We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.

Planning and design

The planning system has a vital role to play in protecting the network of canals, rivers and docks from inappropriate development; in protecting and enhancing the natural and historic waterway environment; in unlocking the inland waterway network’s economic, social and environmental value; and in improving the health and performance as well as in securing long-term sustainability of the network, their corridors and adjoining communities.

Canals, rivers and docks owned and managed by the Canal & River Trust (which account for over 50 per cent of the inland waterway network) are delivering public benefits to the nation potentially in excess of £500mn per annum (based on HM Treasury Green Book) and are contributing £1.2bn per annum to the visitor economy.

This network of canals, rivers and docks are a multi-functional form of infrastructure, and by their nature, cross local planning authority administrative areas, 182 in total, in England and Wales. This 200 year old network of canals, rivers and docks has unique characteristics including being 'non-footloose' assets, (that is, the location and alignment of waterways are fixed) that transcend administrative and market boundaries. This presents a number of planning policy challenges in terms of unlocking the potential economic, social and environmental benefits of the network for local communities and economies.

The health and performance of the inland waterway network owned and managed by the Trust is directly linked to the quality of the neighbourhood and environment through which canals and rivers passes. The public benefit delivered by canals, rivers and docks in turn is substantially dependent upon their health and performance. An underperforming waterway is usually a symptom of the economic and social failure of the neighbourhood through which it passes. Underperforming waterway corridors are characterised by: the presence of inappropriate uses despoil asset; limited or no public access to, from and along; poor quality waterside development; absence of destinations & attractions; shortage of water related facilities; poor perception and image of waterway; anti-social behaviour; 'dead' waterspaces; and low boat movement and footfall.

In 'planning for prosperity, people and places', planning policies within future local and neighbourhood plans, and development management decisions need to acknowledge and support the different economic, social and environment roles of canals, rivers and docks.

There is a recognised need to strengthen existing planning policy at all the different spatial levels in order to provide robust planning policy frameworks that supports canals, rivers and docks as a cross-cutting policy theme; acknowledging the value of canals, rivers and docks, in terms of:

  • being a form of strategic and local infrastructure performing multiple functions (including sustainable transport, open space and green infrastructure, land drainage  and water supply as well as flood alleviation), which is likely to be affected by all scales and types of development;
  • their roles in improving the physical environment, opportunities for people and the wider economy;
  • their contribution to supporting climate change, carbon reduction and environmental sustainability;
  • the public benefits that can be and are being generated by our canals, rivers and docks;
  • support future development, regeneration and improvement of canals, rivers and docks
  • protect the heritage, environmental and recreational value of canals, rivers and docks and to safeguard them against inappropriate development;
  • support their ability to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits to local communities and the nation as a whole, (currently valued at in excess of £500 million per annum); and
  • secure the long-term sustainability of inland waterway network, their corridors and adjoining communities.

Planning policy and development management challenges arise from waterside development and regeneration activities placing extra liabilities and burdens upon the waterway infrastructure.

Around 96 per cent of waterside land is in the control of third parties so Maintenance work with cones and diggerour role as statutory consultee for planning applications and our role as defined consultee for nationally significant infrastructure projects is very important in protecting waterway infrastructure, facilities and environs from inappropriate development and in mitigating against extra liabilities and burdens being placed upon the waterway infrastructure. We would encourage potential applicants to undertake pre-application discussions with us and to include any waterway, towpath and environs lying within the application site edged in red on the location plan.

Download our Policy Advice Note: inland waterways