Penguins on the Regent’s Canal!

Penguins can currently be seen by the Regent’s Canal!

Regent's Canal penguins at Primrose Hill bridge

Regent’s Canal penguins at Primrose Hill bridge

These cut-out penguins, apparently created by someone from the London Zoo, can be seen adjacent to the Primrose Hill bridge in Regent’s Park.

Cut-out penguins on the Regent's Canal

Cut-out penguins on the Regent’s Canal

I was a bit late on the scene because by the time I took pictures several of the penguins had run into the ground (fallen over! or pilfered?) For an earlier comparison see the picture from the skipper on ‘Lady A.’

Lady A commented on Twitter: “Looks like the penguins are escaping from London Zoo  into the Regents Canal!”

"Looks like the penguins are escaping from London Zoo" - Lady A

“Looks like the penguins are escaping from London Zoo” – Lady A

London’s worst canal ‘towpath’ – 3

Did a City of Westminster councillor fail the city in its duties?

I decided to add this interim installment to this investigation of the towpath situation between Little Venice and Lisson Grove as I think it lends an important aspect to the failures in providing proper access and good signage for disabled people who wish to use the canal towpaths between the W9 and NW8 areas of London.

Oft times it is viewed that the waterways authorities are the culprit when it comes to the substitute towpath issues, however the City of Westminster and its councillors are also pretty much as well part of the damning failures that have perpetuated this issue.

Maida Vale and Little Venice often have had MP’s and councillors extolling the benefits of Paddington’s waterways and the rewards that are reaped in terms of tourism. Fair enough, but it appears no-one has ever discussed the towpath restrictions and it appears that the preference is to just ignore the problems.

Time for change on London's towpaths? Graffiti at Westbourne Park

Time for change on London’s towpaths? Graffiti at Westbourne Park

The Blomfield Road stretch, the critical part of the towpath access problems, was until recently the home of one of the City of Westminster’s foremost campaigners in disability access issues. From beginnings as a councillor in the London Borough of Camden, they rose to being a leading councillor in the Maida Vale Ward. Their bio (on their official Westminster headed paper) stated they were Westminster’s “deputy cabinet member transport and infrastructure, and lead member on disability issues.” They have now retired and moved to Camberley.

The Disability Discrimination Act was something of utmost importance to them – it was something they cited as being “very conscious of…” His wife was also a prominent disability campaigner and it is said that she often wrote and embarrassed those organisations who had invited her to their functions, but were unable to offer full access.

Its somewhat a mystery when one considers their home overlooked the critical situation being discussed here. Both were Mayors of the City of Westminster so there should have been awareness and influence upon the problems that perpetuate Little Venice’s canal towpath – and seen that they were sorted? BW (CRT) and the council had obligations duties under the DDA, hence one wonders whether the problems were perhaps elected for ignorance?

To be concluded in part four (not yet published)

That pesky ‘bridge’ at Lisson Grove!

Is a canal tunnel a bridge or not?

East entrance to Lisson Grove Tunnel

East entrance to Lisson Grove Tunnel with the bridge notice upper right

It seems so, according to Canal & River Trust. Ever since the British Waterways Board and its successors have run London’s canals, they have claimed there are just two tunnels on the city’s entire system. Despite this error being pointed out oft times in the past, Lisson Grove continues to be randomly called either a bridge or a tunnel. BW’s notices claim it as a bridge however its walking guides claim it a tunnel as shown below:

At least BW calls it a tunnel in its circular walk leaflet!

At least BW calls it a tunnel in its circular walk leaflet!

Canal & River Trust seems to have found the ideal solution to the dilemma of whether to call it a bridge or a tunnel. In their version of the Little Venice to Camden circular walk the ‘tunnel’ (or ‘bridge’) disappears altogether! Almost an entire paragraph vanishes from the old BW leaflet as it morphs into a Canal & River Trust information guide. Quite a nifty solution to a problem they dont seem to have a proper answer for!

CRT's solution to the 'impossible' tunnel - remove all reference to it!

CRT’s solution to the ‘impossible’ tunnel – remove all reference to it!

In the past long before BWB/BW/CRT came onto the scene, the bridge, sorry, tunnel, was always known as Eyre’s Tunnel. This name was given because the tunnel went underneath part of the large estate belonging to Richard Eyre. As it went through the ground it is without a doubt 100% of a tunnel.

Definitely a bridge!

Definitely a bridge says CRT!

When Canal & River Trust changed their notices to the new ID (with cheap stickers) they certainly didnt put that ‘bridge’ right. They just stuck a new ID over the old BW notices and left the confusion for others to ponder over. Just wonder, would Canal & River Turst prefer to call its Islington and Maida Hill tunnels – their two official London canal tunnels – a succession, or a multitude, of bridges?

