We welcomed the opportunity to assist in this matter and took the opportunity to tell the Scottish Parliament about a number of concerns that we have already raised with Scottish Canals, particularly on the Lowland Canals, including:
- The closure of the Forth & Clyde Canal as a through route for most of 2018. The additional funding from Scottish Government has enabled contracts to be let with work due to start in January 2019, nearly a year after the two bridges failed in February 2018.
- The number of locks and other lift bridges in desperate need of maintenance – such as the poor condition of lock gates and bascule bridge operating mechanisms. The current tally of broken infrastructure amounts to five inoperative bridges and one inoperative lock (on the eastern end of the Forth & Clyde Canal where the waterway descends to the Kelpies and Grangemouth).
- Ongoing and long-term issues with operating the locks means that user-operation is difficult. Scottish Canals’ staff have to operate many of the structures, and in recent years have imposed more restricted opening times which don’t take into account tide times at sea locks, and make it difficult for boaters to use the canal.
- The lack of dredging which puts off deeper draughted sea going boats using the Forth & Clyde as a coast to coast route.
- Weed and vegetation is now starting to choke up the canal, not helped by the lack of boat movements.
- The impact on the hire boat trade and tourism as a result of the restrictions and closures this year.
- With sections of canal closed for significant lengths of time, other structures such as nearby locks and other moveable bridges will deteriorate through lack of use, resulting in even more funds required for repairs in the future.
- An Asset Management Strategy published by Scottish Canals in June 2018 includes the suggestion that whole sections of the Lowland Canals could face closure.
All these issues were included in our response to the Scottish Parliament, along with support for a waterway ombudsman, or an alternative scheme that would hold Scottish Canals to account to ensure that the waterways in Scotland, and particularly the restored Lowland Canals, have a more secure future than is otherwise likely to be the case. Another possible solution might be to reinstate IWAC in Scotland, and if this was done, we have recommended that its remit should include all 500 miles of navigable waterways in Scotland, not just those operated by Scottish Canals.
Our response also compared the situation in Scotland to what is happening in England and Wales, and recommended the reinstatement of user group meetings to allow two-way exchange of information. We also noted Canal & River Trust’s very different approach to its Asset Management Strategy, which is based on how they will improve asset conditions over the next 5 years whereas Scottish Canals’ strategy allows for planned closures of sections of waterway and abdicating all responsibility for maintaining navigation.