The sur­pris­ing re­birth of canals

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Retirement -

For read­ers of a cer­tain age, 1968 was quite a mem­o­rable year. Dad’s Army and The More­cambe and Wise Show hit tele­vi­sion screens, Cliff Richard’s an­noy­ingly catchy Con­grat­u­la­tions was run­ner-up in the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test, and po­lit­i­cal protest paral­ysed cities across the world.

At a guess, though, few re­mem­ber the 1968 Trans­port Act. But if you’ve ever ad­mired smart new homes on the banks of a canal in Birm­ing­ham, Lon­don, Manch­ester, Leeds or else­where, the odds are those prop­er­ties owe their ex­is­tence to that law.

It cre­ated a na­tional body – then called Bri­tish Water­ways and more re­cently the Canal and River Trust (CRT) – which recog­nised that de­vel­op­ment could be a way of re­sus­ci­tat­ing canals that had be­come derelict city­cen­tre eye­sores.

“After 1968, canals came to life with homes. Lon­don was first with Lime­house Basin, then City Road, Wen­lock on the Re­gent’s Canal, and more re­cently Padding­ton Basin. Birm­ing­ham, Manch­ester and other cities fol­lowed suit,” ex­plains James Lazarus, head of prop­erty de­vel­op­ment at the CRT, which is charged with bring­ing back to life Bri­tain’s 2,000 miles of water­ways.

The revo­lu­tion is far from over, and Lazarus speaks en­thu­si­as­ti­cally of the next big thing in terms of canal­side liv­ing – a 1,200-home scheme at the Ick­nield Port Loop on Birm­ing­ham Canal nes­tled be­tween the city cen­tre and af­flu­ent Edg­bas­ton.

He wants it to em­u­late the re­cent suc­cess of Gra­nary Wharf in Leeds, which he re­gards as an ex­em­plar in the world of canal ren­o­va­tion. “Some years ago you wouldn’t have gone there after dark, but now it has homes, a ho­tel, restau­rants, bars and peo­ple all liv­ing next to and en­joy­ing the water­side,” he says. “This is how it should be.”

Con­trary to pop­u­lar per­cep­tion, canals are more pop­u­lar now than ever – even if those who ac­tu­ally go on the wa­ter tend to be tourists and river­boat res­i­dents, rather than the freight car­ri­ers for which most water­ways were orig­i­nally dug.

Bri­tain’s canals now host a record 38,000 li­censed boats, a quar­ter des­ig­nated as pri­mary res­i­dences. This num­ber has boomed as the cap­i­tal’s house prices have be­come more out of reach for young peo­ple, with the aver­age house boat cost­ing a frac­tion of a bricks and mor­tar prop­erty.

You can travel by canal as far as Lon­don to Lan­caster, and tow­paths – be-

The planned re­gen­er­a­tion of the canal in Birm­ing­ham, left; a canal­side flat, main, in Maida Vale, £1.9 mil­lion with Knight Frank

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