Transport Minister Derek Twigg has officially opened the first section of the Bridgewater Way - the leisure scheme that is regenerating the waterside area along the Bridgewater Canal.
At a reception held at the Brindley Arts Centre Runcorn, the Minister heard how the Bridgewater Way will transform the canalside, connecting communities along the 39 miles (65km) stretch of waterway.
The Minister, accompanied by local dignitaries including the Mayor and Mayoress of Halton, school children from the Halton walking bus group, John Grimshaw of Sustrans and cyclists completing the New National Standard On Road Cycle training with Halton Borough Council's Road Safety Team cut a ribbon to declare the first section of the canal open.
This project is part of the Sustrans/Department for Transport Links to School Programme, a nationwide scheme, in partnership with local authorities, to connect schools, colleges and communities to the 10,000 miles of the National Cycle Network.
Transport Minister Derek Twigg said, "I am delighted that the towpath along the Bridgewater Canal is to be given a new lease of life. Canal footpaths are often underused and neglected, but are a hidden asset. The Bridgewater Way will conserve and enhance the Canal's historic heritage while offering the opportunity for a new generation of people to enjoy the canal towpath linking urban and countryside area."
John Grimshaw, Director of Sustrans said, "We are delighted that the first section of this ambitious scheme is opening; another fantastic route joins the 10,000 mile National Cycle Network. The Bridgewater Canal's fine heritage reflects our own work - linking urban areas to the countryside."
Rob Polhill, Executive Board Member for Development at Halton Borough council said, "The Bridgewater Way complements the recent development of the award-winning Brindley Arts Centre and theatre in Runcorn. The Bridgewater Way, along with the canal quarter regeneration project, will revitalise the old town.
The first phase of the Bridgewater Way starts at Waterloo Bridge in Runcorn Old Town and runs to Bates Bridge. New uses such as cycling are being encouraged, a new towpath surface allows easier access for wheelchairs and prams, visitor information points, improved lighting and public art is also being installed making the area more pleasant and safer for a variety of users.
Mike Butterworth, Director of Peel said, "It is a pleasure to see that we have a new future for the leisure use of the canalside with the potential to connect communities around the Mersey Basin."