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Barbara’s Blog




Barbara Panvel advocates a return to commercial narrow boats and canals, for a greener environment and efficient movement of heavy freight. If only British Waterways keeps the system navigable.

In December last year The Stirrer reported the advantages of carrying some freight loads by canal. Barges continue to carry waste from London’s construction sites to recycling sites and work has begun on the first canal lock to be built in London for almost 20 years. It will enable 350-tonne barges carrying between 500 and 1000 tonnes of construction materials to reach the Olympic site.

Freight is also being carried to container terminals which were, at first, reluctant to accept barge distribution systems.

An article in the Times Business Section described a national resurgence in the use of waterways and canals for transport, as manufacturers and retailers look for cheaper ways to move goods, and its Times leader noted:
. . . freight has returned: rising fuel bills, clogged roads, new wharfs and environmental concerns have made it worth moving wine and waste, sand and aggregates by barge . . .

Though central planning and co-ordination has been made more difficult by the privatisation of UK ports and other transport infrastructure, government has issued planning policy guidelines advocating that waterside industrial sites are kept for businesses which will use water freight.

The Department for Transport has published a report accompanied by a set of interactive maps highlighting the key inland waterways suitable for freight. They show the areas where the network of inland waterways has the greatest potential for freight services. Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick noted the role of inland waterways in moving constructional material, agricultural products, waste and liquid bulks, adding:

"We would like to see the market build on this success so that we can reduce the environmental impact of moving goods . . . The benefit if this is reduced carbon emissions and congestion on the roads."

The Commercial Boat Operators Association News reports that Hargreaves barges designed for hauling coal to power stations are now being brought back into service to deliver limestone from the quarry at Cadeby and carry it up the river Don to Doncaster where it will be used to level the site for large residential and industrial development. The managing director of Hargreaves Industrial Services noted that UK companies and government now realise the massive benefits of reduced transport costs and the very low carbon emissions associated with canal traffic.

CBOA News also reports that ALE Piling in Tyseley gave a barge company a contract to move steel piles from Birmingham to Walthamstow earlier this year. Progress was slowed through the Solihull area by silt, sunken tree boughs, supermarket trolleys and bicycles in the water. It is to be hoped that DEFRA - having paid its £305 million fine for inefficiency to the EU – will never again cut the allowance for regular maintenance and de-silting of waterways.

In June, MP Caroline Spelman arranged an exhibition in Parliament of a diagonal lock which enables boats to pass through in a fraction of the time taken in a conventional lock. It was invented by Terry Fogarty, the owner of Fogarty Castings in Acocks Green, who lives on a houseboat at Knowle Locks.

May all concerned continue to advocate good maintenance, strategic planning and innovation, enabling better use of inland waterways, reducing costs, fuel used, emissions, road congestion and pollution.

Any ideas for re-introducing freight to the Birmingham Canal navigations? Discuss on the Stirrer Forum.


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