A NEW charity which will replace British Waterways and manage the UK’s canals and rivers will not have enough Government cash, it is claimed.
And the new Canal And River Trust will be immediately saddled with a massive pension liability when it takes over next April.
The Trust will manage canals and waterways including Huddersfield Narrow Canal which is now undergoing a massive revamp.
Huddersfield Canal Society’s new chairman, Alan Stopher, said the Government now pays a £40m grant to British Waterways, which is not enough. But that will fall to £39m for the Canal And River Trust for each of the next 11 years.
“That £39m figure will not change,” he said. “So bearing in mind inflation it will, in effect, be a continual cut. There could end up being a £30m funding gap. The Government money will give consistency but not enough money.
“We have been lobbying MPs and the new trustees will be negotiating with the Government, but if the Government plays ‘hardball’ it will be difficult.
“We need to get going from a standing start.”
Huddersfield Canal Society now has 600 members but Mr Stopher believes it important to increase that and make sure the society is represented on the Canal And River Trust.
“The next phase for the society is our relationship with the Trust,” he said. “They want to get involved with the local community and it will have to do that to become a well-loved and well respected Trust.”
He said British Waterways staff will transfer across to the Trust, but it will also be saddled with a massive pension liability, which Mr Stopher believes could be as high as £70m.
The Trust will be expected to raise some of its own money and, hopefully, draw in legacies.
Mr Stopher said that it will be run along the lines of the National Trust – but it will take some time to become a well-loved Trust and attract the money it needs.
The canals are used by boaters but are also popular with walkers.
Mr Stopher is relieved a lot of improvement work is now being done on locks along Huddersfield Narrow Canal by British Waterways.
He said lock gates tend to have a 25-year lifespan but a great deal of the work on the narrow canal was done between 1981 and 2001 when it re-opened.
When lock gates are not being regularly used and have water against them they last longer than when they are dry – and many of the lock gates were dry for several years while the canal was being restored.
At the moment 15 lock gates are being replaced on the canal at a cost of £500,000 which is a large slice of the British Waterways budget for this region.
The new Trust will have regional boards and in this area it will be the new Manchester and Pennine Waterways Partnership – one of 13 regional partnerships countrywide.
Its area covers a ring of canals that includes Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Huddersfield Broad Canal, the Calder and Hebble Canal to Sowerby Bridge, Rochdale Canal into Manchester city centre and the Ashton Canal.
Mr Stopher said these canals take people through some brilliant industrial and Pennine landscape.
He added: “Huddersfield Narrow Canal Society is sympathetic to the view that what is a nationalised industry should become a Trust to let it get away from the Government purse strings and become more like the National Trust.
“It means it will have the freedom to generate funds through grants, legacies and other fundraising.
“But it will take time. The National Trust started in 1895, but this Trust has been imposed very quickly.”
But he said the Trust board already has some experienced people from organisations ranging from ramblers to Oxfam.
“They know about funding and managing in the voluntary sector,” said Mr Stopher.
“But from April they will have to manage a 200-year-old heritage infrastructure that will need a lot of money spending on it.”
There are 42 locks in the seven-mile stretch of Huddersfield Narrow Canal between Tunnel End and Aspley Basin. This makes it one of the hardest canals in the country for boats to navigate and is clearly costly to maintain.
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 £50m later, their dream was realised when Huddersfield Narrow Canal was re-opened to navigation in 2001.