The Lichfield Canal - M6 Toll Aqueduct


M6 Toll Aqueduct shortly after the opening in 2003

The Lichfield Canal Aqueduct was built to carry the yet to be restored canal  over the M6 Toll Motorway, just to the west of Lichfield and north of Birmingham. The Lichfield Canal (originally part of the Wyrley and Essington Canal is currently being restored. Restoration was threatened by the construction of the M6 Toll motorway around the north of Birmingham, which cut across the canal's route. Funds were raised to build an aqueduct to carry the canal over the motorway, with the aqueduct being installed in August 2003.

A brief history of the Aqueduct

To ensure that the Lichfield Canal would not be blocked by the M6 Toll motorway it was necessary to construct an aqueduct to carry the canal over the new road. Although the Secretary of State instructed the road builders to provide the foundations in the bed of the road, they were not required to provide either the supporting columns and abutments or the trough itself. It was left for the L&H Trust to raise the necessary funding and make arrangements for the work to be carried out at whatever time we might be able to manage it!

It was obvious from the outset that for reasons of economy and feasibility we must aim to get the job done before the motorway was completed and open to traffic.

In January 2001 the David Suchet Appeal was launched to raise funds to provide motorway crossings for both the Hatherton and the Lichfield canals. Donations began to flow in from supporters and sympathisers all over the country in response to this cry for help.


Aerial photograph taken on 18th December 2002 showing construction of the centre columns and abutments with added graphics to show the line of the canal.

(With thanks to Michael Shea of the Microlight School (Lichfield) Ltd)

October 2001

MEL/CAMBBA had programmed work to start on the aqueduct site in July 2002. However when we raised the matter at the BNRR recent travelling public exhibition, the road builders replied that this date relates to their instruction from the Secretary of State to build the foundations only for the aqueduct. If the superstructure and abutments are also to be constructed then construction needs to start very soon and to be finished next year (2002) to avoid holding up the main programme for the road.  

We are very grateful to receive a most generous grant of £250,000 from the Manifold Trust to put up the aqueduct within 4 years. The aqueduct must be installed when the road is being built. If the substructure (at least) is not built when the road is being built it will be far more difficult and expensive to build it afterwards. It will also take 3 years to build the road. It is unlikely that the road builders will want us disturbing the road during it`s first `up and running` year. Common sense says "Build it now".

The consulting engineers used by CAMBBA are fully committed with other elements of the BNRR so the Trust has obtained estimates and we have now appointed Birmingham consultants Maunsell Ltd. to agree the final details of the aqueduct and make the construction drawings.

The concept of the design remains as the original `Alternative 18` scheme as recommended by the Public Inquiry Inspector and Secretary of State`s Directions (1997). It involves the road cutting through the existing embankment and building an aqueduct at a higher level, achieved by moving locks 7 and 8 from the west side of the road to the east side. Further work to develop this has been carried out as follows:-

Last year the Trust produced a drawing showing a single deep lock rather than a staircase pair. This is not only cheaper (which is something that the DETR asked us to explore) but also being a self supporting structure does not require extra land on both sides as would a tall earth-retained structure. 

Honorary IWA engineers Tony Harrison and Roy Sutton have checked the hydrological aspects of the new facility and have also done some calculations on the abutments and foundations. They propose that the lock should be moved to immediately adjoin the eastern end of the aqueduct preferably such that the head wall of the lock could also form the support for the aqueduct trough, allowance being made for the skew of 26 degrees and the various water passages.


Abutments under construction in Feb. 2003  (Photo by Bob Williams )


Completed centre columns   (Bob Williams )

CAMBBA engineers Arup/Atkins have produced their `Approval in Principle` document for the aqueduct. This shows the use of a central pier and also closed abutments situated immediately at the back of the hard shoulder. All these factors have the effect of minimising the cost of the superstructure within the concept of the original Alternative 18 layout. 

Whilst MEL / CAMBBA have responsibility for producing a detailed design for the aqueduct, the Trust has engaged consulting engineers Maunsell Ltd of Birmingham to design the adjacent lock, working with MEL on its effective integration with the aqueduct.

