A SOCIETY has welcomed proposals that canals could be reopened to freight transport.

West Yorkshire think tank, Same Skies, has suggested the ‘green transport’ move – claiming it would provide a major boost to making the region carbon neutral.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal Society says it would “strongly welcome” any initiative aimed at bringing freight traffic back to the waterway.

But it warns there would be “serious practical difficulties” in transforming the vision into reality.

The Leeds & Liverpool was a successful commercial canal for 150 years – mainly due to its width, which allowed for larger boats and loads.

Kennet – the society’s own heritage boat – is a former working vessel, which would have carried up to 50 tons of cargo.

“Such boats could take a number of lorries off the roads,” said Colin Thunhurst, for the society.

“Although Kennet now operates as a floating exhibition space, Ribble – from the same river-class fleet – can be frequently seen on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal carrying a variety of freight loads, thereby demonstrating the potential for a return of commercial traffic to the waterway.”

Mr Thunhurst said the potential for freight traffic on the canal had been boosted by the introduction of a regular freight-carrying service from Hull to Leeds.

“The barge Farndale H now brings loads of aggregates to the Knotstop Depot in Leeds – such loads have the possibility of transfer to smaller Leeds & Liverpool short boats for onward transmission along the canal,” he said.

“However, given the additional time involved in water transport, this would only be appropriate for selected goods.”

And the society says a number of practical issues would need to be addressed – including “considerable investment” in infrastructure.

Mr Thunhurst added: “Stockbridge Wharf for example, once the principal artery for freighting in and out of Keighley, has seen former warehouses converted to residential accommodation. But provision of new freight-carrying facilities or – where possible – recreation of old facilities would not only offer substantial environmental benefits in terms of moving traffic off the roads, it would also bring a greater variety of use to the canalside environment and provide living evidence of the 200-year-old canal’s rich heritage.

“In addition, there are issues to be considered concerning staffing and the current condition of the canal. As well as the crews themselves, the boats would require loading and unloading.

“Freight traffic on the canal is a very attractive longer-term proposition, but in the short term it might be better to focus on the potential of navigable rivers such as the Aire and Calder.”