Canal ‘traffic jam’ at Wigan’s famous flight of locks leaves boat users stranded
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Around a dozen vessels are waiting both above and below the Wigan flight - also known as locks 65 to 85 - of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. They include narrowboats – some of which are used as homes – barges and fibreglass cruisers.
They are stuck because Lock 69 in New Springs, Wigan, has been out of action for around seven weeks for repair work by the Canal & River Trust, the charity which looks after England’s network of canals.
The Wigan flight is one of the most distinctive features of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. There are a total of 23 locks, which were built in 1816 and allow the canal to rise more than 200ft over a distance of two-and-a-half miles.
The structural failure on Lock 69 occurred early in September, resulting in the closure of Wigan lock flight. The problem involved the 'cill', which is the part of a lock on which the gates sit and close against.
A canal volunteer said: "When the original closure notification was released, there was a suggestion of the job taking a couple of weeks, but obviously that didn't happen for various reasons. As is often the case, only when work begins does the full extent of damage appear.
"While some boaters chose to 'sit it out' as it were, waiting for the repair, others will have cruised around until reopening was imminent. Hence the recent influx both above and below the flight.
"A variety of craft use the network including wide boats (barges), narrowboats and the smaller GRP (fibreglass) cruisers.
"The type of boater also varies. There are 'liveaboards' whose boats are their homes, others who use their boats on a more recreational basis, be that cruising throughout the summer months, or even weekend trips. The latter categories often keep their boats on marinas etc over winter. Hence a need for many to get back to base.
"The flight of locks in Wigan is a major part of the trans-Pennine Leeds and Liverpool canal. In its heyday it was something of an equivalent to the M62."
In the most recent update posted on its website, the Canal & River Trust said: "Our teams have completed the final stages of the repair to Lock 69 on the Wigan flight. The cill and apron have been installed and we are now awaiting the cement to cure before replenishing the pound ready for navigation to resume.
"However, we’re extremely sorry to advise that this will take longer than we anticipated, following consultation with our engineers, and the suppliers of the concrete, it has been deemed necessary to delay the opening of Lock 69."
The charity now estimates the flight will re-open on the morning of Tuesday, October 31. As a result, the planned winter works maintenance at locks 68 and 70 has been put back to Monday, November 13, to give any affected customers an extra week to navigate through the flight.