Canal structures across the country could fail, flooding homes and blocking roads following budget cuts at British Waterways, ICE warned MPs this week.
Speaking at an inquiry into the funding cuts at British Waterways by the Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs committee on Monday, ICE Maritime Board chairman Bill Schlegel warned that long-term cuts would cause problems.'The waterways network is 200 years old and somewhat fragile,' said Schlegel.'It has a history of structural failure that has been largely overcome. However, if the cuts continue we will start to see problems such as culverts collapsing and flooding homes, and bridges having to be closed [due to structural weakness].'The inquiry was launched this week. This weekend a series of nationwide canal blockades are taking place in protest against the British Waterways cuts.The committee last week criticised the financial mismanagement at the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which has resulted in British Waterways' grant being cut by £3.9M.This cut in the middle of the financial year was on a 2006/7 grant of £59.3M, which was already down by £3.2M on the previous financial year.The grant for 2007/8, meanwhile, has been confirmed at the lower level of £55.4M.As a result of the cuts, British Waterways has slashed its maintenance budget by £5.6M per year and cut staff levels.News of the £15M cut in funding over two years has prompted lobby group Save Our Waterways to organise nationwide canal and river blockades, following similar protests last November.British Waterways has a maintenance backlog worth £100M that it had planned to clear by 2012. However, Schlegel said that this was unlikely to happen unless the grant was at least restored to its 2005/6 level of £62.5M.The inquiry is due to last until April and in addition to the budget cuts will examine the potential for growth in leisure and freight use.It was launched in response to public protest and demands from MPs with canals in their constituencies.