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Increased spend in local communities

Explore the benefits highlighted in our Waterways for Today report

Waterway projects can encourage increased spend in local communities.

Boat-based tourism and leisure activities contribute £2.5bn to the economy each year.

How Waterways Can Help

Some 5,000 miles of waterways across England, Scotland and Wales provide a national infrastructure network that is proven to benefit Britain’s economy.

Boat-based tourism and leisure activities contribute £2.5bn to the UK economy each year, through local and often family-run waterway businesses. The economy of a local area benefits still further, with people on day trips or boat holidays visiting pubs, cafés, shops and tourist attractions.

Improvements to navigable waterways and the restoration of up to 500 more miles offer significant potential for increasing this. A 2011 study found that even a rural canal with low boat numbers can create £93k per mile (£58k per km) of potential gain in benefits each year. This figure is even higher for an urban canal with high boat density, at £225k per mile (£140k/km).

Our waterways and their heritage are a huge draw for international tourism, and this will recover with the relaxation of Covid travel restrictions. Meanwhile, the popularity of boating holidays has increased since the pandemic, with people looking for something different to do on their UK-based vacations, and spending money in local areas in the process.

These benefits can only be realised if waterways are well maintained and looked after. It is essential they receive adequate funding and investment from Government.


We get about 2,000 boats a year now, which is fantastic. They all spend money, which means well over £1m of additional spend in the area.

Jack Hegarty, then managing director, Wychavon District Council (restoration of the Droitwich Canal)

Case Study:
Five Rise CafÉ, Bingley

The Five Rise Café, like many other waterside eateries, owes its success to its location. Situated at the top of the famous Bingley Five Rise locks in West Yorkshire, the proximity of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is what brings in the customers.

It is based in a historic stable building and sees visitors from all over the world mingling with locals over a cup of tea and a slice of home-baked cake. Marcus Dearden, who runs the café with his wife and daughters, says the business has gone from strength to strength in the 11 years they have been managing it. When they first started it was only viable to open in summer, but they now operate for 12 months of the year because of the number of cyclists and walkers using the towpath.

Marcus recalls that in their first year the canal and towpath were closed for repairs to the nearby lock flight. An open weekend held for people to visit the locks during the works saved the café – the number of visitors in that one weekend made up for those who couldn’t come while the canal towpath was closed. More recently, although 20 weeks of trading were lost due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the café made up for it thanks to the sheer numbers of visitors once they were able to reopen, with more and more people using the towpath and staying local.

Marcus says the café, which employs four full-time and six part-time staff, just wouldn’t survive if it wasn’t for its canalside location.


Facts & Stats

A 2011 report for Defra found that each mile of inland waterway contributes between £175,000 and £1,175,000 a year to the local economy.

Visitors on the Kennet & Avon Canal increased by 46% between 1995 and 2010, generating £42m direct expenditure in the local economy in 2009 (£55m including indirect spend).

Ten years after the reopening of the Rochdale Canal in 2002, a study found that between 3.5 and 4 million visitors were spending around £18m a year.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal, reopened in 2001, was receiving between 2 and 2.5 million visits each year 10 years on, with visitors spending a total of just over £10m annually.

A regeneration strategy looking at sustainable development on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal forecasts 258 additional tourism jobs and £5m net additional GVA from tourism.