Fri 26 March
UNISON, the UK's leading public sector union, has today (26 March)
written to the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA),
the Scottish Government, and British Waterways, calling on them to
secure the future of Britain's network of canals and waterways, by
agreeing to establish them as a cross-border national park.
DEFRA and British Waterways* are currently consulting on plans to turn
Britain's waterways into a charity, but the union fears that the tight
squeeze on third sector funding could see the nation's waterways fall
into disrepair, or locked up from public use entirely.
Inland waterways and national parks are both devolved functions in
Scotland, and funding for waterways in Scotland has had a positive
relationship in the public sector that many would be reluctant to lose.
A Canals National Park would deliver increased potential for
regeneration, and could provide a positive model for joint working to
regenerate areas of special interest. UNISON members in British
Waterways are well experienced and successful at this kind of
Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said:
"Turning Britain's waterways into a National Park would breathe new life
into our network of canals, safeguarding them for future generations. It
would be a gift to Britain, on a par with the formation of national
parks last century.
"As a truly national park, linking England, Scotland and Wales,
Britain's waterways could still reap all the benefits of charitable
status, applying for lottery funding, and working with volunteer groups,
but the future would be more secure - for the people using the rivers
and canals, and for those working on them.
"Generations of children and families have enjoyed Britain's network of
canals and waterways - they are part of our cultural heritage. No longer
in use for transporting freight around the country, they provide
much-needed leisure spaces in cities, and are vital habitats for
wildlife and conservation.
"But they are stuck in a legal grey area, classed as transport
facilities, making it tough to attract significant funding, throwing
their future into jeopardy. The funding crisis in the third sector,
means that any plans to switch to charitable status would only fuel this
"Severe lack of funding for charities could see the locks and paths
along Britain's waterways fall into disrepair. Canals could fill with
debris and rubbish, threatening conservation efforts. Whilst boaters and
anglers already pay to use waterways, additional entrance fees may be
introduced to raise funds, taking away the public's right to use and
enjoy Britain's Waterways free of charge."
UNISON represents white collar workers in British Waterways.
*DEFRA consultation: 'Waterways for everyone' and British Waterways
consultation: 'Setting a New Course'.