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MPs gather to recognise the modern-day value of 250-year-old canals

Parliamentarians from both houses and partner organisations joined us at a reception at the Houses of Parliament yesterday, 6 March 2024.

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Over 60 guests attended the cross-party event, part of the Keep Canals Alive campaign, which showcased how the canal network is helping Government tackle national challenges and deliver on key policy objectives.

Mitigating the effects of climate change

We illustrated how our extensive canal network can help society mitigate the effects of climate change, with a more resilient network providing sustainable transport routes into towns and cities, and delivering flood protection, water transfer opportunities, a supply of green energy, nature recovery and improved biodiversity.

Guests at the reception, hosted by Wendy Morton MP and Holly Lynch MP, also heard how the 250-year-old ageing canal network is increasingly threatened by extreme weather events and about the continued need for adequate funding and support for us and our mission to safeguard our waterways.

Introducing a newly published Impact Report - Transforming Places and Enriching Lives, we said our 2,000 miles of canals and rivers across England and Wales play a key part in the government’s ambitions to improve access to nature, including the key policy of the population being within 15 minutes’ walk of water and green space. The Impact Report also showcases the role that canals play in improving community wellbeing and tackling health inequalities, as well as supporting jobs, local economies, and nature recovery.

Going from strength to strength

Robbie Moore MP, Defra Minister for Water and Rural Growth, told guests how the “Trust has gone from strength to strength in maintaining the vital waterway system”, including a reference to the huge growth in volunteering. He also spoke about the role of canals in providing nature corridors and the government’s policy objective of ensuring good quality green and blue spaces within 15 minutes’ walk for all. He recognised that climate change is placing more strain on the canal network and that “as the Minister [responsible for inland waterways], the calls are heard loud and clear for funding to continue”.

Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Minister for Nature and Rural Affairs, thanked us as custodians of national treasures, commenting how we go “above and beyond to protect the network for today and future generations”. He spoke about the importance of canals for wellbeing and health, and also our role in maintaining major national infrastructure, including the role canals can play to mitigate flooding.

Wendy Morton MP spoke about how integral canals are to local communities and the tremendous work and progress that has been made by us. Referencing the challenges ahead, she said the task of looking after our 2,000-mile network is a “shared endeavour. An endeavour which the government…has a vested interest in” and whose role must continue.

Keeping our canals alive

David Orr, our chair, comments: “Thank you to all those MPs and peers who came to find out more about the nation’s waterway infrastructure and the importance of keeping our canals alive.

“Our 250-year-old canal network is globally renowned living industrial heritage. Closer to home, it has a vital role to play, delivering a wide array of benefits to society, the environment, and the economy. Our network flows through almost half of the parliamentary constituencies in England and Wales so it is vitally important to share the possibilities the waterways offer with MPs and peers, and to demonstrate the difference the Trust is making as a partner to government in the lives of millions of people.

“However, the significant benefits our canals offer come at a cost. Faced with growing impacts from storms, floods and droughts worsened by climate change, our historic network is vulnerable, and the cost of keeping it safe is rising year on year. We believe that, by continuing appropriate levels of funding, Government can help us keep the canal network open and safe, offering even more opportunities for this tremendous infrastructure to play a key role in 21st century Britain. I look forward to continuing the conversation.”

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Last Edited: 08 March 2024

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