The Lapal Canal – Project Summary

  • The Lapal Canal is the derelict eastern 'half' (5.5 miles) of the otherwise viable Dudley No. 2 Canal in the West Midlands (UK).
  • In 1798, the full 11-miles long canal was opened to provide a lock-free (i.e. level) bypass to av oid canal congestion in central Birmingham.
  • It linked the Dudley No. 1 Canal to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Selly Oak, as a 'speedy' route to get coal from the Black Country measures to London.
  • Surveyed and constructed to be a contour canal at the Birmingham Water Level, it had to cross two major, off-level geographical features:
  • The Leasowes Valley, forming poet Shenstone's landscaping in Halesowen, was straddled with a  60 ft (18 m) high, steep-sided earthen embankment, while;
  • The high ground at Woodgate (the watershed between Rivers Severn and Trent) was traversed with the Lapal Tunnel of length; 3,795 yards (3,470 m) or 2.2 miles.
  • It was the fourth longest tunnel in UK and amongst the most narrow, being designed for passage by traditional legging.
  • The typical transit time was 4 hours, until 1841 when Thomas Brewin installed a steam-engine pump to 'flush' boats through in about 2 hours.
  • The tunnel's 120 years of viable operation was often interrupted by closures due to localized but economically repairable roof-falls.
  • But in 1917, through-navigation ceased leading to the gradual closure of the approach channels and then formal abandonment in 1953.
  • In full contrast, the northern 'half' canal to Hawne Basin; a former rail-canal interchange basin, remains viable and picturesque to this day.
  • In 1990, the Lapal Canal Trust (LCT) was formed to champion for eventual restoration, to enhance the entire WM network (the BCN).
  • The Lapal project divides into approximate thirds being: West, Halesowen, Dudley; central or Woodgate; East, Selly Oak, Birmingham.
  • In 1997, Dudley MBC commenced a restoration of the Leasowes' channel in Halesowen but only to a shallow water depth at present.
  • In 2007, LCT commissioned Atkins consultancy for a full Feasibility Study towards a manageable incremental restoration scheme.
  • Atkins' chief and radical recommendation is to replace the former tunnel with an "over-the-top" (OTT) re-alignment along the Woodgate Valley floor.
  • The proposed line runs parallel to and close by the Bourn Brook, and requires two small ("Lapal"?) tunnels under the M5 at J3 and the Quinton Expressway.
  • Ascent and descent to the UK's second highest summit level will require two flights of ten locks each and a water back-pumping scheme.
  • Even so, all this is 'cheaper' than would be a tunnel re-built to modern safe-working specification, and it can be implemented in affordable stages.
  • The full outcome will be a continuous canal corridor offering fully rural recreation for all manner of users, not just boaters.
  • The elevated OTT alternative route also allows the canal to deliver solutions to smaller but significant issues and concerns:
  • In California we can consider a large marina (perhaps flanked with town houses) to 'sit on top' of the methane-generating buried waste.
  • In Halesowen, we can consider crossing the A456 with an aqueduct - perhaps of spectacular design when the time comes?
  • The former existence of the Lapal Tunnel is to be preserved, perhaps with a short, dry walk-in length at the re-exposed former Lapal portal.
  • Secondary benefits of full restoration include the rejuvenation of the heritage sites at St Mary's Abbey and Weoley Castle ruins.
  • The Atkins' Study also recommends an East-to-West restoration order; there being fewer non-standard sections to restore first.
  • In 2009, the canal bridge under Harbourne Lane (A4040) was rebuilt (for the third time!) as part of major development of the Q E Hospital complex and Selly Oak.
  • Sainsbury's are poised to build a new food-store, just north of the canal junction, and re-instate bridges and the first Lapal channel (approx. 900 yards).
  • For 2010, the LCT, supported by the Inland Waterways Association, has funded a Planning Study to extend renewed navigation into Selly Oak Park as visitor moorings.
  • The general strategy of LCT is to acquire (identify) funds for a restoration project, then, in partnership with the Local Authority, commission contractors for the work.
  • Supplementary LCT activities include liaisons with relevant parties; MPs, Councillors, Friends and Residents in Selly Oak, Woodgate and Halesowen.
  • Members of LCT and volunteer enthusiasts also undertake occasional work-parties for litter-picking, scrub-bashing, etc., to preserve the Lapal corridor.
  • Newsletters; Lapal Link, Displays and Presentations (including archive material) are prepared and delivered to communicate the Lapal Aim.