£500,000 towpath project: Grand Union Canal at Leighton Buzzard to reopen

Towpath improvements on Grand Union Canal in Leighton Buzzard

A £500,000 towpath improvement project on the Grand Union Canal in Leighton Buzzard will reopen on Friday 26 August.

The project has been undertaken by the Canal & River Trust, in partnership with national walking and cycling charity Sustrans. Funding has come from the Department for Transport (DfT), in response to the ‘Paths for Everyone’ review of the National Cycle Network in 2019.

The works involved resurfacing and widening a 780-metre section of towpath running south from the B4032 Leighton Road Bridge 114 to Bridge 115A (Mentmore Gardens). The project also improved a 2.1km section running north from Lock 27 (Leighton Lock) to Bridge 110 (Sandhole Bridge) in Old Linslade. Engineers have also made surfacing improvements and planted in green spaces.

“Research shows that being next to water improves your mental and physical health,” says Ros Daniels, the Canal & River Trust’s director for London & South East. “The Canal & River Trust wants to make its canals more welcoming, safe and clean, to encourage more people to use them, and enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of walking and cycling, and being by the water.”

Planting green spaces along the waterway
Planting green spaces along the waterways

The towpath in Leighton Buzzard forms part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network ‘Paths for Everyone’, which aims to deliver a traffic-free, more consistent and accessible network for everyone, including walkers, cyclists, families and people with mobility requirements.

The project built on previous towpath improvements undertaken by the Trust in Leighton Buzzard in 2015, between Leighton Road and Leighton Lock. It has added a further 2.9km of improved towpath, resulting in a 4.1km stretch of continuous high-quality towpath through Leighton Buzzard and surrounding areas.

“Canal & River Trust ecologists and heritage advisers have been involved in the design of the works to ensure the works are sensitive to local wildlife and heritage structures, making enhancements where possible, including hedge laying, vegetation and tree management,” says Daniels. “The towpath engineering works are now complete, and with the help of volunteers, we have removed invasive Himalayan Balsam from the side ponds at Leighton Lock.”

The towpath improvement project in Leighton Buzzard is one of a series of DfT Active Travel-funded towpath improvement projects being delivered by the Canal & River Trust across England and Wales.

“We’d like to remind people to be considerate when they visit the towpaths, in particular, to take it really steady when on a bike,” adds Daniels. “It’s also really important that people take their litter home with them, so other people and wildlife can enjoy the canal too.”

The Canal & River Trust has recently spoken out on the issue of fly-tipping, which has increased during the coronavirus pandemic and is now a major problem in UK watercourses.

Daniels adds: “Our ‘plastics challenge‘ is helping people get involved in towpath clean-ups, to prevent plastics from polluting our canals and rivers, and ending up in the oceans.”

More than half of all identifiable litter in the UK can be traced back to just 10 brands, according to a recent nationwide survey by environmental non-profit Planet Patrol. The report also found that the volume of metal litter, including cans, has nearly doubled in the past three years, rising from 8 per cent in 2019 to 15.5 per cent in 2021. However, there was some good news: the amount of plastic logged fell from 67 per cent in 2019, to 51 per cent in 2021.

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