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Lichfield MP quizzes Government over canal restoration

Michael Fabricant MP

Michael Fabricant MP

MP Michael Fabricant has challenged the Government over their commitment to helping the work of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust.

His question came during a debate in the House of Commons on the subject of British Waterways.

Mr Fabricant asked Huw Irranca-Davies – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – what was being done to support the canal project in his constituency.

The Lichfield MP asked:

“Is the Minister aware that studies have shown that the existence of canals can increase economic activity by some 300 per cent. in the areas they serve? What help can he give to the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust, which will provide the much-needed link between canals in the east and the centre parts of the West Midlands?”

Mr Irranca-Davies said the Government were committed to canal projects. He replied:

“Through our work with British Waterways, the Broads Authority, the inland waterways authorities and others we have made it clear that we recognise the wider public benefits of canals, not just in terms of recreational boating but, for instance, of health, education and awareness of nature.

“I do not want to interfere in individual projects – it is important for them to take place on the ground – but I am always happy to meet Members who feel passionate about their own areas.”

The Lichfield MP – who is patron of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust – confirmed he would be having discussions to see whether a follow-up meeting would be required.

Mr Fabricant said:

“I think it’s important that Parliament realises that canals are not just for canal users. They help stimulate the local economy too. Lichfield will benefit substantially when the canal is finally restored.

“I will now consult with the Trust and determine if they think a meeting with the Minister is worthwhile in the immediate future.”

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  1. Class Crisis

    31st October, 2009 at 1:50 am

    It’s a shame the other Conservatives in the area don’t share our MPs enthusiasm for the waterways and the benefits they bring. Matthew Ellis was moaning not so long ago in the Birmingham Mail about graffiti not cleaned off a bridge by BW because of budget problems. It didn’t seem to enter his head that the vandalism wasn’t done by BW, their staff or their users but by residents of the area when asked “At what point did vandalism of this sort become acceptable”.

    Have a word Micky, this short sighted man is a cabinet member for adult care and well being. God help us.

  2. Will Chapman

    31st October, 2009 at 6:54 am

    Well done Michael, we need to keep the plight and opportunities of the waterways in the public eye. Even before the recession, the navigation authorities have been severely under-funded. Brititish Waterways – which is the largest and looks after 2,200 miles of waterway, is short by as much as £30 million/year and, as a result, cannot do even the minimum maintenance required. This is having an effect on the condition of canal assets (bridges. locks ect) and dredging as well as towpaths and surrounding vegetation all over the country.

    As Class Crisis points out, there is an unreasonable expectation from some local authorities who seem to think that vandalism caused by local residents should be cleaned up by the navigation authority rather than themselves. In some areas fly tipping is a major problem – such items as supermarket trolleys, household furniture, fridges, old bikes, tyres, etc. being dumped in the canal and left for BW to remove. Figures from BW suggest that between £8-10 million/year is spent clearing up after local residents.

    Fortunately, some local authorities recognise theit obligations in this regard but it is bby no means universal. Credit should also be given to those local organisations like the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society (BCNS) that organise regular cleaning parties of Birminghams 100 miles of canals. I think I am correct that one of these recently removed over 12 supermarket trolleys from a single lock!

    If our inland waterways are to survive the long recovery period that will be necessary as we come out of the current recession, we will need more cooperation from local authorities and groups like the BCNS as it is extremely unlikely that any additional support wil be coming from central government (in fact, they have recently imposed yet another cut of £5 million).

  3. Unconcerned Citizen

    31st October, 2009 at 7:05 am

    If local governments aren’t doing thier share and nuisances are damaging the canal – unfortunatly i’d suggest restricting access to protect an environment that people in ‘floating homes’ depend upon – and of course pay for with thier licences.

  4. Will Chapman

    31st October, 2009 at 7:52 am

    That wouldn’t work I am afraid.
    By far the greatest number of users of the waterways use the towpaths rather than the water. Annual surveys by British Waterways show that of 250+ million visits each year, over 95% are using the towpaths are enjoying a family walk, exercising (and, unfortunately emptying and not all scooping) dogs etc and it is generally accepted could only be ‘charged’ through their local council. One exception to this is are cyclists who are subject to permits in some areas but these are usually free even though cyclists are amongst the main beneficiaries as many use the towpaths to travel to and from work.

    The remaining 5% of users who actually make use of the water – boaters and anglers – do pay and some would say heavily (an average narrowboat will pay some £500/year for the right to cruise and probably another £1,000 for mooring all before the cost of fuel etc). Members of angling clubs pay for fishing rights (around a £1,000 a mile I understand) and also pay up to £25 each for a rod license. Businesses that depend on the waterway – marinas, boat yards, boat hire firms, moorings etc. also pay BW for the privilege of having a connection to the water.

    All told raises about £20 million per annum from 33,000 boats and an estimated 500,000 anglers. (The rod license, which amounts to over £20 million/year goes to the Environment Agency for maintaining fish stock but doesn’t contribute directly to the upkeep of the waterway itself).

    The issue for the future is therefore how can the millions that use the waterways cover the £30 million annual gap? It seems unfair – if not self-defeating – to expect those who are already paying to more than double their contribution as they are less than 5% of users. As the vast majority of people that enjoy the canals (and also benefits from the jobs and passing trade) are local residents then local authorities should take on more responsibility. Of course, local authority budgets are already pressed but the £30 million shortfall spread amongst the residents of over 250 parliamentary constituencies (about 19 million people) seems a reasonable return for, as Michael pointed out, an amenity that brings a substantial return to the community. An about-to-be-published Government funded study shows a return of £10-15 on every £1 invested in waterways.

  5. Business

    10th November, 2009 at 4:20 am

    Cromford Canal, which was once a vital waterway for Derbyshire’s industry, could now be supplying a new industry in Derbyshire, tourism. Before the Canal can start attracting tourists it needs to under go an extensive restoration at a cost of £57million.