Q&A Leighton Buzzard Towpath Improvements

Below are some of the answers to the questions about the improvements.

Why are these works being carried out? 

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.  As well as being used by Leighton Buzzard and Linslade local residents, the towpath has the Greensands Way long-distance walking route along it and is part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network, NCN6, so it has been identified as a priority area to upgrade. 

Which section of towpath is being upgraded? 

There are two sections – a southern and northern section (detail below). 

Where does the southern section run? 

The southern section will see improvements for a 780-metre section of the Grand Union Canal towpath running south from the B4032 Leighton Road to Bridge 115A (Mentmore Gardens).   

What’s happening in the southern section? 

Here the towpath here will be widened to between 1.8 and 2 metres, and resurfaced using an all-weather surface that can be used all year round.  

When will the towpath in the southern section be closed? 

The southern section towpath improvements will require the towpath to be closed from 6 June until 23 August.  A signed towpath diversion route will be in place, via Mentmore Gardens, Mentmore Road and Wing Road. Details have been posted on our notices page.

Where does the northern section run? 

The northern section works area will run 2,100 metres north of Lock 27 (Leighton Lock) to Bridge 110 (Sandhole Bridge) in Old Linslade.   

What’s happening in the northern section? 

This section will also be improved with towpath improvements, vegetation trimming and biodiversity enhancements.  This section will not be fully resurfaced but there will be repairs and maintenance to provide a better towpath. 

Will the towpath be closed in the northern section? 

The timings and exact scope of this work has yet to be determined. Towpath closures are not planned.  Updates will be provided on the project webpage.

How do these improvements relate to previous towpath improvements in Leighton Buzzard? 

The project builds on previous towpath improvements undertaken by the Trust in Leighton Buzzard in 2015, between Leighton Road and Leighton Lock.  It will add a further 2.9km of upgraded towpath, delivering a 4.1km stretch of continuous high quality towpath, through Leighton Buzzard and surrounding areas. 

Who is doing the work? 

The Canal & River Trust’s term contractor Kier will undertake the works. 

How much will it cost? 

Approximately £500,000. 

How is it being funded? 

The project is being delivered in partnership with national walking and cycling charity Sustrans, who are custodians of the National Cycle Network. Sustrans received funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) in response to the ‘Paths For Everyone’ 2019 review of the National Cycle Network. 

Why is Sustrans funding towpath improvements? 

Towpaths can form attractive and practical parts of walking and cycling networks and help more people have equal access to the natural environment. There are currently around 500 miles of National Cycle Network routes on towpaths and waterways form an important part of Sustrans work to create traffic-free paths for everyone. 

During the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, towpath use in many urban residential areas increased dramatically, confirming the vital role of canals in providing access to the outdoors, nature and wellbeing. No other UK organisation has 2,000 miles of freely accessible green and blue space, so close to so many people, in areas of most need. 

Are any other Canal & River Trust towpath improvements being funded in this way? 

The towpath improvements at Leighton Buzzard are one of a number of projects funded on the Trust’s network nationally. In total, the Trust has been allocated £2m of funding to improve 9km of towpaths that form part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network (Paths for Everyone) to provide improved access and address barriers to use in other locations. As well as the works planned at Leighton Buzzard, the Trust will improve towpaths in Chester (Shropshire Union Canal), Dudley (Birmingham Mainline Canal) and Long Itchington (Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire).  

Will boaters still be able to access facilities south of Leighton Road bridge, including Elsan, water and rubbish disposal? 

Boater’s facilities south of Bridge 114A (Leighton Road B4032), including rubbish disposal, Elsan and water, will remain accessible throughout the works.  

Who can boaters contact in the event of any problems? 

Please call 0303 040 4040 

  • 00am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday
  • 00am to 5.00pm on Saturday
  • 00am to 4.00pm on Sunday

Outside of these hours please call 0800 47 999 47. 

For all calls relating to the towpath improvements, the reference should be ‘Grand Union Canal, Leighton Buzzard Towpath Improvements’. 

