WORK has started on developing the UK's largest cycling and walking network.

A stretch of waterway in Astley, known as the "Muddy Mile", is the first scheme to have improvement works as part of Greater Manchester's Bee Network.

Surface improvements, as well as better access and signage, plugging a vital gap in the Bridgewater Way, will take place at the location.

The works are now underway and official notices have been posted along the towpath to advise the public of temporary footpath closures.

The closure is expected to continue through to June.

A further project to reinstate the elevated towpath over the Barton Aqueduct is also proposed.

Once completed, the Bridgewater Way will then connect to the Trafford Centre, Salford Quays, Manchester city centre and back out to Stretford, Sale and Altrincham, creating a 20-mile continuous multi user route.

The works will allow people to cycle on the canal path from Wigan Pier, through Leigh and across the Salford boundary to Monton and Patricroft.

The network plans were announced by former Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman last year, who is Greater Manchester's cycling and walking commissioner.

He said: “It’s very exciting to see spades going into the ground on our first Bee Network scheme. We know that this vital missing link has been on residents’ wish lists for a long time and we’re thrilled to be able to help deliver a route that we know will be well used by thousands of people every year.”

The £212,000 project will be funded by the Greater Manchester mayor’s Cycling and Walking Challenge Fund, The Bridgewater Canal Company and Wigan Council.

Director of economy and skills at Wigan Council, Becca Heron, said: “We would like to thank local people for their cooperation throughout the duration of these works.

“I am sure everyone who uses this part of the towpath will be happy to see this upgrade take place.

"We will keep local people informed of any updates as the weeks progress.”

Louise Morrissey, Director of Land and Planning at Peel L&P who own the Bridgewater Canal, said: “The works in Astley are set to make a difference to those who use the canal on a regular basis for pleasure and commuting to their place of work.

"We look forward to hosting an event to celebrate the official opening of the upgraded section in a few months.”

The £160 million Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has allocated to the Mayor’s Cycling and Walking Challenge Fund has been made possible through the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund.

The Transforming Cities Fund aims to improve productivity and spread prosperity through investment in public and sustainable transport in some of the largest English city regions and was first announced on November 20, 2017 by the Prime Minister.