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About 5 years ago the prospects of linking the North and South wide beam network in the UK within the next 10 years were looking very encouraging, with several plans proposed. This would have effectively doubled the cruising range of all broad beam barges in the UK. But recently a number of the proposals have hit financial problems, although hope still remains that the Milton Keys to Bedford link will be built following Milton Keynes Council statement to include protection of the new canal route within all new developments.
A few years back, the UK's Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA), whose members include British Waterways and the Environment Agency, issued a report "A Vision for the Strategic Enhancement of Britain's Inland Navigation Network". The report recommends a national network of broad beam navigations, which can be achieved through upgrading some of the existing narrow beam canals, and constructing two new ones. The report indicates that the work needed to accomplish this appears feasible and worthwhile, and includes the following actions: -
Enhancement of the Grand Union Canal Leicester line summit (providing a north-south broad waterway)
Extension of the River Avon navigation from Stratford to the Grand Union Canal at Warwick
A broad-beam bypass for the Grand Union Canal Northampton arm between the GU main line and the River Nene
A new waterway linking the River Nene to the River Witham
A new waterway linking the Grand Union Canal to the River Great Ouse at Bedford
Restoration of the Wey & Arun Canal (between the Thames and the south coast)
Restoration of the Cotswold Canals (between the Thames and the Severn)
Lengthening locks on the Calder & Hebble and Stainforth & Keadby navigations (currently only 57ft 6ins)
The report also recommended that the broad beam network should be facilitated for boats up to 22 m X 4.3 m X 1.4 m x 2.4 m. (72ft x 14ft x 4ft 6ins).
Some of these plans have hit financial and or planning problems, and that it will likely be around 10 years before there is a North - South link in the UK. In the mean time getting a barge between the two networks can be achieved either by truck or around the coast. Truck transport for a 60ft x 12'-6" barge is not that expensive, but a crane at each end will be needed, total cost from around £1000 to £2000 depending on location. The coastal route option can only be achieved on fine weather days and with suitably experienced skipper, with a RCD CAT C barge or better.
Created 7th October 2002 - Last updated 20 December 2009