WHEN construction of the M6 was in its final planning stage, a delegation from Westmorland reputedly travelled to London to ask the then Conservative Transport Minister Ernest Marples not to let the motorway cut off the upper reach of the Lancaster Canal.

Apparently, the minister declined to even meet the delegates or address their concerns about the waterway. It was a shortsighted decision by a politician who ought to have cared more about our northern heritage. But then motorways were new and exciting while canals were old and virtually useless.

It is difficult to believe such a decision would be made today - the canal would be properly bridged to allow vessels to pass underneath.

Half a century ago, such an engineering solution to preserving the Lancaster Canal would have cost just thousands - now the cost to recitfy this folly might prove too prohibitive.

A 2002 study put the restoration of the northern reaches of the waterway at between £54m and £62m - a colossal sum which is highly unlikely to be raised by private fundraisers. Without massive public funding, it will never happen - and massive public funding could never be justified while public service budgets remain so stretched.

But that does not mean the efforts of restoration volunteers are wasted and Lancaster Canal Trust veteran Frank Sanderson is absolutely right when he says the campaign has to be maintained.

Every yard of canal they restore represents a yard of heritage reclaimed.

The canal may well remain cut off from the rest of the network and not all the waterway to Kendal made navigable, but each stretch completed adds to the leisure and ecological amenity of the area. As the water flows along another canal section, so will the flow of interest from the general public.

Full restoration might be difficult - but it is a dream worth preserving.