Birmingham canals: Are our historic waterways at risk of closure?

A demonstration was held next to Mailbox in Birmingham against the Government’s future funding plans of the Canal and River Trust on Sunday (August 13)
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Canal and river campaigners held a demonstration in Birmingham against the Government’s proposed funding cuts for the waterways from 2027. As a result, the canals of Birmingham could be at risk of closure, said the Canal and River Trust.

The Fund Britain’s Waterways Action Group assembled next to the Mailbox yesterday (Sunday, August 13) to urge the government to adequately fund Britain’s waterways. The flotilla organised by the new campaign group called Fund Britain’s Waterways (FBW) comprises more than 50 organisations including those representing boaters, anglers and other waterways users.

According to the action group, the government has announced it will cut £300m over the next decade from its grant to Canal & River Trust, which manages Birmingham’s waterways. They warned that it could have a "potentially devastating impact".

What has the Government said about funding the canals?

The Government released a report in July 2023 regarding funding for the Canal & River Trust (C&RT) from 2027. They found that the C&RT grant has so far “demonstrated value for money and future government funding will continue to deliver significant public benefits.” However, they want the trust to have “reduced reliance on government funding.”

The report added: “Subject to certain conditions being met, Defra will provide over £400 million of ongoing funding for the C&RT from 2027 to 2037. This consists of a fixed grant funding commitment which embeds a 5% a year downward taper over 10 years (starting from £50.0 million and ending at £31.5 million in nominal terms).”

(Photo - BCN Society)(Photo - BCN Society)
(Photo - BCN Society)

What the Canal and River Trust said

The trust, which looks after more than 2,000 miles of England’s waterways, said: “Whilst we welcome this further long-term commitment to the nation’s historic waterways, the amount awarded represents a steep reduction in funding of over £300 million in real terms over a ten-year period. A reduction that will have devastating consequences on our canals and the people and wildlife who rely on them.”

They added: “Such a steep reduction will inevitably result in a decline in the overall condition of our waterway network, and, alarmingly, the possibility of canal closures. It puts at risk invaluable natural habitats, historic infrastructure and cherished public spaces.”

What Mayor Andy Street said

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, who backs the campaign, had previously said: “It’s often said that Birmingham has more canals than Venice but their importance goes far beyond this famed statistic.

“Our vast and diverse canal network is a remarkable historical inheritance – cherished by the wildlife and local communities that exist around them and enjoy them today. I feel strongly that this very special legacy should be maintained, nurtured and celebrated for generations to come and I’m sure many fellow residents right across our region feel the same.

“That’s why I stand ready to work constructively with both local and national stakeholders to help ensure these unique waterways are preserved in the months and years ahead.”

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