Video: Flotilla protests outside Westminster over ‘unacceptable’ funding cuts
A flotilla of boats has protested outside Palace of Westminster over ‘unacceptable and damaging’ funding cuts for the UK’s canals and rivers.
The boats, a mixture of leisure and commercial, aimed to draw parliamentarians’ attention to their presence and the banners they displayed by sounding their horns and holding station outside the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday morning (15 November 2023). They were cheered on by a group of supporters on Westminster Bridge.
The boaters and supporters acted on behalf of a new campaign group, Fund Britain’s Waterways (FBW), representing over 100 organisations with varying interests in the waterways. The group is campaigning to ensure that there is sufficient funding to retain the huge environmental, economic and social benefits that Britain’s inland waterways are widely acknowledged to provide.
The group says it will continue working to ensure that future governments continue to invest the relatively small amount of funding that is required to maintain all these benefits. The Westminster cruise built on the success of campaign cruises earlier in the year in Birmingham and Gloucester.
FBW says more events are being planned in the run-up to the next General Election, which is predicted to take place in 2024.
“Our waterways are valued and used by millions of people,” says Sir David Suchet, a long-term supporter of the waterways and a vice president of the Inland Waterways Association. “Over the years, volunteers have not only worked to protect and restore them but also ensured that governments appreciate their value. I am pleased to see this proud tradition continue.”
Christine Kemp, a long-standing waterway volunteer and liveaboard boater who participated today as well as in an earlier campaign in 2007, adds: “Who would have thought after the 2007 campaign cruise against DEFRA cuts that we would need to be here again in 2023, asking the government to look after our heritage and infrastructure.
“My boat is my home, and I spend time volunteering to help keep the canals in as good a condition as we can, but cuts to waterways funding will have a devastating effect on the canals and my way of life. Our waterways are one of the things that make this country special – serious cuts to their funding risk losing them for everyone.”
In September, UK waterways charity, the Canal & River Trust published its annual report and accounts for 2022/23, revealing an increase in spending on charitable activities, despite a real-term funding decrease from the government.
In its report, the trust highlights the importance of the 250-year-old canal network in helping to address key societal challenges, but also the significant risks the ageing canals are facing due to a shortfall in funding and more frequent extreme weather events brought about by climate change.
Main image courtesy of Kev Malin