6th July 2011
The Government has just finished consulting on proposals to turn British Waterways, the body responsible for maintaining and improving Britain’s inland waterways, into a new charity. It is hoped that this will give people a greater say on the future of their local canals and rivers.
I recently visited the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust in Devizes to discuss the implications of such a move, and how the proposed changes will impact on the users and supporters of the Kennet & Avon Canal.
There is concern that the proposed ‘New British Waterways Charity’ will continue the tradition of centralised control currently practised by British Waterways, bypassing an opportunity for greater community involvement in the management of Britain’s waterways, a key part of our industrial heritage.
The Government wants to turn British Waterways into the ‘National Trust of our Waterways’. This is a worthy ambition, but for it to become a reality they need to trust local people.
The biggest failing of British Waterways has always been its ‘top down’ approach to any problem. You can’t have people in London micro-managing maintenance in Trowbridge. We need to ensure that the new charity gives greater power to local people.
Our waterways are part of our history and still used today by millions of people across the South West in a whole variety of ways, from fishing and boating, to walking and cycling. It is only right that those who use our canals should decide on their future.
The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust is a first rate example of what can happen when local organisations are given control. They have done wonders in linking National Lottery funding with volunteer, council and business groups and have, over the last decade, restored the canal to the wonder that it is today.
I have written to the Minister and urged him to look at the excellent work that the Trust and its partners have achieved, and use this as the model for improving our inland waterways into the future.