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New Opportunities for Inland Waterways Across the North Sea

European Union
Complete with results
Geo-spatial type
Network corridors
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Transport mode
Waterborne icon
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Passenger transport,
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

Rivers, lakes and canals have played a major role in transport throughout the North Sea region for many thousands of years. During the industrial revolution, canals were constructed for freight traffic, while today recreational and tourism usage of canals and the surrounding land are increasingly popular. The aim of Canal Link is to investigate how the region's network of navigable waterways can be developed further on the basis of the cultural and environmental heritage of the waterways, while ensuring that recreation and tourism are not in conflict with other canal users.


The project sought to investigate how the waterway network in the North Sea region can be developed and promoted further. Activities include promoting tourism linkages, developing the inland waterway network and developing the relationship between the waterways and their surroundings (local communities and businesses, natural and cultural heritage). The project aimed to lead to improvements in the viability and use of the waterways and in tourism and economic development along the waterways.

Although the project focused on recreation and tourism, these aspects complement the transport function of inland waterways, in the context of the multi-functional use of water. Canal Link had the objective of establishing a recognised network of tourism and recreational waterways in the North Sea Region to compliment the ECMT network of freight transport waterways.

Other outcomes include the development of tourism links between waterways, the improvement of canal accessibility for tourists through the development of promotional packages and material and better links between waterways and the local business community. Finally, the project involved an investigation of the feasibility of establishing a permanent tourism promotion structure for inland waterways.


Canal Link was divided into three specific actions:

  1. North Sea Links - to undertake a number of analyses (e.g. market potential, constraints and the needs of boat owners) for promoting tourism links across the North Sea and to create a website and investigate the establishment of a permanent structure for the development of the Canal Link network after the end of Interreg funding.
  2. Strategic Development of the Waterway Network - to implement projects including: the classification of tourism waterways; identification of missing links and bottlenecks in the region's inland waterway network; an investigation into the impacts of waste water from boats; and extensions and improvements to the waterway network in Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. 
  3. Entrepreneurship, Business and Community Development - to carry out a number of projects to: estimate the economic and social impacts of waterways and waterway projects; establish networks of local businesses to stimulate activity through the exchange of ideas, both locally and overseas; and develop centre-based multi-activity tourism 'packages' and self-drive boating holidays. The project aimed to pilot information systems on waterway banks to inform boaters of the services and facilities established.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
Joint Technical Secretariats for each of the strands, respectively regions.
Type of funding
Public (EU)


The primary result of the Canal Link project was to raise the profile of the network of smaller waterways and to demonstrate that there are many ways of enhancing their potential and actual contribution to the sustainable development of the European territory. The feasibility of this objective was demonstrated by accomplishing five goals:

  1. Canal Link expanded the recreational waterway map by looking at gaps and bottlenecks in the North Sea Region recreational waterway network. A number of waterways that have been closed to navigation, together with new links, have been identified to extend the network and thus open up new tourism opportunities. These have been added to the recreational waterway map.
  2. Concerning historical and unused waterways, a number of specific actions were undertaken to extend the network and remove bottlenecks. These actions are of different types and scales and illustrate the range of measures that can be implemented to bring old waterways back into use and thus extend the network and regenerate the urban and rural areas through which they pass.
  3. Canal Link undertook a study to gain insight into the problems associated with the collection of waste water from pleasure boats in the North Sea Region member states and to investigate solutions within the spirit of the Water Framework Directive. The study found that legislation and controls vary greatly between countries and indeed within countries. Some countries have stringent national regulations for the control of black water. In other countries the control is through local legislation and byelaws, while still other countries have no requirements in place. This leads to a lack of clarity for water sports tourists, who wish to move from one country to another.
  4. Concerning the impacts of waterway improvement, Canal Link undertook a study that reviewed methods for appraising and evaluating waterway schemes in both economic and social terms. Economic appraisals can be used to forecast scheme impacts, while evaluations assess the outputs and outcomes of schemes following completion. Canal Link also showed recreational users of waterways create dynamic and active water spaces, which support waterfront regeneration and development schemes.
  5. Finally, an important feature of Canal Link is that the dissemination process used a website developed through the Interreg IIIB North Sea Region project Geoshare system, a Geographic Information System

    Technical Implications


    Policy implications

    At the outset, Canal Link operated in the institutional setting of the Water Framework Directive, a major piece of European legislation that will direct the future management of water in the European Union. In this framework, Canal Link assessed the applicability of the Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses classification to waterways in the North Sea Region - In general it was found that the system was appropriate.

    A distinctive feature of Canal Link was the large number of sub-partner organisations involved in the project. Some 55 organisations in the six partner countries participated in this way. This has been an important vehicle for involving a wide range of stakeholders in the project and the Canal Link workshops and study visits have been used to re-enforce this local stakeholder involvement. Developing on this, Canal Link undertook a series of measures to further contacts with the new member states.

    These institutional measures, and the broad framework of the project, could be of considerable benefit to other authorities and communities looking to develop their waterways. In this sense, a number of Canal Link partners came together with organisations in Spain, Italy, Hungary, France and Germany to set up an Interreg IIIC project 'VNE – Voies Navigables d’Europe' (Inland Waterways of Europe). VNE was established in early 2005 and ran to the end of 2007. Through VNE the results of Canal Link and other waterway-related Interreg projects were further developed and promoted to a wider audience, particularly in the new member states.


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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