Work is underway to give the entire length of the Rochdale Canal's towing path a hard surface. Following concerns expressed by canal users, a "consultation" is to take place in the form of a site meeting.
This will take place on Saturday 20th February from 10.00 am to 1.00 pm, meeting at Smithy Bridge Railway Station, between Rochdale and Littleborough. Anyone interested in the canal's towing path is invited to go along.
You will be able to to see the re-surfacing works which are currently in progress at Smithy Bridge. Representatives of Sustrans, British Waterways and Rochdale Council will be available to answer questions.
Much of the towpath between Manchester and Rochdale has already been hard-surfaced. The work causing concerns involves a stretch through Littleborough, over the Summit level to Warland. There are proposals to continue this hard-surfacing the rest of the way to Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Sowerby Bridge.
It would seem that the work is being funded with £200,000 of LEADER funding made available to Rochdale Council as long as the work takes place before the end of the financial year. This would be part of the Connect2 scheme from Sustrans, which is developing a national cycle network.
British Waterways benefits by getting the towpath resurfaced with external funding. However, other users will be worried that the better surface will encourage cyclists to ride faster.
Organisations such as the Ramblers Association, Towpath Action Group, Littleborough Civic Trust and the Horseboating Society have raised a number of concerns, such as:
• The plans are for the same surface to be used all along the canal rather than using a "palette" of different materials to suit the location.
• There should be a more suitable surface for walking, as mile upon mile of hard surfaced towpath is unpleasant and harmful due to concussion to the body and over heating of feet.
• Softer materials should be used, like crushed stone or aggregate as found in country areas on bridleways used as multiuser routes.
• Some people are opposed to the spread of urbanisation into the country. There should be town surfacing in towns and more rural surfacing as you leave town and into the country.
• If a scenic rural location like the Pennine Summit is hard surfaced with a tar spray and chip as proposed, then all the 2,500 mile canal towpath network could be treated in a similar manner.
• Towpaths would no longer paths for walking, but become cyclepaths.
• Complaints nationwide are increasing about the speed of cyclists on towpaths. Walkers feel vulnerable and report many "near misses". Smooth hard surfacing encourages and allows fast cycling. An aggregate or grassed surface slows cyclists down.
Lucy Rogers of The Waterways Trust, which owns the Rochdale Canal, says:
"Unfortunately, the timescale associated with this funding has limited the opportunity to conduct a consultation process. However, as a result of the correspondence received about the scheme, Sustrans, in partnership with Rochdale Council, British Waterways and The Waterways Trust, has arranged a site visit to the Rochdale Canal and consultation meeting for Saturday 20th February between 10am and 1pm, meeting at Smithy Bridge."
Opposition to the scheme is being led by Iain Gerrard of the Littleborough Civic Trust (email address on website).
Ironically, this scheme is taking place just before British Waterways holds a consultation in the Spring to agree on materials to be used for towpath surfacing nationally, which could include a varied "palette" of materials to suit locations.
If you have thoughts on this, you can share them by following the link below and adding a comment.
Meeting on Saturday 20th February will take this form:
10.00 am - meet Smithy Bridge Railway Station.
Walk along towpath to look at existing works and some of the route of the further hard surfacing.
11.30 am - information gathering exercise at Smithy Bridge Methodist Church.
Punchbowl Lock: Should surfacing blend in with the location?
Summit pound: Will a hard-surfaced towpath take away the rural feel?