Why the Fund Britain’s Waterways Campaign is necessary
The Fund Britain’s Waterways group has been set up in response to the threat posed to our canals and rivers by inadequate funding. The funding situation is already causing deterioration and will only worsen with the challenges of high inflation and the impact of climate change, which are both at a level unforeseen when current funding was agreed. FBW has come together to campaign to persuade national and local government to ensure that the benefits provided to the public do not continue to be eroded.
Responsibility for managing Britain’s 5,000 miles of navigable inland waterways is fragmented between different organisations. The Canal & River Trust is the largest with 2,000 miles. In July 2023, a year behind schedule, Defra announced future funding for the Canal & River Trust and the announcement confirmed our fears of further substantial cuts to the already inadequate level of funding. Other organisations such as the Environment Agency and Scottish Canals face similar problems. Today the entire network is at risk due to significant underinvestment. 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, but it is as if the lessons have not yet been learnt.
The value of Britain’s inland waterways was demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic and is acknowledged in Defra’s own Environmental Improvement Plan. They are widely understood to provide levelling up, economic, environmental, health and wellbeing benefits for us all. The combined annual economic and social value of CRT waterways alone has been quantified as £6.1bn, including cost savings of £1.1bn for the NHS from active use of the waterways and towpaths – leveraged from current government investment of only £52.6m per year. Despite greater understanding of their value, and the deteriorating state of the infrastructure today, the Government appears intent on significantly reducing its funding for the waterways.