Stop rot in our canal network, say campaigners

Boats of all shapes and sizes celebrate the re-opening of the Forth and Clyde Canal at Kirkintilloch. Photograph: Peter Sandground
Boats of all shapes and sizes celebrate the re-opening of the Forth and Clyde Canal at Kirkintilloch. Photograph: Peter Sandground
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A system needs to be created to “hold to account” the public body in charge of Scotland’s canals, the Scottish Government has been told.

The UK-wide Inland Waterways Association (IWA) said in a submission to the Government that it welcomed the creation of an independent water ombudsman for Scotland and warned increased funding was “essential” for Scotland’s deteriorating canals, if the country’s industrial heritage is to be preserved.

The submission said Scottish Canals – the public body in charge of Scotland’s waterways – needed to be “held to account for its actions” after it emerged earlier this year the organisation admitted that keeping waterways open to navigation was not a priority.

Many lift bridges, locks and navigations are in a poor condition, impacting boat users and canal tourism.

Scottish Canals has previously estimated the backlog in maintenance work could cost about £70 million. In the document sent to the Government in response to a public petition for an independent water ombudsman to be created, the IWA said: “IWA considers that some system by which Scottish Canals can be held to account for its actions is required.

“At the same time, increased funding for the waterways managed by Scottish Canals is essential in preventing further asset deterioration and waterway closures, in order to preserve our industrial heritage and optimise the leisure, tourism, health, wellbeing and economic benefits of these waterways for everybody in Scotland – whether residents or visitors.”

The association said in England and Wales regular meetings of canal users were held by navigation authorities, but that this had not happened in Scotland.

It added: “It would seem that this type of forum hasn’t been taking place recently in Scotland, leaving the various local user groups feeling that their voices are not being heard.”

The IWA said the Scottish Government should look at the work of the Canal & River Trust in England, which like Scottish Canals north of the border is responsible for the guardianship of waterways.

It said: “In contrast to Scottish Canals’ Asset Management Strategy, the equivalent document produced by Canal & River Trust takes an approach based on how they will improve asset conditions over the next five years. This is a very different approach from Scottish Canals where there seems to be assumption that waterways could be closed, with their document setting out a strategy for a planned closure and abdicating all responsibility for maintaining navigation.”

A spokeswoman for Scottish Canals said: “Scottish Canals are responsible for 150 miles of waterways north of the Border. The Crinan Canal and the Caledonian Canal have remained navigable as coast to coast routes. However, the Monkland Canal is currently derelict. The Forth & Clyde and Union canals, which boast the Falkirk Wheel, were restored as a millennium project.”

The spokeswoman added: “We are in constant dialogue with a wide range of partners and stakeholders, including the Scottish Government, to find efficient and creative ways of addressing the challenges that we face and ensuring the nation’s canals continue to deliver for all the people of Scotland.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said Scottish Canals were allocated £11.6m in the budget for 2018/19, with an increase of £500,000 in the capital allocation to £3.5m.

He said: “We recognise the challenges faced by Scottish Canals and will continue to work in partnership to support the organisation in their operations.

“We announced in June that an additional £1.625m of capital grant in aid would be made available to Scottish Canals. This was to enable Scottish Canals to repair and improve the Bonnybridge and Twechar bridges on the Forth and Clyde and to carry out further repair work at Ardrishaig Pier.

“There have ongoing discussions with Scottish Canals about their asset management plan in order to understand the scale of the financial challenges ahead.”