Closing waterways is ‘last resort’, says Canal & River Trust

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Canal and River Trust Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, northeast Wales.

Representatives from the Fund Britain’s Waterways (FBW) coalition have met with senior representatives of the Canal & River Trust to have an ‘open and frank’ discussion about the future of the country’s waterways.

During the meeting, held at Hatton Locks, Warwickshire, the trust answered questions from FBW about its current strategy, future plans, and the value for money it provides in managing its 2,000-mile inland waterway network.

The Canal & River Trust’s chief executive, Richard Parry, said that despite the growing funding gap created by diminishing government grants, high inflation, and the need to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the trust had no current plans to close any of its waterways to navigation.

However, he warned that the government funding announced for the period 2027–2037 will be insufficient to safeguard the future of the waterways. This is why the trust is calling for that planned grant to be reviewed. In the meantime, the trust said it was trying to reduce the increasing funding gap by maximising its income from fundraising and other sources, including its property endowment.

FBW says it welcomes the fact that the trust saw canal closures as a last resort. The FBW campaign will continue to highlight the public value provided by Britain’s entire network of inland waterways, in terms of both economic and social benefits, and press the government to intervene with a fairer funding settlement for all waterways before a tipping point is reached when closures could become unavoidable.

“It was reassuring to hear that Canal & River Trust is not currently planning to close any waterways to navigation,” says Les Etheridge, chair of FBW. “As the government discovered in the 1960s, closing waterways does not save money as ongoing maintenance is required for safety purposes yet most of the economic, environmental and wellbeing benefits are lost.

“We need the next government to understand this fact and recognise the substantial value our canals and rivers currently provide.”

Fund Britain’s Waterways is a coalition of organisations representing hundreds of thousands of users and supporters of inland waterways in Britain. FBW is campaigning for national and local government to protect the public benefit and natural capital of the country’s waterways.

The campaign was launched at the end of June 2023 in response to the inadequate funding and deteriorating state of Britain’s network of canals and navigable rivers. 

FBW is planning a national weekend of action over the UK’s May bank holiday weekend (4 to 6 May 2024), which will culminate in a campaign cruise past the Houses of Parliament during the lunchtime period on Wednesday 8 May.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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