First new canal for 100 years will link East Anglia to rest of network

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The Independent Online

British Waterways will announce ambitious plans today to build the first new canal for more than 100 years.

British Waterways will announce ambitious plans today to build the first new canal for more than 100 years.

It proposes to construct a 17-mile stretch of canal linking the river Ouse at Bedford to the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes, which will in turn link the whole of East Anglia to the 2,000-mile network.

The new £70m canal will have to cross a number of obstacles including the M1. A spokesman said there were grand plans to build a "truly modern" aqueduct going right over the six-lane motorway, which would become a tourist attraction in its own right.

It will also have to circumvent the 100m-high Brogborough Hill, which could be done by a system of "gondolas" that would move boats up or down between two levels of canal on a giant wheel system.

Eugene Baston, a spokesman for British Waterways, said the new canal would fill an obvious gap in the network and was a natural link to the rest of the system. "It makes a natural cruising link so that boaters and cyclists can go in a circle rather than having to retrace their route in a straight line as well as linking East Anglia to the network.

"This is also good for holidaymakers and will give them new routes, but will also be good for business. The south of the country is much drier than the North-west and canals can be used to transport water rather than laying new pipes across the countryside."

British Waterways has already exploited towpaths by allowing telecoms firms to lay hundreds of miles of fibre-optic cable beneath them.

The project was first proposed in 1810 but abandoned because the £180,000 necessary to build it then could not be found. British Waterways is confident it can raise the £70m now needed and build it within the next eight years.

£1m a week is already being spent on 200 miles of restoration work and tackling a £71m backlog of repairs. As well as its £60m annual government grant it raises more funds by laying cable and transporting water. A pilot scheme transporting rubbish in sealed containers to incinerators is now under way in London.

Mr Baston said: "This canal will create so many jobs and bring many benefits to the area. There will be jobs for the people who build it, there will be marinas and restaurants alongside it and jobs for the companies that run it.

He added: "Canals are really being used imaginatively again and they are a real catalyst for change."

The proposal for the new canal is one of six schemes that will be launched today. Others include the restoration of the Cotswolds canals to link the Thames and Severn rivers and repairs to the northern reaches of the Lancaster Canal.

In the 1800s canals were the main form of freight transport but their decline was inevitable after the expansion of rail and road travel. They were abandoned and fell into disrepair until the 1970s when the leisure industry took off and they were used by holidaymakers.

Now the waterways are being repaired as fast as the original ones were built. The centre of Birmingham, which has more miles of canal than Venice, has been completely regenerated around its canals where a number of luxury flats, restaurants and shops have been built by the water's edge. In London the Paddington Basin is now being redeveloped after it was drained earlier this year.

Mr Baston said: "People love waterways, unlike roads and railways. We don't want to build a pastiche of an 18thcentury waterway. We have dreams of doing something truly modern that will be a tourist attraction in its own right."

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