User group says fears have proven founded
Trust says performance exceeds expectations
Big Issue North, 29 October - 4 November 2018
The national charity given responsibility in 2012 for managing England and Wales’s inland waterways system has rejected a users group claim that reduced government funding has caused it to fail to maintain standards and guarantees future problems.
The Canal and River Trust (CRT) replaced British Waterways, the public body established in 1963 that spearheaded the revival of the neglected 2,000 mile canal and river system – including towpaths, buildings and landscapes – after it fell into disarray following the arrival of railways and the car.
“Can’t raise finance”
CRT has faced large cuts in government, although it has been guaranteed money until 2027 and been given the power to raise revenue itself through rent on properties.
Government funding in 2017-18 was £51 million, significantly less than in the first decade of this century, when it peaked at £82 million in 2003-04 and never fell below £57 million.
In 2017-18 CRT spent £22 million on repair of major engineering assets and a total of £110 million on routine maintenance. CRT’s total income and expenditure were both around £181 million. In 2017-18 charitable donations fell from £31 million the previous year to £21 million.
Allan Richards writes for narrowboatworld.com, which describes itself as “the voice of the waterways”. Its readers previously voted overwhelmingly against the British Waterways transfer into the charity sector.
Richards claims: “Our fears have proven founded. CRT can’t raise the finance to catch up on the maintenance work.
“The core new funding stream is ‘charitable giving’, which has been disastrous. Moving to the charity sector gives some tax advantages and CRT has more flexibility on using assets. But the extra revenue is simply not enough to generate income to prevent the waterways from deteriorating. Meanwhile visitor numbers are falling and volunteer numbers are not rising to the levels predicted.”
Richards believes CRT has been unclear about its problems and fears this will provide an opportunity for the government to cease funding after 2027. This will lead to mooring costs that are unaffordable for boat users. The subsequent loss of income will reduce spending on maintenance and facilities and lead to fewer visitors to the inland waterways.
A CRT spokesperson rejected Richards’ views, saying: “We have guaranteed government funding until 2027. Our increasing property dowry, up from British Waterways’ £500 million to £867 million, generated £50 million income last year, double British Waterways’ £24 million.
“Volunteer numbers are at a record level of 600,000 hours. Regular visitors over a two week period are 4.3 million people, up by 34 per cent since 2012.
“There were 20,000 licensed boats in the early 2000s. Now there are 34,000.
“Our performance measures set by the government exceed the targets set for the conditions of towpath, principal and flood management assets. As such the condition of the trust’s principal assets has improved since our inception.
“We are creating living waterways that transform places and enrich lives, delivering greater wellbeing to millions.”