Canal transport backed to transform waste handling

A major new study undertaken for British Waterways and Transport for London has demonstrated that canals can offer a cost-effective and greener alternative to road haulage and help reduce congestion on London's roads. Waste and recyclates offer two of the areas of greatest potential for this environmentally acceptable method of waste transport.

The report, Developing Water Borne Freight on the West London Canal Network (WLCN), by Peter Brett Associates is described as “the most comprehensive research ever undertaken into the potential for reviving commercial traffic on west London’s canals.”

The study area focused on 2.5km either side of the 42km “lock-free” section of the Grand Union Canal in west London, an area covering 25% of the commercial property and 18% of the population and households in Greater London. The work to date demonstrates that movement by barge can in some instances be the most cost effective solution.

The main findings of the report are that the WLCN:

  • could potentially take 640,000 tonnes per annum of materials off the roads and save around 530,000 lorry miles a year;
  • could potentially carry: municipal collected waste (300,000 tpa); recyclates (100,000 tpa); building materials (150,000 tpa); and construction and demolition waste (95,000 tpa)
  • would help to reduce: lorry sensitive miles; carbon emissions; congestion; and accidents involving HGVs. Potential annual environmental benefit of up to ý1million has been estimated based on Department for Transport road sensitive miles calculations.

Environmental benefit
The report has also developed a methodology for estimating the potential environmental and cost savings for using the canal as compared to road transport, helping businesses to review their transportation arrangements and the potential for using the canal as part of the supply chain. For example, a journey requiring passage through more than two locks became uneconomic, whereas lock-free journeys where both origin and destination are located by the canal offered savings of around 50%.

Mark Bensted, British Waterways’ Director for London, explains: “This report represents an entirely new approach to the challenge of reviving commercial traffic on London’s canals.”

Peter Hendy, Managing Director of Surface Transport for Transport for London, adds: “Perhaps most importantly, it gives businesses and local authorities a clear methodology to calculate the most economic and environmentally sustainable form of transport.”

The most important catalysts for the use of the WLCN for transport are the existing gravel barges at Denham and Powerday Plc’s planned new canalside recycling centre at Old Oak Sidings in Willesden. The report highlights the need to develop further “origins” and “destinations” on the WLCN, including access to the water from canalside developments and the creation of four or five key interchange points between the canal and road network.

Handling industrial waste

Particular opportunities were identified around the buoyant canalside industrial areas of Park Royal and Slough. The study has estimated that 30% of industrial waste produced in the WLCN corridor is generated by businesses in Park Royal, equivalent to 200,000 tonnes of industrial waste per annum. A study commissioned by the Park Royal Partnership is currently under way to assess the opportunities to move commercial waste by canal from the estate as one of a range of possible opportunities to identify, develop, and promote sustainable waste handling practices.

Full copies and an executive summary of the report are available from

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