Canal chiefs float illuminating idea

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SOLAR lighting is being looked at to illuminate much of Edinburgh's ten miles of canals under a new plan to encourage people to walk, run and cycle on the banks of the Union Canal after dark.

British Waterways Scotland, the trust responsible for managing all of Scotland's 137-mile canal network, is in talks with the city council about installing solar lights along the canal between Viewforth bridge, near Edinburgh Quay, and the City Bypass at Wester Hailes.

The talks are part of the wider project to breathe new life into the city's canal network.

Community leaders say most people avoid the canal after dark because of a lack of lighting.

It is hoped that the new lighting would encourage more people to walk or cycle to work, even in the depths of winter.

Richard Millar, waterway development manager at British Waterways Scotland, said: "More and more people use the waterway year-round for leisure and commuting to work, so we have been looking recently at the benefits of installing small compact solar-powered LED lights within the new upgraded sections of towpath.

"Such low pollution directional lights would give those walking or cycling along the canal early in the morning or after twilight greater visibility, particularly around the edges of the towpath and when approaching bridges.

"The lights would also increase the health benefits brought by the canal corridor by extending the usability of this environmentally-friendly artery, which runs into the heart of the Capital."

A night-time trial has already been carried out with representatives of British Waterways Scotland, the city council and local organisations including cycling group Spokes and the community councils of Longstone and Merchiston.

Proposals have been made to the city council but no decision has yet been taken on whether it will provide funding.

British Waterways believes that the solar lighting would protect the "historic setting" of the Union Canal, while encouraging more people to use the towpath, which was used by one million people in 2009.

Local councillor and cycling enthusiast Andrew Burns said: "I think it is a pretty good idea. As someone that frequently cycles along the canal at night-time, I know it can be quite dark and some lighting along the edge would be of great use.

"It's OK just now for cyclists if they have good lighting, but it's not frequented much at all by walkers at night-time, so this could help get more people to use it for leisure."

As the canal is classified as a "scheduled monument", any lighting would be subject to consent from Historic Scotland.

The 32-mile Union Canal was reopened ten years ago and is already well used.

A spokeswoman for the city council said: "The installation of new lights along the Union Canal path is currently at the proposal stage.

"We have been working successfully in partnership with British Waterways and Lothian and Borders Police on improving the canal path for local people as well as the wider community."