Civil engineering contracts awarded to help protect and preserve 2,000 miles of historic waterways


Civil engineering contracts awarded to help protect and preserve 2,000 miles of historic waterways, providing resilience to a changing climate

 From flights of locks, to reservoirs and 250-year-old tunnels and soaring aqueducts, the Canal & River Trust has awarded contracts to JN Bentley and Kier to carry out large-scale construction and engineering projects across its 2,000 miles of historic waterways over the next decade.

The new contracts, replacing the current national contract with Kier, have a potential total value of approximately £500m and are the Trust’s largest ever award of waterway engineering works.  Playing a pivotal role in helping the charity protect and preserve the nation’s canals, reservoirs and river navigations, the contracts will commence from August 2022, with an initial mobilisation phase.

The canal network has been rediscovered and is today used by more people than at any point in its history. As well as being navigated by boats in the same way as during the Industrial Revolution, the network is also gearing up to play a pivotal role in the resilience of towns and cities, helping them to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Covering the north and south of the network respectively, JN Bentley and Kier will carry out the largest restoration and repair projects and will work on the Trust’s most complex assets such as reservoirs, embankments, culverts, tunnels and aqueducts – including responding to dynamic situations, such as flooding or canal breaches.  Later this month, a range of contractors will also be appointed for delivering less complex works.

Malcolm Horne, chief infrastructure and programmes officer at Canal & River Trust, said: “Built 250 years ago as arteries of the Industrial Revolution, today Britain’s canals are the world’s finest network of working industrial heritage. They now play an equally important role in society as corridors for nature, tackling health inequalities and improving community wellbeing, as well as supporting jobs and local economies.

“The ongoing task of caring for the thousands of historic assets that make up this extraordinary infrastructure network requires a substantial programme of work. I am delighted to welcome the appointment of JN Bentley and Kier, who will be working with us to protect and preserve our waterways.

“We are also striving to ensure that the network is as resilient as possible to more extreme weather in the face of a changing climate, investing in reservoirs and other key assets to strengthen infrastructure for the benefit of canal users and neighbouring communities. Our contractors will play a vital role in ensuring the safety of the waterways and safeguarding their future, whilst enabling us to improve value for money and continuing to deliver an effective emergency response when required.”

The Trust is the third largest owner of listed structures in the UK, including 46 Scheduled Monuments. The new contracts will cover the charity’s 1,582 locks, 55 tunnels, 2,970 bridges, 281 aqueducts and 71 reservoirs. The maintenance of these historic assets requires a huge amount of knowledge, technical expertise, and sensitivity.

Ian Bester, operations director at JN Bentley, said: “JN Bentley is delighted to be appointed to the Civil Engineering Contract Framework with the Canal & River Trust – an important new client for us and providing a fantastic opportunity to be involved with preserving and enhancing the industrial and natural heritage of the country.

“Securing the framework will allow us to bring our transferrable skills developed from 50 years of experience in the water and environment sectors. We’ll focus on collaborating with the Trust and their partners to deliver safe, sustainable, high quality and innovative solutions for users of waterways across the UK.

“We look forward to forging a long-term relationship together and helping Canal & River Trust continue to make life better by water.”

Eddie Quinn, director at Kier Infrastructure Regional Civil Engineering, said: “We are incredibly proud of our longstanding partnership with the Canal & River Trust, carrying out maintenance works and emergency response services at times when they, and local communities, have needed it most.

“We are delighted to have been appointed to the new Civil Engineering Contract Framework, where we will continue to work collaboratively with the Trust to deliver vital infrastructure projects.”

The new contracts are awarded for a period of up to ten years from August 2022, with an initial term of four years, followed by extension options of a further six years. A rigorous six-stage tender process was carried out over a 20-month period.




For further media requests please contact:

Jonathan Ludford, Canal & River Trust

m 07747 897783 e [email protected]


Notes to Editors              

The Canal & River Trust cares for and brings to life 2,000 miles of canals and river navigations across England & Wales.  We believe waterways have the power to make a difference to people’s lives and that spending time by water can make us all healthier and happier. By bringing communities together to make a difference to their local waterway, we are creating places and spaces that can be used and enjoyed by everyone, every day. @CanalRiverTrust


Today, as well as being visited by around 10 million people every fortnight, the Canal & River Trust’s waterways are used by around 35,000 boats for pleasure, for work, and as homes, with boaters navigating the 250-year-old network in the same way as their predecessors. In 2022 the Canal & River Trust is celebrating ten years since the largest ever transfer of public assets was put into the charitable sector.  As part of those celebrations, boaters and canal enthusiasts voted for ten new Marvels of the Modern Waterways.


Some of these engineering masterpieces have, for over 70 years, been recognised as spectacular examples of the nation’s industrial heritage. These are joined by new additions, such as Little Venice in London and the longest staircase flight of locks in Britain at Foxton in Leicestershire, reflecting both the increasing importance of the waterways as vibrant green spaces in the nation’s towns and cities and their longstanding value in providing popular, accessible beauty spots across the country.  The list, which is illustrative of the canals and structures which the contractors will help the Trust protect and preserve, is:


  • Anderton Boat Lift: the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ in Cheshire is a scheduled monument that lifts boats 50ft from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal.
  • Bingley Five Rise Locks: the Grade I listed staircase locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Yorkshire are one of the steepest in the UK.
  • Blisworth Tunnel and Stoke Bruerne: at almost two miles long, Blisworth is the longest wide, freely navigable tunnel in Europe, and just a short walk from the Northamptonshire picture postcard village of Stoke Bruerne, steeped in canal history.
  • Brecon Basin: a great place to start your journey along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, often regarded as Britain’s prettiest.
  • Caen Hill Locks: the flight of 16 locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire are a scheduled monument.
  • Foxton Locks: the Grade II* listed site on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line is home to the longest, steepest staircase flight of locks in Britain.
  • Hatton Locks: famous ‘stairway to heaven’ flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.
  • Little Venice: an oasis of tranquillity where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s Canal in the heart of London.
  • Pontcysyllte Aqueduct: the Grade I listed structure and World Heritage Site taking the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee valley in Wales is 1,000 feet long and 125 feet high.
  • Standedge Tunnel: the longest, deepest, and highest canal tunnel in the country carries the Huddersfield Narrow Canal under the Pennines in Yorkshire.






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