A MAJOR upgrade programme is on the cards for Northwich's 'cathedral of the canals'.

It is now 19 years since Anderton Boat Lift was reopened following a £7 million refurbishment project.

The Canal and River Trust, which operates the lift, expects it will soon be time for more work to take place to keep the historic lift in working order.

Ani Sutton, destinations and attractions manager, said: "The boat lift is due to have a major maintenance programme, which means it could be out of operation for a prolonged period of between six to 18 months.

"The lift structure needs repainting, the control system upgrading and the hydraulic ram cylinders, which support the two caissons, potentially need remedial work.

"We are still awaiting vital specialist reports, which have been delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions. These will help the trust to assess what needs to be done, in the least obtrusive way.

"Whatever happens we can reassure boaters and visitors that maintenance work is probably unlikely to start for another 18 months, meaning we would hope to have two clear summer seasons of normal operation, unless Covid-19 restrictions impact on us again."

The team at Anderton are currently working towards reopening to visitors this spring, following the installation of a new viewing platform and a recent upgrade to the play area.

Plans are progressing on constructing a new hydro-electric plant, which will contribute electricity to power the Anderton Boat Lift and visitor centre, while the trip boat embarkation point at the bottom of the lift is due for resurfacing.

Meanwhile, boaters will soon find it easier to access the boat lift grounds from the River Weaver, thanks to new moorings on the edge of Anderton Nature Park and a new wooden bridge connecting them into the boat lift site.

But it has been a challenging start to 2021 for Anderton Boat Lift, with the third national lockdown and Storm Christoph both posing challenges.

Ani added: "The bottom of the lift was completely submerged by flood water as the Weaver levels rose after record rainfall from Storm Christoph, but I am delighted to say all our delicate historic operating equipment has now dried out and we don’t seem to have suffered any major long-term problems.

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“However just west of the boat lift, the storms did wreak havoc by causing a major landslip on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Barnton.

"This has blocked the canal navigation and it’s unlikely that boats coming from the north will be able to access the boat lift before mid-summer at the earliest."

The Canal and River Trust hopes to introduce socially-distanced boat trips through the lift later this year if Covid restrictions allow – while free access to the visitor centre, heritage displays, coffee shop and children’s play area are due to return this spring.