London’s worst canal ‘towpath’ – 2

We begin this section with a quote from London Canals’ 2006 report:

Why is there a problem at Maida Hill & Lisson Grove?

“Until the 1980’s there never used to be such major restrictons pertaining to the towpath in question. British Waterways’ proposals for a major waterborne light and sound show in 1989 meant that large numbers of boats moored on the Regents Canal had to be displaced and found alternative moorings. Locations included new moorings along Blomfield Road and at Marylebone Wide (otherwise known as Lisson Grove moorings.)

These unfortunately placed restrictions on how the towpath could be used, in order to preserve the privacy of the residents who occupied the various boats. This entailed the complete closure of the towpath between Junction House at Warwick Avenue (aka the Blomfield Road exit) and Edgware Road (the eastern exit at a point adjacent to Cunningham Court and the deceased actor’s Arthur Lowe’s former residence.)

Arklight proposals anger canal users 1989

Arklight proposals anger canal users 1989

In turn restricted opening hours were placed upon the section between the Aberdeen Place passageway steps and Pateley Street, which allows public use during general daylight hours only. None of these restrictions need ever have been applied and the problems that we are presented with today would have not existed because in the event the proposals for the light and sound show were turned down, notwithstanding the fact that boats had been displaced in anticipation.”

Towpath improvements – now and then:

The major improvement of London’s canal towpaths has certainly given far better accessibility these days and there are new ramps at many locations, with more to be built. None of this work however goes to any sort of effort to improve the Little Venice-Lisson Grove section which is stuck in the past, still in it’s ‘Arklight’ mode as far as things go.

Nice & wide Blomfield Road towpath circa 1905

Nice, wide Blomfield Road towpath circa 1905

Ironically the City of Westminster was a pioneer in drawing up plans for easy walking and accessible routes along the canal. In 1967 it improved the access to the towpath along Blomfield Road (this work was sadly undone by the old British Waterways Board & Zoological Society London in lieu of their controversial ‘Arklight’ proposals.) Westminster’s showpiece however was the new Warwick Estate canal walk leading westwards to Harrow Road – as the picture below shows. This was completed in stages between 1967 and 1971.

Warwick Estate canal walk in 1967

Warwick Estate canal walk in 1967

Westminster drew up documents for improving access routes in the locale – Clear guidelines drawn up in 2002 for improving the canal environment specified the“provision of attractive and safe public access routes through to the canal” as a priority. Poor access was cited as a major problem. A planning brief produced in 2004 set out comprehensive proposals that would have enhanced accessibility around Little Venice (the ‘Paddington special policy area’.) None of these proposals ever came to fruition – bar the one new ramp built circa 2012 that leads into Rembrandt Gardens.

In 2006 London Canals drew up a draft document called ‘Wheelchair-less in Warwick Avenue.” It highlighted the many difficulties that exist around the area. This was reformatted in 2007 and became “Access-less Little Venice.” It highlighted the extreme lack of disability parking spaces, dropped kerbs, ramps, the useless bus stop locations (including that on the 46’s new extension past Little Venice to Lancaster Gate.) Feedback was given by members of DISC on their experience of using wheelchairs on the various towpath routes. (Note: DISC – Disability in Camden was a major organisation that sadly closed early 2014 due to financial issues.)

The Blomfield Road access ramp in pre 'Arklight' days

The Blomfield Road access ramp in pre ‘Arklight’ days

In 2014 much of the area – Little Venice, parts of Paddington, and indeed the towpath situation towards Edgware Road/Lisson Grove – is still pretty well out of bounds for mobility users – essentially a walkers paradise – but even these have several obstructions mainly in Blomfield Road to deal with too! As the above picture shows, there was a suitable route that met the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (ironically introduced in 1995 just six years after the Arklight debacle.) We now have the Equality Act (introduced in 2010) yet the access issues along Blomfield Road (the ‘substitute’ towpath) are clearly still dire and no effort appears to have been made by any of the authorities to improve this. Clearly there is a major breach of legislation by all relevant authorities.

This continues in part three with a look at failures by City of Westminster and its local councillors.

London’s worst canal ‘towpath’

The subject of this 1st blog post is towpath accessibility – which seems appropriate as my life now focuses on disability rights & access.

This issue of accessibility along the ‘substituted towpath’ section between Little Venice and Lisson Grove etc has been discussed in the past and was in fact the subject of a survey conducted by London Canals in 2006 which ascertained much needed to be done to bring this important link between the west London canal towpath and the central/east London canal towpath up to date with current legislation. This survey included wheelchair access, ramps, dropped kerbs and the other things that were clearly needed to bring this section up to scratch.

