NBTA demands closure of overcrowded towpaths after lockdown easing

Following the Government announcement of a partial easing of the Coronavirus lockdown on 10th May 2020, the NBTA has written to Canal & River Trust (CRT) to demand closure of any canal towpaths where users are not observing social distancing or where the path is too narrow for people to stay 2 metres apart.

There has been a vast increase in the use of the towpaths for running, cycling and walking since the Covid-19 lockdown began on 23rd March. The increased use is having a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of liveaboard boaters whose homes are moored on the towpath and on the wellbeing of the public, because users cannot physically keep a 2 metre separation on narrow towpaths. Bunching and the volume of users are the problems. This puts both towpath users and liveaboard boaters at increased risk of contracting Covid-19.

CRT’s poster campaigns informing people to limit their use of the towpaths during the lockdown and to avoid stretches where boats are moored have been largely ineffectual.

The NBTA continues to receive many communications from its members expressing their fear and distress about this situation. The NBTA sent CRT a proposal on 3rd April 2020 with criteria for deciding how and when to close specific stretches of the towpath to protect boat dwellers moored on the towpath. This has been ignored by CRT.

The NBTA has therefore demanded immediate action by CRT until people in the UK are no longer required to observe social distancing to:

• Close all towpaths within one mile of water taps and sanitary facilities for two hours each day (9am to 11am) to allow boat dwellers to access essential facilities safely.

• Using the criteria that the NBTA sent to CRT on 3rd April, close any towpaths that have excessive footfall or cycle traffic and/or where social distancing is not being observed.

• Continue to discourage the use of towpaths in general with the “Limit your use” message.

A study carried out in Belguim by Professor Bert Blocken showed that runners and cyclists outdoors emit a slipstream that could spread the Covid-19 virus up to 20 metres if they are infected. See http://www.urbanphysics.net/COVID19_Aero_Paper.pdf and


CRT reported on 22nd April that use of its towpaths had increased by up to 261% in some places as the result of the lockdown despite its posters urging people to limit their use of them. See https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/news-and-views/news/data-shows-people-swapping-tourist-hotspots-and-city-centres-for-the-local-towpath-on-their-doorstep