A leaked report, commissioned by Canal & River Trust (CRT), and seen by AudlemOnLine, proposes the re-purposing the Shropshire Union Canal that runs through Audlem. It suggests that the canal be closed as a through boating route from 01 July 2022. This will allow the creation of a 39 mile linear water park and cycle route from Wolverhampton to Nantwich, the first of such size in the UK. The proposed name of the path is The Wellness Way.
Boaters should not be too concerned, as they will still be able to travel from north to south using the Trent & Mersey Canal through Stoke and Stone.
The report concludes that closing the canal for boating would result in a significant saving in CRT maintenance costs, and allow the communities along the canal to more fully take advantage of the facilities it offers. It highlights the fact that CRT believes that life is better by water, and activities using the canal corridor will improve the wellbeing of individuals and communities.
The report proposes that CRT should work with communities to maximize the use of the linear park, and as Audlem is already a tourist hot-spot, it sees this as a great opportunity to further expand local businesses. Several ideas are already being developed for implementation when the canal becomes boat-free.
Eco – Friendly
The removal of boats will of course make the canal significantly more eco-friendly, with no noise, diesel emissions or solid-fuel fired stoves polluting the village.
Another eco-friendly benefit might be to create hydro-electric power from the lock by-washes. This was idea blocked previously on concerns over effects on boat navigation. This, of course, would no longer be a problem.
The towpath from the bottom lock to the top lock will be widened and tarmac-ed, to make it fully accessible to buggies, mobility scooters and anglers' trolleys, and make it more pleasant to use for cyclists and runners. This will be a major challenge as the towpath in several areas regularly becomes a quagmire due to poor drainage. The problem is so acute at several sites above Bagley Lane that some form of floating pontoon might be needed. An added benefit of the improved path is that it will be possible to install dog poo bins all the way along this stretch, as access will have become easier for emptying them.
The report states that to comply with Health & Safety, all the locks will need to be fenced off, and over time some should be filled in.
New Business Opportunities
The removal of boats means there will be space for new businesses to locate beside the canal: the CRT yard next to the Canal Shop, and the "boaters' facilities" beside the Shroppie Fly will no longer be needed. It is envisaged cycle hire and fishing tackle businesses might be interested in these opportunities.
In the future people may want to experience what it was like to travel Shroppie by boat. A fully immersive virtual reality studio is proposed in Canal Shop, to allow people to experience the canal as it was in the days of noisy smelly boats.
New Water Activities
The canal opposite the Canal Shop lends itself to being developed as a water polo court, with a grandstand view for drinkers at the Shroppie Fly and The Bridge, as well as the residents in Kingbur Place. This ambitious idea will be a first for the UK canal system.
The section of canal below the Shroppie Fly could be developed for pedalos, with water level being reduced for obvious safety reasons.
It is hoped that Overwater Marina will become a residential boating centre, and that they will further increase their green credentials by a total ban on all emissions from moored boats. Indeed, the marina could become a centre for eco-friendly, relatively lost cost, floating homes.
Anglers, who are vitally important users of the canals, will now have exclusive use of the canal between locks as there will be no boats to disturb their peace.
A wildfowl reserve may be created above Bagley Lane, as this is a stretch already popular with swans and ducks.
The canal between the top lock and Adderley locks is planned to become a paddle-board length. The combination of a quiet cutting and an exposed windy embankment will challenge the paddlers' skills.
New Park Rangers
The current canal volunteers will become park rangers, taking a bigger tourist-orientated role than they have now, as they will no longer be constrained by CRT rules.
It is expected Audlem Lass water-taxi and Wheelyboat activities could be expanded to meet the expected increased visitor numbers, although it is recognised that Santa's annual arrival by boat would have to cease.
Section for canoeists
The section of water between Bennett's Bridge and Hack Green locks will become the preserve of canoeists, with the launch site already being readied as part of repairing the canal hole, It is expected that competitive canoeing will take place, as there are currently few opportunities for this on the canal system.
Cycle Time trial Venue
This section of towpath will be resurfaced and widened for use as a cycle time trial venue, cyclists having priority over walkers at all times. Indeed, it is expected that several sections of the Wellness Way path will become fully competitive using Strava for recording times.
The canoe launch facility will also make it possible to re-invent the village raft race, which was so popular several years ago.
The report concluded by stating that the loss of boats on the canal would be a disappointment to some people. However, the overall benefit to local businesses could be enormous, and the physical and mental wellbeing of the local communities would be improved greatly by the change of emphasis of canal use.
Should the project prove to be successful, the report suggests the initiative could be repeated elsewhere in the country.