SCOTLAND’S historic canal network is to get an extensive upgrade which could cost up to £35 million under plans outlined by its owners
Contractors are being sought for a wide-ranging repair programme which covers all five of the country’s man-made inland waterways.
The massive programme by Scottish Canals is expected to include the refurbishment of bridges, towpaths and embankments.
Canal cuttings, culverts, retaining walls and the reservoirs which supply the canals would also be covered.
A public notice stated the work would be worth some £25m to £35m, covering two to three years.
It said: “The estimated total value is made up of historical spend, planned projects and the aspirational ambitions of Scottish Canals.”
The proposed work has been welcomed by canal-lovers, who expressed concern that a focus on major new landmarks, such as the Kelpies equine sculptures in Grangemouth, had come at the expense of regular maintenance.
The canal network has become a major leisure attraction, with 22 million visits a year by walkers, cyclists, fishermen and boaters.
Its popularity has taken off since the opening of the Millennium Link 15 years ago, in which the Forth & Clyde and Union canals were re-opened to coast-to-coast traffic for the first time since the 1960s. The centrepiece, replacing a series of locks which linked the two canals, is the Falkirk Wheel boatlift, which has become a symbol of their renewal.
The Crinan canal in Argyll, which became nicknamed as Scotland’s most scenic shortcut for providing a quick route along the west coast for coastal “puffer” freighters, has also enjoyed enduring appeal.
Scottish Canals also runs the Caledonian Canal, between Fort William and Inverness, which includes a series of lochs such as Loch Ness.
It features the multi-lock Neptune’s Staircase at its southern end, while houseboats have been attracted to the canal basin in Inverness.
The canal body, which also cares for the remains of the Monkland Canal in Lanarkshire, has taken on a new impetus since acquiring the network following the break-up of the English-based British Waterways in 2012.
The Forth and Clyde Canal Society applauded the repairs spending. Vice-chair James McLachlan said: “There never seems to have been quite enough money for ongoing work that should have happened. New features like the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel are regarded as ‘sexy’, but simple things like dredging and repairing damage need to be addressed.”
McLachlan pointed to the closure of Linnvale bascule (drawbridge) bridge on the Forth & Clyde in Clydebank as an example of work still outstanding. It is currently open to boat traffic only once a week because the cast-iron winding mechanism has broken and one of its parapets has been damaged.
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association Scotland, which represents 80 per cent of the industry, welcomed the proposed cash injection.
Chief executive Alan Watt said: “This investment is good news for both Scotland’s civil engineers and for the growing number of people using Scotland’s beautiful and historically significant canals for recreation.”
Scottish Canals declined to go into detail about its plans.
A spokesman said: “As an organisation, we are always looking for ways to further enhance the experience enjoyed by the growing numbers of people who visit and use our network.
“Scotland’s canals are more than 200 years old and we are committed to preserving that heritage while creating a network which is sustainable for the future.
“At this stage, we are simply welcoming submissions from contractors to complete the pre-qualification questionnaire, which forms part of our procurement process for our contractor framework.”