Maunsell Ltd have produced our own approval in Principle for the combined Aqueduct and deep Lock Structure. This embodies all the previous refinements described above and shows additional details of the structure including guillotine gates, by-wash and back-pumping facilities. Two versions have been produced, one with an aqueduct superstructure made of composite steel and concrete material, and the other having the superstructure made of all steel. The latter was suggested by MEL and has the potential advantage of allowing the superstructure to be erected at any time up until just before the road is open to traffic.

The next step is for all parties (ie. MEL, CAMMBA Highways Agency and the Trust etc) to agree details and the procedure. This would allow CAMBBA to estimate the cost of that part of the work that can be carried out in the first phase before the road is open. The Highways Agency have indicated that at that stage they would be able to issue a Variation Order to the road builders for such works as the trust can afford. It is anticipated that the Manifold Trust Grant of £250,000 will need to be supplemented in order to pay for the aqueduct, even leaving aside the lock, and so we still need some more money for this structure.

The lock will need to be constructed later when further funds become available: offers of funding will be gratefully received.

One further aspect concerns the necessary land because Highways Agency have purchased only sufficient for the road. The Trust has therefore been attempting for some time to acquire additional land comprising the site of old Lock 8, the new Lock and the Crane Brook culvert together with allowance for access. We are grateful to Lichfield District Council for recognising the importance of this and for their assistance with negotiations which are ongoing.

Amended 16th October 2001


April 2003: David Suchet visits the almost completed abutments and centre columns for the aqueduct over the M6 Toll.
(Bob Williams)


February 2003

Approval in principle document.

The final version of this has now been approved with the general arrangement incorporating all the main features which we had requested such as centre support between carriageways, elimination of approach spans, provision for deep lock (to replace locks 7 and 8) etc. Construction is to be carried out in 3 phases.

Phase I  will consist of the centre support and the parts of the 2 abutments located adjacent to the hard shoulders. The centre support comprises twin columns on a common foundation. The western abutment comprises the head wall parallel to the hard shoulder and the first parts of the two side walls. The eastern abutment will be a structure of 4 walls which not only support the end of the aqueduct but also form a chamber to house the necessary water back pumping facilities for the new deep lock.

The cost of these 3 structures is to be divided between Midland Expressway Ltd. (MEL) who as directed by the Secretary of State will pay for foundations and items below ground level and the Trust who have committed up to £200,000 (funded by the Manifold Trust Grant) for the parts above ground up to and including the bridge bearings. The drawings for all this work have been made and construction is well advanced with all the foundations in place and the centre columns completed.

Phase II will comprise the metal trough together with walkways and hand-railing on both sides. This structure has to be manufactured off site and then bolted in place. The Trust has obtained quotations from three Highways Agency (HA) approved manufactures and both HA and MEL have agreed that the Trust can place orders directly with the lowest tenderer (Rowecord Ltd. of Newport, South Wales). Buying directly will be the cheapest way, but relies upon the Trust being able to raise the necessary finance for the work to be carried out within the programme of road construction.

Currently the road builders are well ahead of programme and will need the structure to be erected early August which means commitments for manufacture will have to be made in progressive stages as from February. At present the David Suchet Appeal and the balance of the Manifold Trust Grant account for approximately 2/3 of the funds required. The Trust is in discussion with a VAT specialist to clarify our position which may reduce our liabilities in this area and also early indications are that there may be some saving from the amount of £200,000 committed towards Phase I which can be applied to Phase II. Meanwhile the David Suchet Appeal continues to help "bridge the gap" in the race against time. Still to be resolved is the question of responsibility for the future maintenance of the structure.

Phase III will comprise the outer part of the western abutment and the deep lock on the eastern side. These 2 elements cannot be programmed until further funding and the necessary land is available, but it is anticipated that there will be access for the construction from the canal on either side without disturbance to motorway traffic.


Friday 15th August 2003 at 6.06pm - The aqueduct trough arrives at the A5 Wall Island entrance to the M6Toll ...


6.13pm - ... and along the access road and under the gantries to reach the motorway 


6.42pm: The lorries, from T. M. Fox (Wales) Limited, carry their precious cargo along the carriageway of the M6Toll to get to the aqueduct site.  


