The long-term future of fishing on the UK’s canal network has been cast into doubt following rumours that the Government is considering selling British Waterway’s assets.
One source warned that Britain’s canals could become ‘dry, weedy ditches in as little as five yeas’ if BW was forced to sell off all or part of the £500m property portfolio that currently helps it raise half its maintenance bill for the upkeep of over 2,000 miles of canals.
And with its current £62.7m annual grant-in-aid package from Defra expected to fall victim to across-the-board Government cuts next year, concerns are growing among lease holding angling clubs over whether these waterways will continue to provide high-quality fishing.
“The canals often come into their own at this time of year, as the boat traffic dies dow and good catches of fish start being made,” said Milton Keynes AA chairman Trevor Johnston.
“But BW already isn’t doing enough maintenance. Further cuts in grants or the selling off of assets would spell disaster for most club-controlled canal fisheries. If you don’t maintain locks and dredge, then silting up can ruin canal fishery,” he warned.
And BW openly admits that any future reduction in funding for waterways ¬ either property income, Government grant or from elsewhere ¬ would have serious implications for canal maintenance, drawing attention to a
Treasury-led review of April this year which recommended its 1,400 canal-side properties not be sold.
“There remains a very serious risk of a Treasury-led sell off to raise much-needed Government revenue and our message needs to be that we cannot afford to jeopardise investment in this important piece of the nation’s heritage,” said Kennet and Avon Canal trustee Terry Kemp.
BW insists that it will continue to do everything n its power to keep canals open to the public but admitted it is currently under spending by around £30m a year, warning that further underfunding would have catastrophic implications for the future of the canal network.