Linking the Locks
The project is formally known as the Sankey Interlocks Project. This is a joint venture between Halton Borough Council, Warrington Borough Council and SCARS, and aims to restore the canal between Fiddlers Ferry Lock and Spike Island, making it navigable again and encouraging tourism and heritage activities in the area adjacent to the canal. This will make a valuable contribution to safeguarding a very important historical asset for the Boroughs of both Warrington and Halton.
The project aims to provide leisure opportunities that will promote this unique heritage to a diverse audience and there is potential for a visitor centre at either end of the canal length which will provide an opportunity to promote the canal’s heritage and develop sporting and health and well-being activities.
The project is intended to provide educational links with local communities and schools and develop cross generation activities with the canal as the centre of attention. We held an initial consultation event for interested local parties, community organisations and the like at the Catalyst Science Discovery Museum in 2012 and over 40 people attended the event and feedback on the project was certainly positive. Since then further consultation events have taken place at numerous public events in the area under the banner “Linking the Locks” and the results are being analysed but an overview suggests there is much public support for the enhancement of the area.
In a separate exercise, as part of the project, young people were asked to comment on activities they would like to see on the canal. Lots of different activities were suggested, the top five being: to help to restore the canal, cycling, cycle trails and cycle trips, boat building, sailing and canoeing and boat trips. Further consultation events continue to raise awareness of the project and an initial bid for Heritage Lottery funding was lodged in 2013. The bid foundered due to the complexities of the project not being entirely heritage based having also large parts of regeneration and commercial development involved. The Heritage Lottery administrators, nevertheless, did acknowledge the historical basis of the project provided a good case and the door is still open for funding of the heritage aspect of the entire project in the future.
On the ground, work to refurbish and improve the towpath from the Gatewarth Recycling Centre at Sankey Bridges to the Halton Borough boundary at Johnson’s Lane using funding from the Department of Transport and the Mid Mersey Local Sustainable Transport Fund has been completed, while the remaining stretch to Spike Island will be upgraded on completion of the Mersey Gateway bridge construction.
Since looking to the Heritage Lottery for support the team has been working on approaching other funding bodies for support for various smaller projects concerned with the general enhancement of the canal in this area and progress has been made in the the repair of the sea lock gates and cill at Widnes.
An application was also made to the Big Lottery Fund, who deliver the Coastal Community’s Funding on behalf of Government. The Fund is to encourage the economic development of UK coastal communities by giving them support in creating sustainable economic growth and jobs. The bid for funding was a partnership between Warrington and Halton Borough Councils and SCARS. The bid was successful and the £600,000 plus funding amount will complement the £225,000 funding allocated to the project from Warrington Borough Council and the aims of the project were to:
Reinstate Marsh House Bridge with a new lift bridge to provide access to Riverside Trading Estate
Improve signage and branding to support new and existing businesses
Create jobs and apprenticeships, provide training and safe guard existing jobs
Create volunteering opportunities
This project has been delivered at various locations along the canal length and already there have been many beneficiaries, including the businesses that operate along the canal and the wider community. Before the application was submitted, consultation was undertaken with businesses along the canal and with other canal users. 100% of businesses consulted with supported the aims of the project and there has been overwhelming support for the canal’s restoration from other members of the community.
The success of the project so far was heralded at a project celebration at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington at the end of March 2017 when it was able to report that the work on replacing the fixed bridge at Marsh House Lane with a new lifting structure had been completed and tested and now forms a new gateway to the unrestored sections of the canal.
Further successes on the employment generation front were outlined with the creation of 51 apprenticeships, to date, in the project area, 9 non apprentice posts and a further 16 apprentice opportunities created. Over 270 individuals had been supported in capacity building exercises too. On the volunteering side, some 170 volunteer places had been created with six community schemes supported and over 50 volunteers gained recognised qualifications.
Progress is well exceeding expectations with the result that the project life has been extended by another year.
Part of the project was aimed at involving young people, and children from Penketh High School and West Bank Primary School, Widnes have been involved in walks along the canal route with SCARS personnel. These walks, part of the on-going consultation for the project, started at Fiddlers Ferry Tavern where the young people were joined by officers from Halton and Warrington Borough Councils and an independent wildlife expert who highlighted the points of interest along the canal. The walks finished at the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre, where the young people took part in a consultation exercise and had the chance to say what activities they would like to see on the canal and pupils from Penketh High School filmed one of the occasions as part of their media studies. The High School successfully secured £7,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Sharing Heritage programme for a project which explored and promoted the unique heritage of Sankey Canal. Working with SCARS the resulting DVD highlighted the history of the Canal and explained the plans to develop it for the future through the “Linking the Locks” project.
Throughout the project we have been involved in dealings with the Merseylink team who are charged with the construction of the new Mersey Crossing. Here we have examined their proposals for the effects the building of this massive enterprise will bring to the waterway and explored where, if possible, the works will protect and enhance the status of the canal. A crucial period of construction affecting the canal has been the stopping up and subsequent re-watering of the section below the new construction and we continue to monitor the situation there. Another important part of the construction project is the replacement of the fixed Spike Island bridge with a new swing bridge similar to the Carter House renewal a few years back. Merseylink will be constructing this in the very near future and we look forward to watching this progress soon as it will, when the works are completed, open up over 2 miles of navigable water up to the Halton borough boundary.
The "Linking the Locks" Project publishes its own newsletter outlining news updates and advises of forthcoming events. Our members are not automatically included in the mailing list but if you would like to be included for future copies (or be removed from the list) please contact Sara Wilson. Tel: 0151 511 8863 or email:
Last Edited: 20 May17