 (Photos by Bob Williams)


Saturday, 11.22am:
The giant 350 ton crane lifts the first section into the air


Saturday, 11.38am:
The first section almost in place


Saturday, 12.16pm:
The first half of the job completed


Saturday, 12.30pm:
The second section is lifted up to join the first 


Saturday, 12.35pm:
Nearly there ..... 


Saturday, 12.58pm:..
...and it's up! Just the walkways and railings to be added.
(Photos Bob Williams)

The Aqueduct is up!

Friday and Saturday 15th/16th August 2003 saw a magnificent achievement in the history of the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust. The Lichfield Canal Aqueduct has at last been put in place across the M6 Toll, ensuring that the new motorway is no longer a threat to restoration of our two canals.

Our thanks go to everyone who has worked so hard to bring this about, in particular to John Horton, who, as Projects Engineer for the Lichfield Canal put so much time and effort into this huge undertaking.

The steel trough has been fabricated by Rowecord Ltd of South Wales, and we must commend them for the speed and efficiency of the installation. We are also grateful to CAMBBA for their co-operation in building the abutments and centre columns and for allowing Rowecord to have access to the site to install the trough.

Finally, a comment from our Chairman, Brian Kingshott:

"The Trust is overjoyed to see the Lichfield Canal Aqueduct finally installed. It is a great step forward in our plans to restore the whole canal."

"We are overwhelmingly grateful to all our members and many other supporters who have contributed to the appeal for funds."

"None of this could have been achieved without the the help of our Vice-President David Suchet and Sir John Smith of the Manifold Trust. Congratulations to everyone who has made this great day possible."

"Now it is full steam ahead to get the whole canal open from Brownhills to Huddlesford. We are on our way!" 

Aqueduct Inaugral Ceremony 
10th October 2003

The final stages of erecting the Lichfield Canal Aqueduct were completed in August, bringing to a satisfactory conclusion our long running campaign to have canal crossings included during the construction of the M6 Toll motorway. A celebration was clearly called for!

Representatives from all levels of support - I.W.A., both national and local, British Waterways, local Councils, major donors and contributors - attended a reception at the nearby Boat Inn. Sadly, neither Sir John Smith of The Manifold Trust nor David Suchet, who both did so much to make this dream a reality, were able to join us but sent their congratulations and very best wishes.

CAMBBA gave permission for one coach to make one journey to the aqueduct for the purpose of unveiling the new road sign telling the world what is up there, surely becoming the first to carry passengers on the new M6 Toll motorway.


Brian Kingshott and Dave Fletcher reveal the new road sign

Chairman Brian Kingshott welcomed everyone to the Lichfield Canal Aqueduct and invited Dr David Fletcher, retired Chief Executive of British Waterways who was very influential in securing the installation of the culverts at Churchbridge, to unveil the road sign. Waterway magazines and local press were there to record the historic event with Carlton TV including excellent coverage in their evening news.

After the unveiling and short speeches from Brian Kingshott and David Fletcher, the coach party joined other guests at the Boat Inn for an excellent buffet lunch. Special presentations were made to two exceptional donors who were described as being "top of the premier league". David Fletcher and Chris Coburn were presented with specially engraved glass plaques in recognition of their outstanding support in achieving canal crossings of the M6 Toll motorway, also accepting plaques for Sir John and David Suchet in their absence. Sir John and David Fletcher joined Chris Coburn and David Suchet in being awarded honorary Life Membership of the Trust.

David Fletcher congratulated the Trust on attaining a splendid achievement through difficult times as a shining example of perseverance. Chris Coburn added recollections from his early involvement with the Lichfield & Hatherton through the "Progress Appeal", and how this had been instrumental in bringing about a change of Government policy to the benefit of all waterway restorations.

David Stevenson, an early Trust Director and former IWA National Chairman, gave thanks for all who had been involved in bringing about such a wonderful outcome. Our thanks also go to MEL, CAMBBA, Chase Coaches and all at The Boat Inn for their help in making this such a memorable occasion.


Dave Fletcher and Chris Coburn rejoicing in the Government White Paper "Waterways for Tomorrow"


Motorists on the M6 Toll are probably unaware what the structure is for!


Plaque reads:

“Awarded in recognition of outstanding support in achieving canal crossings of the M6 Toll motorway  Completed October 2003”

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