Most inland waterways were made navigable and developed to facilitate freight transport. Many still perform this function, particularly by connecting sea ports with their hinterland.

From a European and often national policy perspective, inland waterways are often considered purely in terms of their transport function. Nowadays they form a multi-functional green infrastructure resource, delivering a wide range of services to society; economic, social, and environmental. On smaller waterways, freight transport has dwindled – and other functions have become more important, particularly tourism, recreation, and promotion of their cultural heritage.

The information below sets out some findings from previous and current EU funded projects NIWE members have participated in or are keeping a keen eye on. We also provide some key documents from other sources that support the importance of this theme and waterway sector.


Canal Link

Supported through the Interreg IIIB North Sea Region programme and ran from 2003 to 2006.

Involving 8 partners from 6 countries around the North Sea – UK, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands & Belgium, Canal Link had three objectives:

  1. The development of water tourism links between partner regions across the North Sea.
  2. The development and expansion of the region’s recreational waterway network.
  3. The promotion and development of economic activity and entrepreneurship, based on tourism and the cultural heritage of inland waterways.

Canal Link delivered a range of projects in partner areas, together with a series of jointly-delivered transnational actions and left a legacy through:

  • Raising the profile of recreational waterways at EU, national and regional levels.
  • Creating and developing on-going partnerships within regions.
  • Generating momentum for the implementation of and investment in waterway projects after the end of Canal Link.
  • Developing new and innovative practices eg. new tourism facilities along waterway corridors.

An important output was the commitment from partners to make sure further on-going cooperation between many of the Canal Link partners continued through the later Waterways for Growth (Interreg IVB North Sea Region), Waterways Forward (Interreg IVC) and Green & Blue Futures (Interreg IVB North West Europe) Interreg projects.

These relationships and joint workings have proved very successful and co-operation continues to this day – including through participation in, development and promotion of NIWE.

Key outputs and project related evidence:

Canal Link (2004-07) FINAL REPORT


Waterways for Growth 

Developed under the Interreg IVB North Sea Region programme and ran from 2009 – 2012.

The Waterways for Growth project brought together 14 partners from 6 countries surrounding the North Sea – Belgium (Flanders), Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Partners included national waterway agencies, regional and local authorities and tourism development bodies. The project was led by Canal & River Trust.

Waterways for Growth was supported by pilot actions carried out in the partner areas under three themes:

  • Business and product development.
  • Waterway regeneration.
  • Sustainable management of the waterways.

A key overall output of the project was the development of a transnational Framework for the sustainable development of inland waterways. Drawing upon the project results, this suggested a way forward for the on-going development of the region’s waterways by building on their multi-functional role. It was intended that all or some of the proposed measures and actions in the framework could be taken forward at a European, National, Regional or Local level.

Partners identified several themes and potential actions as priorities for future cooperation at a transnational level, ranging from exchange of knowledge to joint development and implementation of policy, approaches and actions. They also identified several investment priority themes identified for future structural fund cooperation under proposals for ERDF, ESF and European Territorial Cooperation for 2014-20;

  • Business development & entrepreneurship, especially in terms of SMEs.
  • Climate change.
  • Protecting the environment and protecting, promoting & developing cultural heritage.
  • Sustainable transport.
  • Attractive & sustainable communities – promoting social inclusion and combating poverty.
  • Education, skills & life-long learning.

Key outputs and project related evidence:

Waterways for Growth (2009-12) FINAL REPORT
Waterways for Growth (2009-12) Framework for Sustainable Development of Inland Waterways