Canals, Trams and Recycling Old Ideas for a Sustainable Future

I was intrigued to read today about Aecom’s big idea to build a 24m wide canal from Northumberland, via the Lake District, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham to the South-East. A big idea to solve a big problem, namely the imbalance between water supply (North and West) and water demand (South and East) in the UK. It is also suggested that the canal may be used as a sustainable, environmentally friendly means of transporting biomass and high voltage electricity cables (all in the direction North to South apparently).

Only a few days ago I was in a motorway service station and noticed an advert for a new charity asking for £2 donation a month to help save Britain’s canals (unfortunately I couldn’t find the charity online).  Apparently about 500 miles of canals were “lost” in the UK in the last century. I’m not sure why I should be sufficiently saddened by this to want to part with my money. Canals had a purpose, their use was superseded by new technology and, apart from those still used and maintained by canal boat enthusiasts, they have slowly faded away. In some places the slow return to nature has a haunting beauty to it.

Now, however, we are told there may be reason to build new canals. Although I’m not sure the idea will ever get off the ground, the recycling of old technologies brings in mind Nottingham’s Tram. The first line was opened in 2004 and “Phase 2” is currently being built at great cost and inconvenience (but hopefully great results).  Trams aren’t new to Nottingham and an extensive service ran all across the city up until 1936 until it was closed down with the intrusion of something called the motorbus.  (Interestingly, the debt left over from 1936 is still being paid off.) I don’t know if the new tram intends to replace the modern version of the motorbus (there being at least three separate bus routes already running down the Phase 2 line) but it is clearly the jewel in the crown of Nottingham’s drive (sorry) towards being the UK’s greenest city.

I’m sorry for sounding sceptical about trams and the canals, I’m against neither, honest!  Both may well turn out to be important in our strive to a low-carbon, sustainable future. But, strangely, I’m brought around to thinking of archaeologists scratching their heads trying to interpret the meager and contradictory findings from an excavation of some long-forgotten historical site. When our future selves dig up our remains and come across tramlines built upon tramlines will they be equally confused?

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