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New policy aims to give ‘Better Towpaths for Everyone’

We've launched a new policy promoting safe, considerate use of the nation’s 2,000 miles of towpath.

Better Towpaths for Everyone' sets out how we intend to encourage safe, responsible use of the nation's towpaths by the millions of people who visit each year. The policy advises that priority should generally be given to the slowest and those using the waterway, and also outlines the simple ways in which people using the towpath can play their part by being careful and considerate to others.

The policy has been shaped by a two month consultation in spring 2014, which saw over 2,000 people, from a wide range of backgrounds and interests, giving their views. The consultation, which included an online survey and workshops with stakeholder groups, encouraged people to give their opinions on how shared towpaths could remain enjoyable, relaxing places for a wide variety of activities. It sought their views on everything from signage and behaviour to suggestions for access and surface improvements.

As well as setting out nine simple principles of towpath use, the policy identifies three key areas of focus:

  • Better Infrastructure – we have secured investment of £15m to widen and resurface towpaths over the past two years and will continue to use external sources of funding to carry out similar schemes across the network. Additionally consideration of lighting and access/barriers will be added to the Trust's existing towpath design guidance.
  • Better Signs – clear and prominent shared-use signs will be installed across the country where there are concerns raised by local stakeholders and customers. These are designed to encourage safer sharing such as at blind spots, pinch points and on busier towpath stretches, where there may also be moored boats.
  • Better Behaviour – a range of initiatives to encourage considerate use of towpaths will be developed. The ‘Share the Space, Drop your Pace' campaign and towpath code which have been successful in London will be extended to other parts of the network and, where needed, we will look at other methods to promote safe behaviour such as downloadable materials and volunteer towpath rangers.

The policy also includes a new Towpath Code based around the three elements – ‘Share the Space, Drop Your Pace, and It's a Special Place' to reflect the unique character of the canalside environment.

The policy is supported by a wide range of waterway, cycling, walking and angling organisations.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust, said: “Towpaths were built originally to support the use of boats on the water, and 200 years later, this important function remains. Today, towpaths also provide enjoyable walking and cycling routes, angling, or simply a place to spend a relaxing afternoon.

“All of these different uses, each important to the health and vitality of our waterways, can sometimes lead to potential conflicts as users seek different experiences, and sometimes the behaviour of a few can spoil it for others. We want to promote a culture that recognises and respects others' use, to reduce this potential for conflict, so that people can feel safe and secure when they use their local towpath.

“This policy is an important step in that process and I would like to thank all the individuals and partner organisations that helped shape it. The policy sets out very clearly the things that we'll be doing but we really need the active support and cooperation of all the different people using the towpath. I'm confident that together we can ensure that our towpaths are calm, enjoyable places - wherever they are - for us all to escape to.”

Initial findings from the consultation, including verbatim comments, were published in October with the full document being launched now ahead of the busy spring period.

Download a copy of Better Towpaths for Everyone

Last Edited: 17 May 2024

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