Comeback for the Canal in 2012


Great Britain has over 2200 miles of canals and inland waterways and following the increase in demand for green energy, the network of canals, dating back to the 18th century, could play a major industrial role. This is because canals are a cleaner way of moving fuel than by road, according to energy group Dalkia.

There are hopes that inland waterways, that are now most commonly occupied by walkers, barge-owners and holidaymakers with over 13 million visitors per year, may finally undergo a rebirth as freight transport routes to meet the needs of power stations run on biomass plants, where electricity is produced from wood and waste byproducts.

A scheme by the energy services company Dalkia that uses the Aire and Calder Navigation canal system in Yorkshire to carry timber for the power industry is being repeated in other parts of the country, according to the Freight Transport Association.

A spokesman for the Freight Transport Association said “It is perhaps not right to call it a renaissance yet but there is huge potential for carrying biomass fuel, civic waste and building materials on the waterways. It can make commercial and environmental sense.”

Green energy has become increasingly important to the UK due to ambitious European Union legislations targeting that 15% of energy will be renewable by 2020.

However, there is uncertainty over the future administration of the canal network as the government has released plans to disband the publicly owned British Waterways and transfer its work to a new Canal and River Trust. British Waterways expects to be wound up by next summer and be relaunched as a charity with a reduced cash grant.

In the past, canals have carried as much as 40 tonnes of freight a year. However, popularity diminished following the widespread adoption of the railway. Last year only 1.5 tonnes of freight were carried on British canals. British Waterways expect this figure to rise over the forthcoming years. The River Thames and the Manchester Ship Canal are already in regular use, however it is the narrow canal system built largely in the 18th century that has fallen out of favour because water vessels are slower than trucks and trains.

British Waterways is currently working with the East Midlands Development Agency and others on a number of pilot schemes to see whether freight can be taken off the road and on to water.

Dalkia, owned by the French companies EDF and Veolia, has just announced plans to move 360,000 tonnes of wood products a year on the Aire and Calder to feed furnaces at a planned new biomass plant in Pollington, south of Leeds. The plant will provide renewable power to light and heat 60,000 homes.

A spokesman for Dalkia said that canals were a “cleaner” way of moving fuel than by road and the company wanted to make the wider £120m biomass scheme as environmentally friendly as possible.

Dalkia has already built 200 biomass facilities across continental Europe, where the wider canals were more obvious method for transporting fuel around.