Crossrail and its impact on adjoining buildings regularly makes the headlines. However, a more historic mode of transport has, perhaps, greater implications for property owners.

There are over 2,000 miles of historic waterways in England and Wales alone. Their guardian, the Canal & River Trust (“the Trust” - formerly the British Waterways Board) have now issued a revised Code of Practice whose guidelines will affect any property which is adjacent to a canal.

So what does a landowner have to be concerned with if they are acquiring or developing property adjacent to a canal?

The Code’s principle is that:

  • no support can be offered or no loads can be imposed on Trust property; and
  • the Trust enjoys a right of support over adjoining or adjacent property.

In addition no stoppage of the canal, its navigation or towpath are permitted unless in exceptional circumstances.

The Code also requires the adjoining owner to take out insurance for any damage arising out of their (or their agent’s) activity. It suggests a limit of £5,000,000 but if potential consequences demand, up to £25,000,000 may be required to cover the design and construction of the works. The Trust reserves the right to see evidence of insurance (although it does not require its interest to be noted).

Similarly a landowner will have to incorporate bank protection into their works. An adequate canal lining may be necessary to ensure the canal remains watertight and careful consideration of support of the canal is crucial if excavation or undermining is to take place.

An adjoining owner must also consider whether access to the waterways is impeded, for example, a licence or permit may be required to oversail a towpath with scaffolding or cranes.

The Code also sets out social and environmental guidelines arising out of any works or use of the adjacent property.

Head of Real Estate, Mark Smith commented, "If you have identified a site that adjoins a waterway for redevelopment or acquisition it will be time well spent in terms of future effort and cost if you take heed of the guidelines in the Code."