it has left open.

It confirmed that the closures mean all realistic routes in and out of the city for boaters are closed for a month. There were brief three day windows on the routes in from Stourbridge and from the Staffs and Worcester but the last of them closed on February 19 and there will be no more access until mid March.

The Trust was also anxious to point out that they had left a route open – even though it is impractical for most boaters, involves using often flooded rivers in winter months and involves additional charges to use another navigation authority's waters.

C&RT suggest that boaters wanting enter or exit Birmingham should get onto the River Severn, transfer to the separately-owned River Avon, and get back onto the canal system at Stratford Upon Avon. From there the boater can take the South Stratford Canal to Kingswood Junction, switch to the Grand Union and enter Birmingham by way of Knowle and Camp Hill.

It blithely ignores the reality that this route is tortuous, potentially dangerous in winter and involves buying a licence to us the River Avon. In other words it is completely useless to boaters travelling from three of the four points of the compass and difficult and expensive for the rest.

According to C&RT the virtual isolation of Birmingham is acceptable and, according to one of its spokespeople: “”I am not saying any of this is perfect but we’re in the main stoppage season and we’ve consulted widely; changed where we can following feedback; and published the dates since August last year.”

So it will be the boaters' fault then, for not telling C&RT it was making a pig's ear of its stoppages?

Photos: (1st) NO ACCESS - Birmingham's Old Turn where three canals meet, (2nd) NO ACCESS - Gas Street Basin, possibly the most iconic moorings in Birmingham, (3rd) The only route into Birmingham - first get onto the River Severn then - against winter flows, travel the River Avon and you can sneak in the back door.

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