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Atelier at Piccadilly Basin

Manchester: Capital of the North's waterways?

Greater Manchester has nearly 200km of rivers and canals running through all ten districts. Every citizen of Greater Manchester lives within twenty minutes of a waterway. Does the coming of the Canal & River Trust open a new chapter in the story of the city with more canals than Venice?

It’s about time. It’s a story with more than 250 years of drama. Ours was the first region in the world to industrialise on an unprecedented scale. Rivers and waterways were at the heart of this. Canals were the dotcoms of their day - extraordinary innovations in financing, and the design of what we now label “critical infrastructure”. There have been many chapters - investment and development - the coming of the railways and competition - closures and decline - nationalisation - campaigning - restoration - and now: charitisation.

In July 2012 British Waterways entered the history books. Our canals became the responsibility of what became - overnight - one of England’s biggest charities - The  Canal and River Trust. The Trust has a ten year contract with government so is no prisoner of  ministers. It inherits the assets and the liabilities. Manchester is a lynchpin of the network - it’s where the chocolate box Cheshire ring and the gritty South Pennine Ring come together. And the Rochdale Canal cuts right through the city centre linking Castlefield with Piccadilly Basin - a dramatic way of experiencing the cityscape from boat or towpath, walking or cycling, liberated from congested city road traffic.

27% of our assets in Manchester and Pennine (the waterway management area that includes GM) are in poor or bad condition This is due to generations of under investment. And there are “challenges” on every front - economic, social and environmental. Whether it’s fear of crime discouraging casual towpath walkers, or the 483 listed structures in Manchester and Pennine, there is a long shopping list to be tackled. And huge opportunities, too, to revive our canals as vibrant , enjoyable places - contributing even more to local communities and visitor  economies: total net spend in the Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow canals alone was estimated at almost £85million in 2010.

One dimension of the new regime is the creation of Waterway Partnerships. On May 13th, at The Lowry, Manchester and Pennine Waterway Partnership launched its first attempt at a manifesto at with 150 participants responding to the call to get involved. It’s all about sustainable development. It’s about economic, social and environmental change we decided. In some locations it’s about conservation, others it’s time for transformation. Everywhere -  it’s about innovation - a new chapter begins.