Ensuring safe canals
Against a backdrop of the government announcing sweeping cuts to the future funding of canals, in the current financial year, we will complete more than 450 separate engineering projects across our network, including manufacturing and installing 123 lock gates. We will also carry out over 1,000 reactive repairs and will continue the vital programme of works to our canal-feeding reservoirs.
With the network used and enjoyed by more boats and people than ever before, our continued work over the current financial year will help ensure canals are safe and available as they face up to the challenges brought about by climate change.
Works in need of investment
All this work requires investment, and we are planning to spend £89m on this year's programme of repairs and maintenance. The cost of maintaining the network year on year is increasing due to its age, the effects of inflation and the additional expense of responding to more frequent and extreme weather events. This is why we have expressed concern over the scale of funding available to ensure an adequate works programme in the years ahead.
Central to the 2023/24 programme is the ongoing work to help ensure the resilience of the water needed to keep canals topped up, with continued investment to safeguard the water supply from our reservoirs – the oldest in the country.
£26.5m of the programme is earmarked for 37 of our 71 reservoirs, with works including spillway replacements, upgrading the capacity to ‘draw down' water levels, improving access and reducing leaks. 19 reservoir projects will be on site during the year including ongoing activity at Toddbrook (Peak Forest & Macclesfield canals), Harthill (Chesterfield Canal), Barrowford (Leeds & Liverpool Canal), March Haigh (Huddersfield Narrow Canal) and Swellands (Huddersfield Narrow Canal). A further 18 reservoir projects are being developed, with construction works planned for future years. In addition, repairs along canal beds, canal walls and at locks will help ensure millions of litres of water aren't lost from the network's ageing structures.
We are continuing to invest in further works to improve navigation, carrying out a £6.5m dredging programme including 11 routine maintenance projects, three national programmes, spot dredging and dredging to canal feeders. £1.8m is allocated to dredging at Gloucester and Sharpness docks to tackle high levels of silt.
In addition, £2m is planned for stabilisation and leak sealing on four embankments, £2m for improvements to five mechanical and electrical structures, £1.4m for the refurbishment of seven bridges and £1m to repair six culverts. Two programmes focus on reducing leaks in critical areas and two on the resilience of river sluices supporting water control on river navigations. External funding is supporting the continued restoration of the Montgomery Canal and a programme of works to the iconic Anderton Boat Lift following recent repairs.
Keep Canals Alive
Richard Parry, our chief executive, said: “With canals so popular and serving society in so many ways, it is more important than ever that we are relentless in our efforts to keep them safe and available.
“Whilst our campaign to Keep Canals Alive asks all those who use and enjoy the canals, to write to their local MP to secure their long-term future, in the immediate term the vital maintenance to keep canals safe must continue.
“Over the next year that programme of work ranges from the largest-scale repairs, such as at our reservoirs, to the more modest maintenance that makes such a big difference to boaters' experiences, like fixing a leaking lock gate or our rolling dredging programme. Our expert teams of colleagues, contractors and volunteers will be working hard all year round to fight for the future of our waterways.”