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The changing role of inland waterways: restoration and regeneration: inland waterways were built for a specific purpose, one that is largely not reflected in how they are used today.


Waterways are remnants of the industrial revolution, from an era before cars and lorries, and were built to transport goods such as coal, wool and limestone around the country. They were the motorways of their time, industrial and functional places, and in their heyday would have been heaving with horse-drawn cargo boats. Their construction not only supported the industrial development of towns and cities but helped to stimulate industrial and economic growth in areas through which they passed, and thereby changed the face of our countryside forever.

With the advent of railways and motor vehicles, the canal trade inevitably declined and sections of waterway became un-used and eventually derelict, with some sections even being infilled. Since the late 1970s however, the waterways have found a new lease of life, and their potential for leisure activities discovered. By the beginning of the 21st century they were once again well used and treasured, albeit for entirely different reasons than those behind their original construction.

Canals and rivers are beautiful in themselves, but their unique appeal comes just as much from what you'll find on the waterside. They're rich in pubs and restaurants, quiet country villages, wildlife sites, museums, and countless more attractions. The 200 year old inland waterway network is a national heritage asset and its associated buildings and structures add great character to the landscapes the waterways traverse. It is the built heritage which gives each waterway its unique character and identity. Whether it be in the design of construction or the materials used, the built heritage of the waterways is an important resource which needs to be managed sensitively.

As the waterway network has been revitalised, many important canalside buildings have been restored, regenerated and bought back into sustainable use. For example Albert Dock in Liverpool and Salt Warehouse and No 4 Warehouse at Sowerby Bridge.


British Waterways (BW) is responsible for the care, management and enhancement of over 2000 miles of canals and rivers and is the third largest owner of historic buildings and structures in the UK. This is something we are proud of. We know that it is the heritage of the waterways that make them so attractive to our many visitors. In fact 98% of our visitors rate heritage as very important and a reason for visiting the waterways.

BW therefore recognises that it is important that we protect the heritage of the waterways and work to ensure that the buildings, structures and settings are managed sensitively. We need to encourage understanding of the wider value of this unique heritage, particularly where these areas are subject to redevelopment and regeneration schemes. We also seek to ensure our heritage buildings and structures are properly integrated into any regeneration or development scheme. This is not to say that BW seeks to prohibit more contemporary styles of architecture along the waterways. Rather, we seek to ensure that the existing traditional character is complemented and respected.

A waterside setting is widely recognised as a valuable asset for development; however, to optimise the value of this asset, waterside development needs to be designed to include the waterspace, not just treat it as an edge or backdrop to a site. The interaction between the two is critical in creating attractive, sustainable places. If the waterspace is not properly considered and designed at the early stages of a project then long-term benefits are unlikely to be realised. The role of landscape and urban design should be highly valued, it should be seen as a means of fully understanding and selling the potential of waterside development while protecting the unique character of the waterway corridor.

One important consideration in our work is to see how these potential regeneration sites sit within the wider waterway context. BW aims to enable the creation of distinctive and desirable places on the waterway network, whilst maximising the potential of their settings and heritage features.

In this respect, it is essential that individual waterside developments are viewed in the context of the wider network and not in isolation. BW plays a critical role in this area of work and we support regeneration work by producing waterway strategies and design guidelines; identifying characteristics of the site and setting parameters for development.

Waterspace development

Waterspace that is not used and animated is dead space and benefits no-one, so the needs of boaters and other customers need to be fully integrated into any waterside scheme, in order to bring their inherent colour and life to the area. Design and management of the waterspace are integral to the design process, it must be understood how and why it will be used and how it integrates with the surrounding development. Our experience of waterside design issues is used to maximise the development potential and profit of waterside land, and to generate a vibrant, attractive and sustainable waterway corridor.

Ultimately the role of landscape architects and urban designers within British Waterways is to ensure the setting of the waterway network is protected and enhanced in a sustainable form, accommodating the operational need of waterway users and the changing demands of waterside development. What is critical to this is that the local waterway character is reflected and understood in developing proposals. We do not propose to preserve the waterways in aspic but rather create contemporary landscapes informed and inspired by the legacy of their robust, workman like past.


