Unlocking the added value of water through planning and design

Canals and navigable rivers typically have a strong character and identity; a 'sense of place'. This identity can be specific to a certain area, waterway or even a specific length of waterway. These characteristics are important to the built and cultural heritage of the waterway network and are critical to the public’s enjoyment of the waterway corridor.

Leeds Canal Basin with lock and surrounding buildings Leeds Canal Basin

It is therefore important to recognise and protect this through an assessment of the existing landscape character of the waterway corridor; informing an assessment of the appropriateness of any proposed developments, and the impact of those proposals on the waterway corridor.

We would encourage potential developers 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.

Guiding Design Principles

Each waterside location needs to be considered individually, with no single design approach being appropriate in all locations. There are, however, some guiding principles that can be considered in most waterside sites.

  • Waterways and water spaces should be viewed as an integral part of a wider network, and not in isolation.
  • Waterways should not be treated simply as a setting or backdrop for development but as a space; a leisure and commercial resource in its own right. The potential ‘added value’ of the waterspace needs to be fully explored (through waterspace strategies where appropriate).
  • Waterways themselves should be the starting point for consideration of the development and use of the water and waterside land – look from the water outwards, as well as from the land to the water.
  • New buildings should be of an appropriate scale and massing, to reflect adjacent development and not overwhelm the canal environment. Adjacent development and the individual nature of the canal corridor should be carefully assessed to provide some indication of what is appropriate. 
  • The design, detailing and materials of new buildings should reflect and/or compliment the local historic vernacular and elements within the landscape, using simple and robust designs consistent with the character, function and scale of the waterway corridor. Generally a multiplicity of styles and materials should be avoided.  Where there are no historic structures, the opportunity exists to create new and contemporary waterside buildings in keeping with the wider spirit of the local waterway.
  • The towpath and its environs should form an integral part of the public realm in terms of both design and management.
  • It is important that the siting, configuration and orientation of buildings optimise views of the water, generate natural surveillance of water space, and encourage and improve access to, along and from the water.
  • New waterside development needs to be considered holistically with the opportunities for water-based development, use and enhancement.
  • Consider the appearance of any potential development from the towpath and from the water at boat level, and enhance the environmental quality of the waterway corridor.
  • It should be recognised that appropriate boundary treatment and access issues are often different for the towpath side and the offside.
  • The waterways are ecologically valuable green corridors that link habitats and enhance the biodiversity of the local area. Any development should seek to enhance the biodiversity value of the existing immediate and wider waterway corridor. 
  • The Trust wishes to maximise the use of its network of canals and rivers by as many people as possible. Providing appropriate access at all times should be a key objective of any proposed scheme.
  • Considering the interface between waterway (boaters, walkers, cyclists, anglers etc) and the waterside community (residents, businesses, etc) is the key to creating healthy and sustainable waterway places.

To ensure that all the principles above are properly addressed, developers are encouraged to include the waterway, towpath and environs within their holistic development considerations.

Last date edited: 22 July 2015