Potential Economic Impact

Economic Impact of the Waterway Park

The proposed Bedford Milton Keynes Waterway Park aims to link the River Great Ouse at Bedford to the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes running through the central section of the Oxford/Milton Keynes/Cambridge Corridor. We, at the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust, believe that the proposed new Waterway Park can be transformational and will bring economic benefits, increased tourism, environmental and public health benefits along its route.

It will act as a focus for placemaking for new communities, help mitigate the environmental impacts of East/West rail and the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Expressway and establish new natural capital within the Oxford/Milton Keynes/Cambridge corridor.

This Economic Analysis is a big step forward in making a strong and robust case for investment in the Waterway Park. It demonstrates that the projects potential impact is wide-ranging, from accelerating development at Marston Valley to stimulating tourism, bringing in up to 800,000 new visitors each year and encouraging healthy lifestyles for those who live and work in the area.

The Waterway Park will provide links between new and existing communities in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire. It will create new natural capital and provide essential green infrastructure which has the potential to provide flood mitigation and water storage in high risk areas.

We are pressing for the Waterway Park to be integrated into the future planning of the Oxford/Milton Keynes/Cambridge Corridor as we see it as essential infrastructure which will create a strong sense of place and identity as well as delivering on many of the targets set by the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment.

I hope this Economic Analysis will start to explain why we have a strong belief in this transformational project and the benefits it can bring. We may have more work to do to fully demonstrate the potential of the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Park but I very much hope this will help encourage a wide range of partner organisations, agencies and individuals to support us and ensure our vision is realised for the benefit of all.


The proposed Bedford Milton Keynes Waterway (B&MKW) is a 26 km canal connecting the Grand Union Canal at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes to the head of navigation of the River Great Ouse at Kempston, west of Bedford. The project is being led by the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust (B&MKT)1 and through the B&MKW Consortium comprising: Bedford Borough Council; Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Trust; Canal and River Trust; Central Bedfordshire Council; Environment Agency; Forest of Marston Vale Trust; Milton Keynes Council; South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) and The Parks Trust.

Protected in three local plans and with planning permission achieved on sections of the waterway, it aims to provide benefits locally and regionally. It will link the wider regional Anglian waterway network thereby generating major tourism opportunities and local and wider economic benefits.

The Opportunity  

Several major factors are helping to reposition the area and enhance the prospect of the canal’s realisation. The B&MK Waterway will provide a strategic green infrastructure link between major population centres in Milton Keynes and Bedford. It can also provide effective links between key nodal points at planned and committed developments along the canal corridor, including Campbell Park, Marston Valley, and Bell Farm. There are opportunities for the canal to link to future development sites, particularly in growth areas east of Milton Keynes. This reflects the currently strong positioning of the canal in some local authority Development Plans and in the SEMLEP Strategic Economic Plan.

There are wider strategic initiatives that waterway construction will help achieve, including the major economic opportunities offered by investment in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes -Oxford Arc, recently recognised by the National Infrastructure Commission as a ‘national priority’.

Contribution to Stakeholder Objectives

The canal has the potential to meet a variety of stakeholder organisations’ strategic objectives, meeting local authority objectives with respect to encouraging active travel, promoting employment land development, encouraging housing growth, promoting active travel, and supporting the infrastructure priorities of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Growth Corridor.  

Headline Economic Impacts

The waterway has the potential to deliver significant benefits to the project area and wider region. The impact is wide-ranging, from accelerating development at Marston Valley and household spending effects to stimulating tourism activity to achieve greater visitor and spending impacts in the project area. These impacts include:

  • Job Creation and Training Opportunities: The canal will result in 1,418 temporary construction workers and 101 direct FTEs. Construction of the B&MK Waterway will create opportunities for nearly 100 apprenticeships;
  • Gross Value Added - The B&MK Waterway will result in £118.9m construction related Gross Value Added over the course of the build programme and £4.1m operational GVA per annum;
  • Residential Premiums of up to £44.1m at key housing sites on the Waterway;
  • Stimulating Tourism Trips and Spending – the B&MK Waterway will stimulate an additional £7.1m to the local economy annually, with 790,000 m additional visits annually;
  • Health and Wellbeing Impacts – potential for addressing health inequalities in the local area and promoting sustainable travel methods. Impact on modal change and monetised health benefits of £281,000 per annum;
  • Managing Flood Risk – Integration of flood mitigation and water storage in high risk areas as part of new developments;
  • Connectivity and Active Travel – A new towpath will provide key active travel links between new, existing and potential communities in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire. The waterway itself will provide a strategic connection between the River Great Ouse and the Grand Union Canal, creating a wider cruising ring linking to the wider Middle Level Navigations via Huntington, St Ives, and connecting north to the River Nene and south to Cambridge via the River Cam waterways;
  • Infrastructure Provision - the B&MK Waterway can help provide essential digital infrastructure, district heating, and energy technologies to support new communities; and
  • Green Infrastructure, Biodiversity and Natural Capital – the B&MK Waterway will provide a key piece of green infrastructure, contribution to Local Plans, the SEMLEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, and fulfilling priorities of a forthcoming Natural Capital Investment Plan for the Cambridge Milton Keynes-Oxford Growth Corridor.

The full Economic Impact Study the Trust commissioned from Peter Brett's Associated can be viewed here 

1 Established in 1995 to promote and assist the provision of a new 16-mile Waterway Park
Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Economic Analysis