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Waterways support tourism by:

  • Improving and diversifying established visitor ‘hotspots’
  • Extending the zone of interest beyond the hotspots
  • Covering a wide spectrum of activities, with wide-ranging benefits
  • promoting and supporting the canals in generating income for businesses from leisure. The County and the City of Stoke-on-Trent are committed to preserving and enhancing its historic waterways.

The argument

Research commissioned by the Canal and River Trust and published in 2012 found that boating was not the most significant activity on the waterways, if measured by the numbers of participants. 5% of visitors were on the canals with boats, 2% to fish, 7% to cycle on the towpaths and 53% to walk. The remaining 33% responded that they were on the waterside on their way to or from visitor attractions, pubs or cafes or had come down to sit by the water. The research found that in 2011 there were 0.73 million adults who simply ‘sat or stood by the water’ of the canals in the East Midlands.

The canal network is a legacy of Britain’s past and provides a unique insight into our industrial and social history. In its 2009 report, DEFRA noted that ‘canals were essential to the transformation of Britain into the world’s first industrial nation’. Canals have value for their own sake as cultural and historic assets. In Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire we have fine examples of industrial age engineering and remnants of a way of life now gone but easily recognisable to modern eyes. These can also be the drivers of change and modernisation. There are many recent examples where economic regeneration and the conservation of the cultural heritage have been given momentum by restoration schemes. Josiah Wedgwood’s vision and the Ceramic industry presence in Stoke-on-Trent is one example. Throughout the County, there are examples of the link between canals and our industrial heritage with the associated opportunities for the development of tourism potential.

Canals can connect attractions, such as the visitors centres at Middleport and Bridgewater pottery factories along the canals in the City of Stoke-on-Trent, by creating links such as that to Drayton Manor Park near Tamworth, creating a new tourist ring linking Lichfield to the Birmingham Canal Navigations and by linking Stafford to the national network; They can also deliver lower key, local visitor attractions on the doorstep for people who would like a day out without going too far from home and keeping visitor spend in the local economy e.g at reservoirs such as Rudyard, Chasewater and Tittesworth, and encouraging the organisation of canalside events for example the Etruria Canals Festival in Stoke-on-Trent and Stone Food & Drink Festival. In this context, high quality cultural and heritage assets are a key resource.

Priorities emerging from Local Enterprise Partnerships include seeking growth in the visitor economy. The City and County's canals can deliver such growth by supporting, improving and diversifying established visitor ‘hotspots’ and extending the zone of interest beyond the hotspots. The canals are a continuous historic route which can draw visitors out from the well-known attractions to surprising areas currently not as well-known as they deserve to be or to interesting new gateways.

Walkers at Colwich

Walkers at Colwich on the Trent & Mersey Canal. Photo courtesy Waterway Images Ltd.