How the Manchester Ship Canal is changing business

Barges on the Manchester Ship Canal. Photo: ITV News

It's a good job Manchester is usually rainy. It takes 70 million litres of water flowing through the Manchester Ship Canal's locks to lift each vessel travelling from Liverpool to Salford docks.

And there are about to be many more ships sailing the 36 mile route, laden with cargo.

The canal was built in 1894 to take goods manufactured in Manchester's factories to Liverpool's ports and the world beyond.

Increasing numbers of businesses are switching to the canal. Credit: ITV News

Britain's economic decline after the second world war meant it gradually fell out of use and, until recently, appeared to be little more than a relic of the region's industrial heyday.

But investment by the canal's current owner, Peel Ports, as well as Peel's development of the docks in Liverpool herald big changes.

Against all odds, slow, plodding canal barges are winning back business from lorries which have largely taken over how Britain's businesses move goods around the country.

With a little help from all that rain flowing from the Pennines into the canal locks, of course.

What's the attraction? In cash and environmental terms, the developers say ships are about half as dear as rail transport which, itself, has half the costs of lorries thundering up the road.

The canal is changing the way companies move goods around Britain. Credit: ITV News

For those companies which can handle slower delivery of supplies or the goods they make the cost savings are obvious.

Increasing numbers of businesses on the route inland to Manchester are switching at least some of their cargo to the canal.

We spoke today to Kingsland Wine which handles a remarkable 6 per cent of all wine drunk in Britain.

It takes delivery of the largest wine-in-a-box I have ever seen.

A worker at the factory opened the doors on a 20 foot shipping container wide to reveal a steel framed case restraining a bulging bag the size of a small bouncy castle filled with 24,000 litres.

The wine is decanted into about 33,000 regular bottles for Kingsland's supermarket clients.

By importing the container into Liverpool instead of Felixstowe and by getting it to the plant by canal instead of rail, Kingsland is saving a quarter of a million pounds a year.

Manchester Ship Canal is 120-years-old Credit: ITV News

Logistics experts tell me that shipping has undoubted benefits over road transport and developments like the rejuvenation of the Manchester Shipping Canal should largely be welcomed.

But they caution that shipping looks good only in comparison with its inefficient rivals and could still be improved upon.

There are also concerns about the dominance Peel Holdings has over the entire route - a monopoly, in effect.

However, none of the clients I have spoken to in recent days was worried about the impact on current business.

Instead, they all marvelled at how a 19th century canal has been revamped to serve 21st century needs. Maybe the one constant is the rain.