Express & Star

Black Country canals to transport more goods in new freight strategy

Canals across the Black Country and Birmingham will be used to transport more goods under a revolutionary new freight strategy.

Workmen load freight onto a canal boat

Transport chiefs say the use of canals to move greater quantities of goods must be "considered" if the region is to decarbonise freight and free up the roads.

Birmingham has 35 miles of canals – which is said to be more than Venice – but in the UK only around 13 per cent of goods are shipped by sea and inland waterways.

The plans are set to be revealed in a new freight strategy report by regional transport body, Midlands Connect.

The report suggests moving freight transport to "more sustainable modes" where practicable. It goes on to say: "Transport modes such as water freight and rail freight are more sustainable and emit less per tonne carried, particularly carbon dioxide.

"To decarbonise freight further, modal shift needs to occur and our work needs to identify how we can deliver this."

The report adds that the use of canals for freight must be "considered".

The golden days: Walsall firm Ernest Thomas turns its freight boat around in Holly Bank Basin, Essington, in 1950

Commenting on the report, Richard Bradley, Midlands Connect’s head of strategy, said: "We are evolving the way goods are transferred around the region and the country.

"This isn't about taking a step back in history but using all the infrastructure we have and finding new ways and new plans to use everything we have

"Our aim is to get more freight off roads, where traffic pollution is known to cause severe health problems in built-up areas, and canals could be a cleaner and greener way to deliver goods from A to B."

Canals played a hugely important role in the development of the Black Country and Birmingham during the industrial revolution, when they were used to transport coal, iron and other heavy goods.

At their height, they were so busy that gas lighting was installed beside the locks to permit round-the-clock operation.

Boats were built without cabins for maximum carrying capacity, and a near-tidal effect was produced as swarms of narrowboats converged on the Black Country collieries at the same time every day.