A cycling pressure group has protested about the long-term closure of Huddersfield Narrow Canal towpath near Huddersfield town centre which is forcing cyclists and walkers onto the busy Manchester Road.
The stretch at Longroyd Bridge has been shut off by the Canal and River Trust (CRT) after a wall became dangerous and asbestos was then found at the scene.
The Trust has struggled to discover who owns the land and the towpath could be shut for many months with no end date in sight and has revealed the wall could cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to repair.
Cycle Kirklees – the Kirklees Cycling Campaign – demonstrated at the closure on Saturday, stressing that the only real alternative is to use the busy Manchester Road.
Cycle Kirklees secretary Chas Ball said: “Seven months into this closure of the Colne Valley Greenway the signs don’t look good. The canal path is the only traffic-free route along the Colne Valley and is used for commuting and leisure. The busy A62 Manchester Road is the most direct alternative.
“It’s an important route that has had a lot of public money spent upgrading it. It is frustrating that the maintenance of active travel facilities has low priority – and that the CRT has reduced level of resources despite managing a critical national network of canals. It is unclear at this stage if CRT has the resources to fix it and certainly do not appear to be able to do so quickly.”
The Colne Valley Greenway has been improved over the last five years to cater for walkers and cyclists and to make it more accessible to wheelchair users.
“This followed extensive consultations on a plan developed by transport charity, Sustrans. Funding for the upgrade to the canal towpath was provided by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s City Connect programme and by Kirklees Council.
The first phase between Huddersfield and Milnsbridge was completed in October 2018. The most recent phase between Milnsbridge and Slaithwaite was opened by West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin in spring 2022.
The closure has become an issue for residents along the whole valley from Huddersfield to Marsden. The Colne Valley has been selected for a behavioural change campaign by WYCA called Ride It, Walk It!
Chas added: “Efforts to get more people cycling and walking, to reduce pollution and emissions as well as improving residents’ health and wellbeing, are undermined if what limited infrastructure there is is not maintained.”
In its most recent statement on the closure, Sean McGinley, Canal & River Trust regional director Yorkshire & North East, said: “We are sorry that this towpath closure on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal has taken much longer to resolve than expected. This reflects the complexities of the repair job and our charity’s limited resources.
“Since closing the towpath we have undertaken investigations to discover who owns the unregistered land supported by the wall.
“Unfortunately, we have been unable to determine ownership, leaving our charity to pay for this repair at a time when our resources are already stretched and future funding will be reduced.
“To prevent further deterioration to the wall we did some tree clearance and our onsite investigations uncovered the presence of asbestos and further structural complications.
“The wall repair will be more difficult and costly than first expected. We are finalising details, but it could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“Our canal towpaths provide a great traffic-free cycle and walking route. We helped to recently improve this section of towpath and are frustrated to see this closed to the public. However, with such serious safety concerns, including a risk of wall collapse, it is unavoidable.
“We are also deeply concerned by vandalism to break through the safety barrier with sections of masonry and signage removed.
We are spending our charity’s limited resources on regularly fixing the safety barrier while continuing to do our best to keep towpath users safe.
“Our charity is working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible and will be posting updates on our website and signage on site.”