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LETTER: Perfect chance to make most of canal towpaths

Readers' letters | Published:

A reader urges others to utilise the region's canal towpaths.

Scenic pic of the canal near Factory Bridge, near Tipton

I was delighted to see Dayna Farrington’s report of July 15 in which Sandwell’s Councillor Jackie Taylor encourages residents to make use of the borough’s canal towpaths.

Well done, Jackie! Indeed, the whole of the Black Country and Birmingham has an extensive and unique network of canals, a truly fabulous resource with great potential both for recreation and in many cases for commuting, most especially by bike.

And there is a great opportunity for the West Midlands, as we are set to receive £15m-plus in grant funding over the next four years through the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund (EATF) aimed at creating strategic cycling and walking routes as an alternative to the car.

Since lockdown, I’ve cycled many hundreds of miles throughout the Black Country, much of this on towpaths, and while many stretches of towpath have been improved with decent surfacing, for example, as your report says, the Birmingham - Wolverhampton new main line canal, there are two problems:

1. Even the much-vaunted new main line is not fully accessible to all, namely users of disabled trikes, wheelchairs, disability scooters, walkers with restricted mobility, and parents with buggies, and this is the same right across the piece, with random impediments to access, such as steps rather than ramps, barriers of various sorts that many legitimate would-be users simply cannot negotiate.

2. All too often, an otherwise well-surfaced towpath route ends with a stretch of unimproved muddy towpath barring progress for the less able, so that longer-distance connectivity isn’t possible for them.

So, what I would ask Cllr Taylor to consider, when Sandwell puts together its proposals for a slice of the EATF grant, is to try to ensure that, within the West Midlands’ bid, there is: (a) a sufficient allocation of funds for towpath improvements; and (b) a specific inclusivity budget, both to remove barriers to full access on stretches of towpath that already have a good surface, and also, to ensure that full access is built in to all new cycling and walking routes.

Finally, I would specifically highlight to Cllr Taylor two relatively short stretches of unimproved towpath in Sandwell that, if resurfaced, would link up many miles of already-improved towpath. These are:

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– the Walsall Canal between Ocker Hill up the locks to Pudding Green, the junction with the Birmingham to Wolverhampton Canal – just two miles of resurfacing (if that!) to provide a fully resurfaced route. between Walsall and Ocker Hill to link with destinations on the Birmingham – Wolverhampton canal;

– the Tame Valley Canal between Ocker Hill and Charlemont – less than three miles to link to the fully resurfaced towpaths onward to Tame Bridge, Hamstead and to Yew Tree (thence via National Cycle

Route 5 to Walsall and points north).

Readers, please ensure you contact your council (and me!) with any suggestions you have for good strategic cycling and walking routes in your area, whether they be on towpaths, disused rail lines, parks and green spaces (or combinations of these!) to create good strategic within and beyond your area.

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Councillor Richard Worrall, Walsall MBC

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