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Creating better places to live

Explore the benefits highlighted in our Waterways for Today report

Waterway projects can help to create better places to live.

Waterside locations create a sense of place that can enhance people’s enjoyment of the area they live in. This can encourage greater diversity and inclusivity across local communities.

How Waterways Can Help

Waterside locations are perfect for allowing people to appreciate and enjoy the areas they live in. The diverse communities living on and beside the waterways contribute to this sense of place.

The inland waterways have been home to people on boats for as long as there have been craft navigating them. While leisure boating provided a new purpose for the inland waterways following the demise of commercial carrying last century, recent years have seen residential boating take off.

The high cost of housing, particularly in certain parts of the country, has contributed to the increasing number of boats being bought and built specifically with residential use in mind.

Local authorities can embrace this trend by encouraging residential moorings (especially boater-led, affordable sites) and additional facilities for boaters as part of new waterside developments.

The regeneration of waterways and their towpaths can open up new sectors of local communities to the waterways, including groups not currently engaged with their canal or river, bringing greater inclusivity and diversity. However, more funding is required to enable this to happen.

Restoration of the Stroudwater Navigation has opened up a natural doorway to our wonderful heritage. The combination of vision, investment, dedication and time has resulted in the impressive redevelopment of Ebley. It has brought health, wealth and wellbeing to the whole community and we are all the richer, in non-monetary terms, because of it.

Tracy Spiers, artist, Stroud

Case Study: Canal restoration creates
community water feature for Selly Oak

Whitehouse Wharf is a new water feature in Selly Oak, which will create a public amenity for the local community.

It is situated near Dudley Number 2 Canal, built to connect the Dudley and Worcester & Birmingham canals. It once provided an important link to the Dudley coalfields, and the industrial town of Selly Oak, now part of Birmingham, grew up around the canal junction.

The new section of canal includes a bridge linking shops to Selly Oak town centre, a new public square, and the historic remains of an old limekiln. The large water space will enable boats to enter or exit the soon-to-be restored Dudley Number 2 Canal. It will also form an attractive water feature in the heart of Selly Oak, to be used by the whole community for canoeing, paddleboarding, angling, or just sitting and enjoying.

The £300,000 project was made possible thanks to the support of the Canal & River Trust, the site’s previous leaseholders (Sainsbury’s and M&G Real Estate), and over 50 funders, companies and individuals who have helped pay for it. The Canal & River Trust has committed to maintain the new water space, which forms part of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

The project forms part of ambitious plans to preserve the many attractive old buildings in Selly Oak.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street dug the first hole at a ceremony in March 2022 to mark the start of the three-month project. He noted:

This is a hugely important project for Selly Oak and the wider region, and I endorse it wholeheartedly. Our canals provide a safe and enjoyable way for residents to exercise, commute and connect with nature.


Facts & Stats

Research carried out for the Canal & River Trust suggests waterways deliver an estimated social wellbeing value of £3.8bn per year to those using them.

According to the Canal & River Trust, 8.8 million people benefit from living within 1km of a waterway. Some 23% are from BAME backgrounds while more than 60% (2 million) households experience wellbeing inequalities.

A further 3 million people live within 1km of a derelict waterway that could be brought back to life.

Waterways provide many ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ – compact and connected communities where people
can meet their everyday needs within a short walk or cycle. The concept of the 20-minute neighbourhood presents multiple benefits including boosting local economies, improving people’s health and wellbeing, increasing social connections in communities, and tackling climate change.

Social inclusion and diversity can be improved by encouraging minority groups, families and young people to get actively involved in their waterways through angling and watersports such as canoeing, rowing, paddleboarding and sailing.