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British Waterways hit by funding cuts

The Inland Waterways Association has hit out at deep cuts proposed for inland waterways navigation authority budgets following the announcement of British Waterways grant in aid for next year.

British Waterways is facing a cut of around £10M in the next financial year, it has been revealed. This year’s available grant of £57.5M will be reduced to just £47.8M.

Grant funding from Defra for England and Wales has been confirmed for the year 2010/11. The base level of grant will be cut from £57.5M to £52.8M, with £5M of that already bought forward to 2008/09 as part of the government’s fiscal stimulus plan. This means that there is an effective year on year reduction in England and Wales of £4.6M plus £5M, equating to a total cut of £9.6M.

The Inland Waterways Association said that British Waterways’ existing grant already fails to address an ongoing deficit of between £20M-£30M each year just to maintain the system in a steady state of repair. The proposed cuts will exacerbate an already critical situation.

IWA is also concerned that similar cuts may be being planned within the Environment Agency, which also has navigation responsibilities on other inland waterways, and is also carrying a maintenance budget deficit.

Speaking on behalf of IWA, Clive Henderson, national chairman, said: “This is a very worrying development however you do the maths. These are significant and deep cuts to an already deficient budget. Whilst we appreciate and accept that we are living in hard times, to use the analogy of a householder – in times of austerity, you may not buy new furniture and decoration but, when your house is in serious disrepair you do not skimp on repairing the roof. “

“It is especially disappointing to learn of these cuts at a time when Government is recognising the holistic benefits to society at large of the waterways as a place not just for leisure, but for contributing to health and wellbeing of communities and as an important source of urban and rural regeneration. It is perverse for Government to implement any reduction in budget. They should be looking at realistic budget increases, not a one off boost to fiscal stimulus , to ensure that these public benefits are enshrined for future generations, under secure and sustainable funding arrangements. “

“We will be looking very carefully at the implications of these cuts on British Waterways’ operations and fear that major failures on structures may arise at under-maintained locations, even putting the safety of waterway users at risk. We don’t want to return to campaigning on the scale that was required to deal with the 2006 Defra instigated Budget cuts;- but if we have to;- we will.”

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