'Act now, or we're in deep water'
By Simon Hacker | 21st August 2023
Fears that Gloucester's canals and navigable rivers are falling into dangerous disrepair and decline have led to the formation of a group to urge government action.
The Fund Gloucester's Waterways (FGW) lobby group warns that "unprecedented challenges caused by the climate emergency and high inflation" put rivers and canals at risk and it says that, as part of the national Fund Britain's Waterways movement, it has more than 70 trade associations standing behind its push for action.
Spokesman Colin Brooks said: "The consequences of failing to maintain waterway infrastructure were clearly shown by the evacuation of 1,500 local residents in case the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir collapsed in 2019. This event has shown the need for increased spend on Canal and River Trust reservoirs of up to £25m per year, but it is as if the lessons have not yet been learnt.
"There are thousands of circa 200-year-old structures that are placed at a greater risk through reduced funding. These locks, bridges, reservoirs, aqueducts do not generate any income, but are a significant maintenance liability," he said.
FGW, he said, has been formed to provide support from the Gloucestershire area to the national campaign that represents hundreds of thousands of users and supporters of inland waterways, with both national and local government being pressured to protect the public and environmental benefit of waterways.
He added: "Management of Britain's 5,000 miles of navigable inland waterways is fragmented. The Canal & River Trust (CRT) has the greatest responsibility covering 2,000 miles. It is already in a difficult financial situation with a fixed government grant of £52.6m per year until 2027."
DEFRA has agreed to further support with a further grant, but has recently announced a reduction in funding from 2027, which will taper funding across a decade from £400m down to £30m/annum by 2037.
The plan, says Mr Brooks, shows a "total disregard for inflation over that period. Other national waterways face similar problems: the Environment Agency is operating with £22m per year, one third of its identified requirement, and Scottish Canals has over £70m of maintenance work outstanding."
The consequences of failing to maintain waterway infrastructure were clearly shown by the evacuation of 1,500 local residents when the Toddbrook Reservoir collapsed in 2019, in the north-east.
He added: "This event has shown the need for increased spend on CRT reservoirs of up to £25m per year, but it is as if the lessons have not yet been learnt."
The campaign also stresses that the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the value of Britain's inland waterways as people sought blue and green spaces to help recover.
He said: "This was acknowledged in DEFRA's own Environmental Improvement Plan providing levelling up, economic, environmental, health and wellbeing benefits for us all."
● As part of the campaign, a second national campaign rally will be held in support of 'Fund Britain's Waterways' with a cruise and rally in Gloucester Docks on Saturday September 30th. FGW invites boaters, residents, anglers, businesses and everyone who recognises the importance of our waterways to attend.
Copyright 2023 Moose Partnership Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any content is strictly forbidden without prior permission.