24 November 2022

IWA welcomed the parliamentary debate on Tuesday 22nd November, which saw more than a dozen MPs speak passionately and knowledgeably about the importance of public funding for inland waterways, but was disappointed by the response from the Waterway Minister.  IWA considers that Government has missed an opportunity to reassure the public that 2000 miles of waterways in England and Wales will receive sufficient funding in the future to keep them safe for the people who live, work and spend time on or near them, and to protect this important infrastructure network for future generations. 

The Westminster Hall debate was opened by Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways.  Michael outlined the importance of waterways to local people, the environment and the economy.  He noted that with waterways more popular than ever “we are seeing their benefits realised on a grand scale, re-purposed for leisure and recreation, for health and wellbeing, for homes – and still playing a vital economic role for freight and other commercial uses, attracting visitors from across the globe whilst also enriching the lives of so many local communities.”

The 90-minute debate heard about waterway projects in constituencies across the country, with many MPs mentioning the importance of the Canal & River Trust’s 2000 miles of waterways.  Waterways managed by other navigation authorities were also discussed, with MPs from Norfolk, Scotland and Northern Ireland also taking part. 

Issues raised during the debate included the potential for more water transfer projects, the impact of climate change on historic infrastructure, waterway restoration projects and the hard work put in by volunteers, as well as the most important issue of continued support for the waterways funded by Government.   

The outcome of the review by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) of its funding for Canal & River Trust’s waterways, originally due to conclude in July and then postponed until ‘the autumn’, will be critical for the Trust’s long-term financial position, with the current grant funding contract only in place until 2027. 

Rebecca Pow MP, recently re-appointed as the Defra Minister with responsibility for waterways in England and Wales, responded to the debate, but was unable to confirm any timescale for the announcement of Defra’s review into Canal & River Trust’s funding, saying only that, “… the outcomes… will be announced forthwith.

IWA is disappointed that the Minister was unable to give a more positive response to the debate, and in particular to the question of timing for the Defra announcement.  As mentioned by many of the MPs during the debate, IWA considers that it is essential for Canal & River Trust to have the certainty of knowing that it will receive sufficient funding to meet the increasing challenges of climate change and inflation, so that it can plan for the proper maintenance of its waterways and associated historic structures. 

The debate is available to watch on Parliamentary TV:

The Hansard transcript can be found here:

Photo by Paul Rodgers shows, left to right:
Maggie Throup, MP for Erewash 
Richard Parry, Canal & River Trust Chief Executive 
Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways 
Sue O’Hare, IWA Deputy National Chair
Wendy Morton, MP for Aldridge-Brownhills