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Mobilisation for a party to remember!

The canal between Union lock and the railway bridge
will accommodate up to 120 boats

The Blue Links partners have been working hard, as the New Year approaches, to prepare the return of inland navigation to the Deûle-Scheldt waterway.

The date fixed for the event which will close the Blue Links programme is the European Heritage week-end, September 19 and 20, 2009.

The event could not be held earlier because the canal will remain severed until next summer. It had to be drained over a short section to allow the implementation of a complex programme of works – for the greater part independent of the Blue Links project – at the Couteaux bridge in Roubaix (read the explanations below).

The canal will be opened sufficiently in advance to allow boats to navigate through to the rally site. It will stay open long enough for boats to return to the Deûle or the Scheldt.

After the event, the canal will have to be closed for a few months, while the partners finalise the arrangements necessary for regular operation (management, staffing, training, waterway bye-laws and many other questions to be settled). These will not be in place until the 2010 season. The event will nevertheless take place with all the éclat justified by completion of such an emblematic project, and will be marked by the presence of boats from several European countries, and even from much further away.

This rally has been in preparation for a long time, and has been the subject of many exchanges with the associations representing boaters, and those supporting the heritage of our historic canals. The partners are grateful to them for their mobilisation and their enthusiasm.

The quality of the transnational exchanges in the context of Blue Links will be manifest not only through the presence of English and Dutch boats alongside the Franco-Belgian fleet, but also by a seminar on canals and urban renewal. Under a marquee erected at the Union site, experts from Europe, North America and possibly Asia will present different aspects of comparable projects in other countries, and contribute to ideas and debate among the key players in the Eurometropolis. What has still to be done for the canal to deliver its full potential in enhancing the districts and villages it passes through? This is typically a question which can be answered in many different ways.


‘Inaugural’ flotillas

The reality of the navigable link will be underlined by the passage of two flotillas, one in each direction, during the event. The boats taking part in the flotillas will be chosen by the organisers from the candidates declared at the time of registration. Among the candidates who have already expressed their interest is the Lille rowing club, which could send a few C-boats (coxed fours).

One flottilla will start from the Deûle, the other from the Scheldt. They will meet symbolically at the Union rally site on Saturday 19 September around midday, so that each commune will be formally visited and celebrated twice during the week-end. The boarding by local personalities (or mooring for a brief period) is an opportunity for the commune to run two ‘mini-events’ within the event, one for the passage of each flotilla.

The last ‘attempt’ to cruise through the canal dates
back to the year 2000, when Chris Coburn nudged
the gates of Marcq-en-Barœul lock with his narrow boat Progress

Registration for the boat rally

Boatowners are invited to register on, using an interface set up for this purpose (by the New Year). The outline programme for the week-end will also be posted on the site, and previewed in the next Newsletter.

The Union site is ideally suited to accommodating the main rally and events. The necessary land is available, and the site already has the potential to attract visitors thanks to the canal’s structures (Union lock and Fontenoy swing-bridge) and the nearby canal interpretation centre (offices of Espace Naturel Lille Métropole). The site will also be hosting another event – without boats – on July 4 and 5 : the Journées du Canal. It will thus have been tried and tested, with the cooperation of the urban regeneration and development agency ‘SEM Ville Renouvelée’, before the arrival of Blue Links’ inland armada!

The control centre in the former lock cottage will just have been completed; it will be a symbol, the only original canalside building to have survived at the Union site, along with the bridge-keeper’s cottage which is also within the rally site. Boaters will be able to sign up for a place either at the enclosed and secure central rally site at Union, or at one of the complementary mooring sites which will be offered in the registration form.

Among the specific events already programmed are the arrival of the submarine Atotoxl – a floating work of art and exhibition – which will be moored beside the Maison du Canal at Estaimpuis, and overnight mooring of a high-capacity cruise ship, 80m long, at Marquette on the Deûle, on the Saturday 19 September at 17:50. Two coaches have been chartered by the tour-operator Kingdom Tours (on behalf of Waterways World Readers’ Cruises) to bring its 90 passengers to the central site of the event for the evening.

Couteaux roundabout: the last obstacle

The last physical obstacle to reopening of the canal (after the dredging still required in Belgium, planned during spring 2009) will be the Couteaux roundabout in Roubaix. This spectacular operation recently reached a significant stage. The photo from the site’s webcam, taken late November 2008, shows the completed cut and cover for the dual carriageway. This will pass under the canal in the middle of the roundabout, which in the current state of the works is practically unrecognisable. The abutments of the two bridges remain to suggest the path of the canal. These are being prepared to receive the two lifting bridge decks. Unlike the underpass, the lift-bridges are among the operations covered by the Blue Links programme, for an investment of €2.3 million.

The complexity of this work site is revealed by the imbrication of the abutments on the north-west side (at the top of the picture) and south-east side (foreground) within the actual structure of the cut-and-cover ! This is typically a nightmare work-site, where construction workers must have been treading on each other’s toes at times, since work had to proceed on preparing the abutments while the cut-and-cover tunnel was being excavated.

When the works have been completed, it is a traffic-calmed roundabout that will remain on the surface, landscaped more convincingly than at the first attempt in the early 1980s. The paths of buses, cars, bicycles, pedestrians and boats will cross each other in this crucial traffic node between the communes of Roubaix, Wattrelos and Tourcoing.

The local population should rest assured, however : boats will not pass through during peak hours. During the hours open to navigation, when the lift-bridges will be operated, car-drivers may one day appreciate a break of 5 minutes, to watch boats passing through this intriguing structure.



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Site managed by Lille Metropolitan Council for the project partners:
Voies Navigables de France, Wallonian Ministry of Public Works, Nord-Pas de Calais Conseil Régional, Conseil Général du Nord, Préfecture du Nord-Pas de Calais and Artois-Picardie Water Agency