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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.