Canal & River Trust blocks 200-year-old barge business from transporting freight from Hull to Leeds

One of the country's oldest barge operators says his business could go under if a charity continues to block a plan to carry freight to a Leeds wharf.

John Branford, from Goole, on one of his three barges, Farndale, moored at Goole

On its website the Canal & River Trust says the Aire & Calder Navigation from Goole Docks to Leeds presents "fantastic opportunities for cutting the costs and environmental impact of transporting goods."

However efforts by Andy Collins of AC Marine Aggregates, who wants to deliver thousands of tonnes of sand from Hull to Knostrop Wharf in Leeds, have so far been frustrated.

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Barge operator John Branford, from Goole, is lined up ready to go.

The last barges to run on the Aire & Calder navigation in 2013 Picture: Canal and River Trust

Each barge would replace 17 HGV movements into Leeds and appears to tick all the boxes - from sustainable transport to reducing emissions.

However the trust claims there are issues including "traffic management and safety".

In 2012 it objected to the freight terminal at Knostrop getting protected, but was overruled by a planning inspector, according to reports at the time.

The trust's plans are focussed on the new "inland port" at Stourton Wharf, which needs £3.17m from the taxpayer, via the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and will not open until 2021.

John Branford from Goole in the wheelhouse of his barge Farndale Picture: Gary Longbottom

At least five generations of Branfords have worked on the waterways. Mr Branford, 75, started work at 15 and has increased the size of his barges to remain competitive.

He now operates three ex-tanker dry cargo barges, the latest two refurbished with a Government grant of £350,000, which can take 500 tonnes each.

Mr Branford wants to hand on the business, which is at least 200-years-old, to his son, who has a Captain's licence.

Mr Branford said he was told in November that using Knostrop was a "no no" and not to bother spending any money on buying a crane and grab.

20th December 1966......Aire and Calder canal....Canal boat named 'Anne'

He said: "We went to Knostrop and talked to other people there, who were happy for us to get on with it. But when I spoke to the trust, I was told it's a no no. I think it is ridiculous.

"We have the barges but they are going to disappear if we don't get going now. Knostrop is ideal.

"Everyone is on about the planet, and this deals with congestion, potholes, gridlock, fumes and all the rest of it. The tide pushes me to Goole and the ebb will bring me back to Hull, with the engine at half speed.

"There's been no movement on that canal for six years. It is scandalous - the trust are supposed to be promoting canals and getting us going - and I just feel they are killing us off."

Riverside Garden beside the Aire and Calder Navigation at Knostrop Cut, Hunslet

Andy Collins added: "Financially and commercially it is better for me not to do this. I could just send my lorries down the M62 to Leeds.

"But when you look at what's happening in the world and what we know about climate change, this is a project which should and needs to be done."

Leeds Council said they were not aware of any outstanding highways concerns around the AC Aggregates proposals and would work to address any issues or concerns.

A statement added: “The council is fully supportive of any projects and developments which will help the city to address the climate emergency and reduce emissions from transport.”

In a statement Sean McGinley, Canal & River Trust Director for Yorkshire & North East said the trust was "committed to improving freight access on the canal" and the new port would take 200,000 tons of freight off the region’s roads.

He said: "In the interim, we have been approached and asked if Knostrop Wharf was available for use by vessels bringing in freight by water.

"We carried out an initial assessment of Knostrop, which is already intensively used by HGVs and other goods vehicles, and any additional use raises concerns in respect to traffic management and safety.

"We have since carried out a more detailed safety assessment of the site through a consultant, and we are in the process of reviewing its recommendations.

"We will continue to explore any options to improve freight access to the canal."

The Branford family was operating barges before the Aire and Calder Navigation was built in 1823.

Stories passed down over the generations say they started out taking barges to Hull to pick up china clay and Belgian sand before returning to the potteries and glassworks in Knottingley, Ferrybridge and Castleford.

John Branford's great grandfather John owned a fleet of 35 barges and his own shipyard in Knottingley and two lots of stables for the horses which pulled the vessels.

He had one of the first steam-operated barges called The Messenger, which went Portland Bill and picked up stone for building lighthouses.

Mr Branford still has his indentures, which stipulate: "He shall not commit fornication nor contract matrimony within the said term. He shall not play at cards or dice tables... he shall not haunt taverns or playhouses"