New canal plans don't hold water
Am I missing something? Every few months I read about ambitious plans to 're-open' the 240-year-old Lagan Navigation Canal to make it possible to travel from Belfast to Limerick using inland waterways.
Politicians of all colours welcome this wonderful plan enthusiastically and say what a marvellous boost it would give to tourism in Ireland.
Lisburn City Council started the ball rolling by re-excavating the big lock which now forms 'the island'. They are now talking about further extension westward to what is vaguely referred to as the Maze area, which I take to mean the old Union locks at Sprucefield since the remains of the old canal stop short at that point.
The flight of four locks is still there — derelict, decrepit and dry. The water which once kept them filled came, via the canal of course, from the summit at Broadwater, 10 miles away. But at the top of the flight of four locks, what do we find? Why, the M1 motorway, which the proponents of the grand scheme seem to be completely unaware of.
The next five or six miles of the old canal route are now several metres beneath the bed of the motorway, which then crosses the Lagan for the second time at precisely the same spot where the Lagan Navigation once crossed the river in an aqueduct.
The old canal will never be 're-opened'. Too much of its length is not there to be re-opened. If a wet link is ever to be made between Belfast Lough and Lough Neagh, I see two possibilities, both horrendously expensive.
The first would involve straightening, dredging and effectively canalising the Lagan itself, which would then have to be lifted to summit level by the equivalent height of the four Union locks and the one at Soldierstown. This would create enormous problems for land drainage.
The second possibility would be to dig a new canal beside the motorway, say, refurbishing the Union locks and building a new aqueduct.
I've not heard any proposals as to how the grand scheme is to be accomplished, much less a cost estimate for the work involved, but the figure would be high.
Simply to allow tourists' pleasure craft to travel to Lough Neagh hardly seems worth serious consideration.
It would be much cheaper to pay such canal buffs to take their waterborne holidays in Amsterdam or Venice.