Will there be a lot of construction noise and disruption to local people and boaters? 

As with any construction project, there will be some noise at times during construction. The machines we will be using along the worksite are small – they have to be in order to fit along the towpath and under the bridges. Noise levels will be within the recommended levels, as stated by The Control of pollution Act 1974. Our Contractor (Kier) will comply with the requirements of BS 5228, the Code of Practice covering Noise Generated on Construction Sites. 

What will be the working hours and will it be week days only? 

Work on site will start no earlier than 8am, and will finish by 6pm, Monday to Friday. No weekend working is permitted, unless agreed in writing by the Project Manager.  

Will any wildlife disturbed by the works? 

Canal & River Trust ecologists and heritage advisers are 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. 

A water vole survey has been carried out and no water voles are present in the works area. There are some willow and ash trees that need to be managed. The Trust has commissioned an arboricultural survey to determine works to enhance and prolong the life of these trees. Only trees that are diseased or in poor health will be removed. Work to manage the trees will be carried out in the autumn, outside of the bird breeding and nesting season. 

Will any invasive plant species be managed as part of the works?  

We plan to tackle the build-up of Himalayan Balsam in Leighton Lock side ponds as a volunteer project in August 2022. 

Will any historic structures be affected as part of the works? 

The towpath improvements have been designed to protect the special character of the historic waterway and the many items of heritage interest located along this section.   

Will it still be possible to access the Globe Inn at Linslade from the towpath? 

The section of towpath immediately outside the pub will remain open so deliveries and access will still be possible.   

As these improvements are being funded via Sustrans, and the towpath forms part of Sustrans National Cycle Network, will it become a fast cycle path? 

The Trust’s towpaths are a shared space with pedestrian priority, hosting a variety of different activities. Everyone using the Trust’s towpaths needs to be aware and considerate of others, particularly of people on boats, children, animals and people with disabilities which may not be obvious. The Trust’s Towpath Code is clear that pedestrians and those accessing the water have priority, and cyclists in particular should be considerate of others. Cyclists wanting to travel at speed should use alternative routes away from the canal. 

The new surface will be finished with a material that does not encourage fast cycling, and there will be more space for people to comfortably share the towpath, with more room to pass. Space for anglers will be retained on the front verge. 

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 Canal & River Trust has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sustrans. Canals are special places and the Trust’s Memorandum of Understanding with Sustrans recognises the unique historic nature of towpaths and the range of different users who must be respected.   

Will there be any new signage asking people to observe the Towpath Code? 

As part of the scheme the Trust will be putting up ‘Share the Space’ and/or ‘Stay Kind Slow Down’ signage to ensure everyone using the towpath takes responsibility and is considerate for other users. 

Will the project solve the current towpath flooding issues south of Leighton Buzzard? 

The new towpath surface will be slightly raised and will introduce new drainage that will resolve the most commonly-seen issues where water runs over the damaged towpath surface. The towpath will be available for use all year-round in all but the most extreme storm conditions. There may still be flooding of the towpath in this area in extreme storm conditions (approximately one storm in every 10 years), however it is beyond the scope of the Trust to be able to resolve the flood conditions that affect the River Ouzel and other watercourses in this area. 

Where can people find out more about the planned works? 

To find out more about the proposed improvements, and to provide feedback, go to our project webpage, which will be updated through the project.

Can people comment on the planned works? 

We’d like to hear from local residents, businesses, towpath and waterway users, to find out what they think about the proposed improvements.  We have an online questionnaire for people to provide feedback on the proposed improvements on our project webpage.

Can people get involved in the project? 

Yes! We’d like to know if anyone would like to get involved in delivering some of the wildlife or heritage improvements with other volunteers, or to help look after the new towpath environment once it is complete.  We also hold regular Towpath Taskforce and other volunteering events in the wider area, and we’d be delighted to have you or your group along. Please provide us with your contact details if you are interested in getting involved in the project by entering your details in the final section of the online questionnaire which is available from our project webpage.

Last date edited: 24 May 2022