Control of Britain’s waterways will be handed to a charity next year. LINDA WHITWAM looks at the implications for a unique canal
CANAL enthusiasts fear for the future of one of Huddersfield’s most popular green assets.
The Government is set to abolish British Waterways, which has managed the country’s waterways, including the unique Huddersfield Narrow Canal, for the last 40 years.
This month has seen the end of their detailed consultation process on the future of Britain’s Waterways. Control will be handed over to a new ‘national trust’ charity for the waterways in April 2012.
The national waterways budget has already fallen from £70m to £50m over the last few years and the proposed annual Government grant for the new charity is just £39m.
Now committed campaigners from Huddersfield Canal Society worry that the changes will mean that there will be insufficient funds to properly maintain the 200-year-old Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
They have already written to the Government outlining their fears for the future.
Society council member Alan Stopher said: “We have major concerns about funding, there is not enough money on the table.
“£39m a year to maintain the national network for the next 11 years is a drop in the ocean. It is nowhere near enough and this will impact on us locally.
“Our canal is not an easy one to maintain or navigate. At the moment it is a constant job to keep our head above water.
“It is important for us to try and get more money out of the Government at this crucial stage.
There are 42 locks in the seven-mile stretch between Tunnel End and Aspley Basin. This makes it one of the hardest canals in the country for boats to navigate.
Mr Stopher, from Birkby, added: “We fear the new body might divert funds to the Grand Union Canal, for example, which is much more heavily used by boaters.
“But the Huddersfield Narrow Canal has three million visitors a year and only a few of them are boaters. The canal is the green lung of the area, it is part of our environment and heritage.”
Canal Society member Ronald Rose, of Marsden, agrees. His connection with the canal goes back over half a century when his father worked on the canal and he lived at Tunnel End as a boy. Mr Rose also worked on the canal as a stonemason.
He said: “We haven’t put all this time and money into the canal just to see it go to pot.
“The canal and towpaths are used by walkers, bikers, fishermen and cyclists. They are a very popular resource and very important to the local community. Somewhere along the line the money will have to be found to keep maintaining them.”
Mr Rose added that several maintenance issues were currently outstanding due to lack of money, including the rebuilding of stone walls near locks and dredging.
Money was also needed to deal with the perennial problem of water leakage, as well as maintaining locks, gates and the banks along the towpaths, which have become a haven for wildlife.
The Huddersfield Canal Society was set up in 1974. A group of dedicated canal enthusiasts set themselves the target of the “impossible restoration” of the Narrow Canal.
Some 27 years and £50 million later, their dream was realised when Huddersfield Narrow Canal was re-opened to navigation in 2001.
THE Huddersfield Narrow Canal has become a major tourist attraction over the past decade and now attracts some three million visitors a year.
Tens of millions of pounds and countless man hours have been spent on the waterway and its surroundings since Huddersfield Canal Society took up the cause in 1974.
The canal has been transformed from a derelict and disused stretch of dirty water into one of the area’s foremost leisure, heritage and wildlife resources.
Today it attracts visitors from far and wide. Walkers, anglers, cyclists, birdwatchers, painters and groups of schoolchildren all regularly make use of the canal, towpaths and Standedge Tunnel Visitor Centre.
The canal has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and has some rare species of wildlife and plants, including the endangered white-clawed crayfish and barn owls.
The water is now clean and home to a variety of fish, including trout, bream and perch.
Neil Saxton, of Rawthorpe Lane, Dalton, is a keen painter and the canal is one of his favourite spots.
He said: “I remember the canal years ago when it was all silted up and full of old bikes and supermarket trolleys. Now it is a magnet for tourists and local people.
“I often walk with friends on the canal, it is fantastic. It is a great bonus for Huddersfield and I really hope they can keep it to the standard it is now.”
Gloria and Derek Ward are just two of the many tourists who visit the canal from other areas of the UK each year.
They are on a two-week holiday from Maldon in Essex, staying in Meltham and spending their time visiting local attractions.
They were impressed with the Visitor Centre and their half-hour guided boat trip into the Standedge Tunnel.
The battery-run short boat trip operates on demand in summer and gives visitors the opportunity to see the inside of the three-mile tunnel and learn of its history.
Gloria said: “It is the first time we have been here and we think it is lovely.
“The boat trip was very good, very informative and the guide was excellent. We also enjoyed the exhibition in the Visitor Centre. Everything is so clean and tidy.”
Derek added: “The history of the tunnel and how they started building it is so interesting.
“With almost primitive technology they achieved so much.”
See our canal facts on the next page.
Huddersfield Narrow Canal is just under 20 miles long and runs from Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester to the rear of Huddersfield University, near Aspley Basin.
The canal was first proposed in 1793 at a meeting in the George Hotel, Huddersfield. Its engineer was Benjamin Outram and it was completed in 1811.
The 3.2-mile long Standedge Tunnel is the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in the UK and took 17 years to build.
Narrowboats had to be 'legged' through the tunnel. The leggers lay on their backs on the top of the barges and moved the boat forward by pushing their feet against the roof of the tunnel.
With 42 locks in the seven-mile stretch between Tunnel End and Aspley Basin, the Huddersfield section is one of the steepest stretches of canal in the UK.
Slaithwaite has the only working guillotine gate on a narrow canal.
Huddersfield Narrow Canal closed in 1944 after a century of decline. It was reopened to navigation in 2001 after 27 years of tireless work and fundraising by members of the Huddersfield Canal Society. The project cost £50 million.
The canal now attracts some three million visitors a year engaged in a variety of activities.