WORK on the £2 million Craven towpath improvement project between Gargrave and Kildwick has been suspended and people asked to minimise their use of the towpaths.

Although much of the work has been completed, the Canal and River Trust has decided to halt activity on the remaining stretches because of the coronavirus and to protect its staff and sub-contractors.

It is also asking people to limit their use of the towpaths, to avoid any stretches with moored boats, and to strictly observe social distancing at all times.

Richard Parry, chief executive of Canal and River Trust, said: “The trust has continuously reviewed its response to the current crisis and took the decision to suspend all on-site project and construction works as soon as can safely be done, other than where the work is dealing with a critical safety issue.

“Towpath improvement and enhancement works are not essential safety related works so we have therefore taken the decision to suspend them.”

He added: “We appreciate the challenge this presents for both our contractors and their supply chains and our funders, but our colleagues’, contractors’ and customers’ health and wellbeing are paramount.”

Sean McGinley, director of the Yorkshire and North East at the trust said: “While many sections of our towpaths remain open, please be aware that use of them should now be limited. In these unprecedented times, our priority is to support the national effort to keep people safe, following the Government’s advice and taking the appropriate action to protect our colleagues and partners, and everyone who visits, or lives on and around, our canals and river navigations.

“If our canals and rivers are local to you, and you use the towpath for your daily exercise or journey to undertake essential work, please now avoid any stretches with boats moored against the towpath, and strictly observe social distancing at all times, following the latest advice from Government.”

The Canal and River Trust secured funding for the project from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development with further support from Craven District Council and the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership.

It says it will continue to monitor Government advice and hopes to resume work on the Craven towpath project later in the year.

In total, the project will see more than 11km of the towpath improved, as identified in the Access Development Plan commissioned by Craven District Council and written by Sustrans, to improve accessibility along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

The towpath is being resurfaced with a natural limestone material to create a durable and compact surface. It will be widened at key hotspots, including Gargrave and Broughton Road, to provide better access to and from Skipton railway station and employment sites in the town.

There will also be new ‘welcome’ and information boards about key points of interest and visitor facilities in and around the canal, and additional waymarking signage to help people find their way onto the waterway.