IWA South Wales Branch

22 February 2024

IWA has sharply criticised a lazy proposal by Government body Natural Resources Wales (NRW) that says it is considering demolishing Aberdulais Aqueduct, which carries the Tennant Canal over the River Neath. 

In a low-key consultation quietly issued by the Welsh Government quango, NRW lists five options for spending millions of pounds to reduce the flood risk for 27 properties alongside the river Neath, which have a long history of flooding.  Two of the options, believed to be favoured by NRW, involve complete or partial demolition of Aberdulais Aqueduct, which would forever frustrate restoration proposals to bring the Neath and Tennant canals back to life as well as impacting the wellbeing, environmental and heritage benefits provided by the Canal.

The Aberdulais Aqueduct is a Scheduled Ancient Monument that spans the River Neath immediately south of the A465 in Aberdulais. The structure is located approximately two miles north-east of Neath.  It consists of a 104-metre-long structure comprising ten arches of overall length 66 metres bridging over the River Neath and a retained section extending a further 28 metres on the east bank of the River.  The aqueduct is of masonry construction and the condition of the structure has deteriorated significantly over the years since navigation ceased nearly a hundred years ago.  The Aqueduct historically formed a navigable link between the Tennant and Neath Canals and was constructed to also cross over an old 1750s navigable cut on the eastern side of the river.  Construction of the aqueduct began in 1823, and it was formally opened in May 1824.

The aqueduct lies about 80 metres to the south of the confluence between the River Dulais and the River Neath. Just south of the confluence of the rivers a weir is located from which water is abstracted to supply the Tennant Canal.  This weir has failed, and Natural Resources Wales has proved uncooperative in approving its repair, leading to the Tennant Canal being nearly dry in recent years, with damage to the environment and loss of wildlife from the Canal.

In times of flooding, the Aberdulais Aqueduct is perceived as an obstruction to the flow of the river.  Flooding of the adjacent land and properties has occurred on several occasions.  The properties in Canal Side have a long history of flooding, with damaging events in December 1979 and October 1998.  In recent years, climate change has worsened the situation and floods have become more regular, with damage to the aqueduct.  A structural inspection report commissioned by IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group in December 2021 showed that urgent works were required to prevent further damage to the Ancient Monument, but nothing has been done so far.  In its consultation, Natural Resources Wales admits that demolition of the aqueduct would have relatively little impact in reducing floods, but the local view is that NRW would like to demolish the aqueduct so it can be seen to be doing something.

IWA Deputy Chair Sue O’Hare said “Whilst the Inland Waterways Association has every sympathy with the residents of Canal Side, demolishing one of Wales’s renowned historic structures would be nothing short of bureaucratic vandalism while not achieving the aim of significantly reducing the flood risk.  Over the years a great deal of voluntary effort and public money has gone into bringing the Neath Canal back to life for the benefit of the community.  IWA calls upon the owners of the Neath and Tennant Canals  (St Modwen and Port Tennant Canal Company), Neath Port Talbot Council and the government agencies concerned to work together to rescue this precious piece of heritage and amenity for the benefit of future Welsh generations.

National Resources Wales’s consultation, which closes on 26th February is at  The consultation conveniently omits any mention that the Aqueduct is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, or any historical background or its purpose.  Rather, it just suggests demolition as if the Aqueduct were just some pile of inconveniently discarded rubble.  The consultation does admit, however, that even if the aqueduct were to be demolished, that it would “unlikely to be able to remove the flood risk to the Aberdulais community entirely”.  Alternative, albeit possibly more expensive, measures of making properties more flood-resilient, appear not to have been considered. However, the consultation does admit that “Additional measures (necessary) are likely to take a whole catchment approach and may include improved warning and informing, nature based solutions as well as engineered defences.”