Return on £22m canal link unknown

Despite estimates it would attract 200,000 extra visitors to Liverpool each year no evaluation has been carried out of the number of people using the new stretch of water since it opened in March 2009.

The £22m, 1.4 mile link between the end of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Stanley Dock and Albert Dock was paid for largely by public funders: British Waterways, English Partnerships, European Union, and the North West Development Agency. The NWDA alone put in £7m of public money. Peel Group, which owns the nearby Princes Dock and Port of Liverpool docks, also contributed.

The grant application to the NWDA by British Waterways, lead partner on the project, estimated the economic impact would be £7.5m a year in extra tourism revenue, or £20,000 a day, from 200,000 visitors annually, or 550 a day, all people who decided to come to the city for the main purpose of using or seeing the canal link.

However, the NWDA, responding to a Freedom of Information request, said: "No evaluation of the new canal link at Mann Island, Liverpool has been undertaken."

In his written response, Simon Nokes, executive director of policy and planning, went on: "Projects are continually monitored throughout their lifetime to ensure delivery against targets and milestones set. Prior to the announcement of Regional Development Agency abolition, external evaluations of all completed projects were undertaken at an appropriate point in time to assess economic impact. However, following the announcement by Government of the abolition of RDAs, restrictions were placed on all new expenditure including that to fund evaluations. Therefore only evaluations where expenditure was already contractually committed could be undertaken."

The canal link took three years to build by Balfour Beatty and passes in front of the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building before going between the new Mann Island development by Neptune and Countryside and the new Museum of Liverpool by National Museums Liverpool.

Graham Russell, partner director at Amion Consulting, in a report called Liverpool Waterfront – Initial Evaluation commissioned by the NWDA and published in July 2009, wrote: "The gross and net impact of the Canal Link will need to be assessed as part of the future evaluation. In relation to monitoring information, it is not yet clear what information is likely to be collected in relation to the users of the canal or visitors to the canal/canal events. Preliminary discussions have taken place with British Waterways to seek to put in place an arrangement for capturing output information annually. A pro-forma has been discussed with British Waterways which it is hoped they will be able to complete annually. If British Waterways are able to complete the pro-forma, there will still be the need to acquire further information if the operational impact is to be effectively evaluated, including: which of the Liverpool Waterfront projects had canal users visited; average level of spend per canal user; where visitors come from; main purpose of their visit; intended length of stay of visitors; details of other waterfront projects visited; and average level of spend of visitors.

NWDA investment is expected to account for 61% of the total public sector investment in this project. Again, once the project is complete it will be able to claim this proportion of the outputs – assuming attribution is made in line with the proportion of public sector funding contributions."

More than £230m of public money has been spent on projects on Liverpool's central waterfront since 2000. The main projects completed are the Arena & Convention Centre Liverpool and mixed-use development at Kings Dock, Museum of Liverpool and mixed-use development at Mann Island, new cruise liner facility, new Mersey Ferries' terminal, Liverpool Canal Link; and the Waterfront Connections public realm project.

Sarah Lalieu, enterprise manager at British Waterways, said: "British Waterways are currently compiling an evaluation report regarding the number of increased visitors to the Pier Head in Liverpool following the opening of the £22m Liverpool Canal Link and new public realm. Our findings will be collated by December 2012 in line with our funding requirements."

British Waterways has yet to appoint an independent consultant to carry out the work.

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