Wakefield Waterfront: A case study

Wakefield's waterways have played a significant role in the city's industrial heritage and economic prosperity. Developed in the 1760-70s they were the catalyst for construction of warehousing and commercial properties for the industries that relied upon the canal for transportation of freight. This industry was prosperous for a number of years, but the site began to decline by the end of the 19th century, in line with the decline of the canal's importance as a means of transporting goods.

As the industrial uses of the waterfront began to fail and the town centre developed away from the waterfront, Wakefield, like many towns and cities, turned its back on the waterway that had helped to found it.

However with the masterplan underway the waterfront is coming alive again. When the new waterfront setting is complete people will be able to use and explore this historically important area of Wakefield.

BW has been involved in the Wakefield Waterfront Regeneration Scheme from the beginning and were instrumental in the establishment of the Wakefield Waterfront Partnership. The Partnership included land owners, tenants, community interest groups and Wakefield Council. Key aims were to stimulate and promote regeneration, maximise the potential, and create a breathtaking, vibrant new waterfront destination for Wakefield, where people could live, work and enjoy their leisure time.

BW have worked closely with developer CTP St James and their masterplanners Faulkner Browns, in the creation and delivery of a masterplan that celebrates the heritage and character of the place, while creating a crisp, high quality environment to inspire and delight residents and visitors.


Phase 1, due to be completed in 2008, started in 2007 with the repair and conversion of the Grade II* listed Calder & Hebble Navigation Warehouse for office and leisure use, (the building is being refurbished by WM Anelay Ltd). Through sensitive restoration much of the original character of the building will be retained. These works will facilitate the warehouse's removal from English Heritages' Buildings at Risk Register.

Two ground floor units within the Warehouse will provide a riverside setting for pub or restaurant occupiers. The three upper levels will be converted to approximately 16,000 sq ft of contemporary but characterful office space.

Phase 1 also includes the construction of two new office buildings (15,300 sq ft and 18,700 sq ft) and a new residential building, as well as including substantial public spaces.

In addition, the wider waterfront regeneration area also includes the construction of The Hepworth Wakefield, a world class, major gallery to house the Barbra Hepworth collection. This David Chipperfield designed gallery will form a key public building in the city and a major regional destination on the waterfront. The Hepworth Gallery forms the gateway to the Wakefield Waterfront development from the city centre, sitting on the headland overlooking the weir, and benefiting from a new pedestrian footbridge across the river.

These various buildings and functions will be held together by an exceptional landscape designed by Gross Max Landscape Architects. This landscape scheme will mediate between the demands of contemporary urban living and the honesty and robustness of the historic waterway environment, and create a very special place.

Project summary

The Wakefield Waterfront site covers approximately 10 acres of historic waterfront that will be transformed into a mixed-use development.

The masterplan includes restoration of several listed buildings, including the grade 2* Calder & Hebble Navigation Warehouse, on completion of these works the warehouse should be removed from English Heritages' Buildings at Risk Register.

The 100 million [pounds sterling] project also proposes a mix of high quality new build office, residential & leisure development (circa 500,000 sq ft).


The Hepworth Wakefield, a new art gallery and creative centre due to be opened 2009/10, is also included in the masterplan. It will be built on a prime waterside location, within the City's historic waterfront, adjacent to the River Calder. Commissioned by Wakefield Council, the new gallery has been designed by David Chipperfield Architects.


The scheme includes a new pedestrian bridge, designed by Whitby Bird Engineers, over the River Calder that will link the gallery and wider waterfront to Wakefield City Centre.

Outline planning permission for the whole project was secured by CTP St James and landowners British Waterways in December 2004. Detailed planning permission for Phase One was granted in November 2005.




British Waterways is the public corporation responsible for the care and enhancement of the nation's 2000 mile two centuries old network of canals and rivers, working in partnerships with public, private and voluntary organisations to develop and improve the waterways in a sustainable manner. Our navigations are visited over 160 million times each year by ten million people, who spend around 1.5 billion [pounds sterling] annually. In addition, British Waterways estimates that waterway restoration has acted as a catalyst for 2 billion [pounds sterling] of regeneration investment.

Rachel Ingham, Urban Designer, British Waterways Property Development Team
COPYRIGHT 2008 Landscape Design Trust
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Title Annotation:WATERWAYS
Author:Ingham, Rachel
Publication:Green Places
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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