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UK. IWA World Canal Conference a success in Liverpool

Monday, 18 June 2007

Over 170 delegates, guests and volunteers attended the 2007 World Canal Conference hosted by the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), between 13th-15th June, in Liverpool.

The conference, located right on the waterfront adjacent to the Liver building allowed delegates to view progress on the new Liverpool link being constructed some 25 metres away from the conference venue; which is an integral part of the muli-billion pound waterfront regeneration of the city.

Welcoming delegates to the conference and to Liverpool, the Right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Liverpool Councillor Paul Clark, stated the city’s intentions to develop a waterfront to rival Shanghai or New York, working over a 30 year timeframe.

Formally opening the conference, IWA national chairman John Fletcher underlined the significance of the venue in Liverpool as a reminder of the commercial importance of sustainable waterfront regeneration and waterborne transportation of freight, and thanked the sponsors Peel Holdings who are major contributors to the city’s regeneration through their activities as developers and managers of the city’s dockscape.

The conference covered a broad range of topics, but focused on the value of partnerships involving volunteers and the community sector alongside professionals when designing and delivering a waterfront regeneration of any type and scale.

There was a succession of informative speakers over the course of the conference. Adrian Jarvis , a fellow at the University of Liverpool spoke on the history of the Liverpool docklands as a commercial port; reminding delegates that for commercial waterways to thrive they must evolve and develop, and not be preserved in aspic, which is a recipe for decline and neglect. He was ably complimented later in the day by Dr Anthony Streeten Director of English Heritage who explained how change within historic waterfronts could be effectively and sensitively managed.

The international context of waterways was covered in a series of informative presentations of canal regeneration in France and Belgium, and also in a round Europe tour of innovative schemes including Sweden and Germany where the tourism and leisure use of waterways are finally being recognised and seen as hugely beneficial. Speaker Glenn Millar explained how European Union funds were managed and used to develop waterways both in continental Europe and in the UK.

British Waterways’ eloquent project team, explained the Byzantine stakeholder management issues of large scale projects, and demonstrated their formidable ability and resilience in formulating and executing plans to enable new waterways as part of the planning gain of commercial site developments such as the Liverpool link. They also explained the many engineering challenges that had to be overcome in creating the Liverpool link.

Of notable interest to delegates was the importance placed by development planners, of boats using the waterscape as the means of bringing animation to city centre developments, and providing human scale and a focus for people. A timely reminder that un-navigated waterways quickly become dead and lifeless.

The final day of the conference showcased the work of the volunteer sector, with Mike Palmer setting the scene through a presentation on the role of the volunteer through the Waterway Recovery Group, before culminating in a breathtaking overview of the work by Bob Watson and his team in Goole, centred on their boat Sobriety.

“If the conference inspires just one person to replicate some of Bob Watson’s work, then it will have been worthwhile “said IWA conference organiser Jude Palmer.

The Gala Dinner sponsored by Morrison Construction was attended by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead DBE, and the High Sherriff of Merseyside, Professor Philip Love CBE DL, together with the Conservative MEP for the Northwest, and former Waterways Minister, the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Atkins.
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