A new canal age sets sail

Malcolm Holbrook
Malcolm Holbrook
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A WIGAN boater has given a guarded welcome to the biggest canals shake up in six decades.

From early this summer a new “national trust for waterways” will receive £800m in funding over the next 15 years to help manage and maintain the Leeds and Liverpool /Bridgewater cuts which wind through Wigan and Leigh.

The Canal and River Trust is a charity set up to take over from Government agency British Waterways, which took over from the British Transport Commissioners founded when the canals were nationalised in 1947.

Its now been revealed that funding will include a core grant of £39m a year, an additional grant of up to £10m a year from 2015/16 tied to satisfactory performance in maintaining assets, towpaths and managing flood risk. And a one-off £25m pot grant over the next few months for priority infra structure works across the 200 miles of navigable waterway system.

Commodore of Crooke Cruising Club Malcolm Holbrook - there are 35,000-plus registered narrow boats licensed nationwide - says that there is a “major” backlog of maintenance for the Leeds and Liverpool and other canals that he hoped will now be prioritised.

He has had to remove ballast from his own narrowboat to prevent it getting stuck because so many lengths are these days too shallow to support a boat’s draught because of a lack of dredging.

The retired former Wigan Infirmary surgeon, who has had a narrowboat for the past two decades but first took to the water a full 60 years ago, said: “The boating community are holding their breadth to see how this shakes out.

“But the billion pounds that the Government have said that they are putting into the Trust is obviously very welcome and is considerably more than the boating fraternity thought would be available.

“We would be looking for the majority of that to go into much needed infra-structure improvements and there is a worry that they may take their eye off the ball.

“There is a tremendous backlog of maintenance needed on the Leeds and Liverpool and many other canals.

“The lack of dredging has been a problem for years which has meant that boaters - and I have done this myself - have had to take some of the ballast out just to go along without scraping along the bottom.

“The other thing is that the local lock gates here on the canal are all made of steel, which was the fashion at the time to support British Steel through its financial woes, but that means that they were very heavy for the elderly.”

The charitable status of the new organisation allows it to raise funds through donations and charitable grants, as well as being able to harness volunteer labour.