Wigan canal shutdown: No end in sight, Canal Trust reveals

Ongoing water shortages will see the Wigan Flight remain closed for the forseeable future, it has been confirmed.

Friday, 14th September 2018, 11:43 am
Updated Friday, 14th September 2018, 12:52 pm
The start of the Wigan Flight, on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which will be shut for the forseeable future

Reservoirs serving the Leeds and Liverpool Canal are only at 23 per cent capacity, according to the Canal and River Trust (CART).

And this had dropped from 34.9 per cent in July, when restrictions were first imposed on locks in Wigan and the wider network.

Boats have been left in limbo since the end of July, when the ban on movements was first introduced as a water-saving device.

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The prohibition on travel runs for a 55-mile stretch from Wigan to Gargrave, near Skipton.

Gemma Rathbone, a CART spokesman, said: “Unfortuantely we still haven’t had that much rain and the levels in our reservoirs are still low.

“We are not in a position currently to say when the current restrictions will be lifted but we are asking boaters to keep an eye on our website.

“The situation is updated daily but the forecast is for quite dry weather and September is traditionally fairly dry.”

Heatwave weather in May and June saw just 30 per cent of the expected rainfall occurring.

Further restrictions, affecting the Leigh branch and Lock 88 (Pagefield) and Lock 89 (Ell Meadow), have been in place since mid-March and are also likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Lowered water levels have been observed at both Barrowford and Foulridge reservoirs, between Burnley and Pendle, which serve the wider canal network through Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

Members of the Wigan Flight Crew group on Facebook are among the boaters who have been expressing their frustrations with the drought restrictions.

One user, Malcolm Fenner, said: “Not only have we had the hottest summer since 1976 but the idiots who started the fires on the moors meant that the aircraft had to get the water to put the fires out from somewhere.

“That somewhere being the reservoirs.”

Another boater, Sarah Clark, added: “I was planning on taking an excursion through the North West this autumn but it looks like I’m going to have to make alternative arrangements.”

Work has been undertaken along the Wigan Flight, in the meantime, to spruce up existing locks, with sites benefitting from new paint jobs and mechanisms being greased and repaired, with assistance from the Wigan-based Skills Company.

Volunteers were also charged with removing built-up litter and graffiti at various locations.

Canoes were also used to cut back on vegetation and tackle overhanging branches.

But regular users have also been dismayed to find their hard work undone by vandals.

Louts had ripped off fencing at Lock No 68, near New Springs, and dumped it in the water.

Repairs to lockgates have been taken up by the Canal and River Trust (CART) while the Leeds and Liverpool’s shutdown continues.

One future project for CART will be replacing the leaking lock near Britannia Bridge in Wigan.

Several defects were noted when the gates were last inspected in 2016, not least rot and damage to the timber, which had caused “extensive leakage” and could eventually lead to them failing.

The last refurbishment of the timber there is said to have taken place in 1996 and the steel elements are thought to be older.

Plans have been lodged with Wigan Council to replace the composite timber and steel gates with timber-only alternatives, made entirely out of oak,