On November 22nd 2022 in a commons debate Michal Fabricant (MP for Lichfield), made an impassioned speech, in support of Canal and River Trust, volunteers and their efforts to maintain and restore the network. However, there was a distinct warning in his summary of what is to come:
‘Everyone here realises the importance for the Canal & River Trust to have some idea of what its grant will be after March 2027, when it terminates. It needs to plan which canals remain open.
We do not want to see that happen to our canals and waterways, but we need some certainty. I am a little disappointed, though I understand the reasons why the Minister could not give certainty today. I am sure that “forthwith” means not a year or two years from now. I am sure that “forthwith” does not even mean three months from now. I hope that “forthwith” means that within a few weeks we will learn precisely what grant the Canal & River Trust (C&RT)will be given. Once it knows that, it can plan ahead. Only by planning ahead will we be able to maintain such an important element of our national heritage.’
We are now at the three month definition of forthwith, we still don’t know what the grant will be after 2027 and consequently which canals will remain open. It must be very disheartening to volunteers who have donated hours of their time to be faced with the threat of closure. For example the valiant efforts of people to restore the Montgomery to a navigable state, only to be overwhelmed by a wave of opposition from ecologists and bean counters.
The government had the idea of Hiving Off River and Canal Expenditure, creating CaRT to implement their single strategy, high risk development plan. Did anybody in Government do a risk analysis of the plan? The number one question should have been what happens if CaRT don’t manage to raise sufficient funding? I understand that CaRT have had to employ more people to spread awareness of the pleasures of life by and on the water, but where is the return on investment? Walkers, cyclists and new fishermen are being encouraged to enjoy the canal network, again good publicity but we need income. The analogy of a National Trust for the Waterways doesn’t really work, The National Trust always makes sure it has the necessary funds to maintain a property, before it accepts responsibility. The governmental CaRT before HORCE approach did not allow the gradual growth of a network with adequate funding.
I really must put in a plea to stop the derogatory comments between various groups of boaters. We have an enormous task ahead of us to keep the waterways preserved for the future, this will be made much more forcefully if we speak with one voice. There are good, selfish and thoughtless people in all walks of society, let’s not attribute bad behaviour to any particular group. We are all boaters.