Water Highway Meets Wave of Protest

Article excerpt

It might seem like the most ambitious scheme since Moses tried to part the Red Sea, but a plan to build a 53-mile "water highway" from the North Sea to the Irish Sea is to be presented to councillors across the north of England over the next month.

Yesterday, the scheme, estimated to cost pounds 6bn, received a cool welcome from the North of England Councils Association and it has already attracted the wrath of evironmental- ists. But the idea's promoter, a retired engineer called Derek Russell, is undeterred and sees it as the answer to the problems of pollution and gridlock in the roads of the South-east.

With tentative backing from AMEC, the engineering firm, and a couple of other companies, Mr Russell has created the Western Water Highway Association to push forward the idea. The association hopes to begin a feasibility study soon. Mr Russell does not like the term "canal" as it suggests "a few sleepy fishermen on a seven-foot wide stretch of water". Instead he sees the link between the Solway Firth and the Tyne at Newcastle as a water highway, like the one recently built in central Europe linking the Danube with the Rhine. He reckons it would carry about 200 million tonnes of freight a year between emerging markets between northern and Eastern Europe and north- west England and Ireland. He said: "Why should all these goods go down south where there is already too much traffic and the pollution is giving asthma to millions of children? …