31 May 2024

IWA is deeply concerned about the double effect of funding cuts and the recent prolonged extreme weather on access to and within the Anglian waterways.

Boaters are unable to navigate to or from the Great Ouse, as there is no completion date for the desilting works at Salter’s Lode, which did not start until 27th May. It could be mid-June or later before the first boat from the Middle Level and beyond will be able to access the Great Ouse system, and for Great Ouse boaters wishing to use their Anglian Pass licences to access the Middle Levels and Nene. The impact of the stoppage is already being felt by local boatyards and hireboat companies, whose trade relies on the navigable connection.

The River Nene is expected to open fully on 1st June after winter works were delayed by the recent extreme weather and navigation on the Bedford Ouse is also affected by the ongoing closure of Brownshill Lock due to failure of parts which will need to be fabricated, with no date yet available for its reopening due to the complex nature of the repair. Further upstream, the Cam Conservators have had to close both Bait’s Bite and Jesus Locks due to structural concerns, with no timescales yet available for their reopening. Brandon Lock on the Little Ouse is also closed until further notice due to siltation. A broken beam on the Northampton flight connecting the canal system to the River Nene further limits access to the region.

The Upper Great Ouse, the Ely Ouse and the Middle Levels are currently all isolated from one another, and no boats are able to get to the extremities of the Ely Ouse’s tributaries at Cambridge or Brandon. Whilst the waterways are open either side of all these closures, they create a fragmented system with users prevented from accessing key facilities and services, and hire boats trapped.

Paula Syred from Fox Narrowboats in March said “Not only will half of our hire season have been affected, we have also seen a major down turn in our workshop and slipway services as customers have had to cancel or reschedule their work, being unable to reach us.  The only growth in business this year has been from boats being lifted onto lorries to escape the area.”

Sue O’Hare, Chair of IWA’s Navigation Committee said “Combined with inadequate funding, issues such as these will only worsen as the impacts of climate change are increasingly felt. The Fund Britain’s Waterways group has come together to campaign to persuade national and local government to ensure that the benefits provided to the public by the waterways do not continue to be eroded.”

The Environment Agency was approached for a response but was unable to comment in the pre-election period.