There are currently no protective railings to prevent people from falling from the aqueduct if they step off their boat onto the flat surface on the off side, across from the towpath. In recent years recorded incidents, observation and reported anecdotes have indicated that both adults and children have put themselves at risk, perhaps inadvertently, by stepping onto the unfenced area with a sheer drop of roughly 90 feet (27.4 metres) down to the River Goyt.
The aqueduct, which carries the Peak Forest Canal, is one of three historic sites to be opened up to the public as part of a £2.3 million ‘Revealing Oldknow's Legacy' heritage project. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is contributing £1.5 million towards the project, with the remainder funded by public donations to the Canal & River Trust and Mellor Archaeological Trust.
We have carried out a safety review of the site and invited members of public to comment on proposals to make the aqueduct safer.
David Baldacchino, from the Canal & River Trust, said: “Marple Aqueduct is a fabulous structure and the renovation programme is really allowing it to be seen at its best. There is a stone parapet on the towpath side of the canal but no fencing on the opposite side.
“This is the highest aqueduct in England and although warning signs discourage access to the unfenced side, it is clear that the lack of any fencing masks the significant risk that anyone stepping onto this area is facing.
“We've had to weigh up the risks to public safety whilst making sure any safety measures are sympathetic to the heritage of the structure. I understand that not everyone will be supportive of the installation of railings because of the important heritage aspects at the site. However, in addition to our public consultation, we have also sought expert advice from the Trust's navigation and heritage advisory groups, who both support action being taken, provided that we carefully develop a suitable design.”
Designs for the railings are now being prepared, guided by a majority preference outlined in the public consultation for traditional vertical iron rails. The timetable for installing the new railings is subject to Listed Building and Scheduled Ancient Monument consent.