Blomfield Road towpath in 1905

Blomfield Road towpath in 1905

The reason for calling it a ‘substituted towpath’ is because the original towpath, which was clearly 100% accessible, but now out of bounds for it serves as access to the many boats moored along this section of Blomfield Road.

London Canals published a leaflet (shown below) detailing the accessibility along this stretch which was stocked by British Waterways aboard Jena. On certain weekends in the summer there were leaflet holders placed by London Canals around Little Venice and Blomfield Road to help those needing the information to use the substituted towpath link between Little Venice towards Lisson Grove and Regent’s Park.

Little Venice to Regents Park leaflet published by London Canals 2006-08

Little Venice to Regents Park leaflet pub by London Canals 2006-08

The purpose of the Little Venice – Regent’s Park leaflet was to give disabled people or families with kids and buggies the most convenient means of getting across the overland route (the substituted towpath) between those two points. It began at Paddington Basin and extended eastwards as far as the towpath access ramp at Charlbert Street bridge in Regent’s Park.

Despite some rudimentary signs placed at three or four strategic locations by British Waterways, no signage has ever been made for disabled people along this stretch of ‘towpath’. A survey made in January 2007 on the Maida Hill tunnel ‘overland route’ (as BW calls it) concluded the section should be signed for pedestrians and cyclists only. These proposals were pared back even further when intended signposts at several locations (including Edgware Road, shown below) were dropped.

BW on their survey of the towpath route options in early 2007

British Waterways during their surveys in early 2007

The above picture  shows BW staff at Aberdeen Place/Edgware Road – with siting (marked red) for a signpost denoting the access route.

The stretch along Blomfield Road (and its counterpart Maida Avenue) has been very difficult to negotiate even for those walking and this year things were so bad that signposts were put up near the intersection with Warwick Avenue warning motorists of walkers using the road.

Sign warning motorists of walkers on road

2014 – Sign warning motorists of walkers on road

One problem along this stretch is of course the boaters’ gardens, these are well maintained on the original towpath side however terribly unkempt along the substituted side forcing many people to take to the road. This was at one time intersected with a number of bikes (belonging to boaters) chained to the fencing which didn’t help but which seems to have abated recently. The unkempt growth has certainly been bad in recent years and it is no surprise that in 2014 a warning sign was put up warning of walkers using the roadway.

In 2007 BW proposed the siting of signs to make it easier for cyclists, walkers, and wheelchairs to negotiate the considerably difficult routeing between Little Venice and Lisson Grove and the proposals were drawn up as depicted below. The porposals were for BW to pay for the signs and the City of Westminster to install them at the allocated sites. In the event only the maps at Pateley Street (3) Lisson Grove (2) Aberdeen Place (1) and by Warwick Avenue (not marked) were placed, as shown below (click on image for larger version.)

British Waterways' 2007 proposals for comprehensive signage

British Waterways’ 2007 proposals for comprehensive signage

The Warwick Avenue (Blomfield Road access point) map was clearly an afterthought, an economy measure, when the proposals for signage were dropped.

Since the surveys by London Canals (2006) and British Waterways (2007) the Little Venice-Camden towpath has gained greater prominence with an increased online presence (regular uploading of pictures, blogs, tweets, You Tube videos etc) and the relaxation of cycling restrictions, making this one of London’s most important cycle routes. Post-2012 (the Olympics/Queen’s Diamond Jubilee) the towpath has seen even greater pressure placed upon it, especially as it was also denoted one of London’s new important walking routes – the Jubilee Greenway.

Jubilee Greenway marker

Jubilee Greenway marker

Essentially the substituted towpath section has to be the worst section of the entire Jubilee Greenway within central London, as well as the worst section of any of the London canal towpaths in the centre of the city!

In terms of accessibility, the main sections of towpath (Paddington basin westwards to the Grand Union and Pateley Street eastwards  towards the Thames/Lee navigation) are let down by this dreadfully inaccessible section between Little Venice and Pateley Street footbridge. Its an outrage. Its not just British Waterways, now of course Canal & River Trust, but also the City of Westminster who have let this outrageous state of affairs perpetuate. Its an embarrassment even to walkers who have to take to using busy roads because they cannot reasonably use the substituted towpath, whilst disabled people/wheelchairs find this section a major obstacle course.

Undoubtedly its a most unacceptable situation especially in the centre of London these days. Its even more outrageous when we find that access has in fact been reduced – rather than enhanced – by the placing of moorings along Blomfield Road and taking away the original towpath’s potential. This was a mistake that was never corrected following the ‘Arklight’ debacle.

Part two covers a brief historical background to the substituted towpath and lack of alternative routes.