'Like letting the Tower of London fall down' - Government fails to commit to funding canals upkeep

ITV News Central correspondent Lewis Warner reports on the future of canals and rivers across the Midlands.

ITV News Central has learnt the Government hasn't committed to the future funding of the body that maintains England's waterways.

A crucial decision over a grant given to the Canal & River Trust (CRT) has been postponed leaving boat owners fearful about the future upkeep of the network.

It comes as 1.75 million people in the West Midlands live within one kilometre of the canal network.

The Trust says it will not be possible to maintain the "essential economic, environmental and societal benefits that waterways provide", if the grant is cut, or removed altogether.

A previous agreement guarantees the current grant until March 2027 but ITV News understands a deadline to commit to further funding has already been missed twice, with a decision now not expected until next year.

The Trust believes, with a new Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and a new Minister for Environment and Waterways recently appointed, "that it’s better to reach a considered view of the future grant funding for our canals rather than meet an arbitrary timescale."

Those who live on the network are fearful that the delay, which comes at a time when the government is warning of departmental budget cuts, could end with the grant being cut.

Anne Husar lives on a narrow boat moored along the Shropshire Union Canal in Shebhon in Staffordshire.

'It would be like letting the Tower of London fall down'

Speaking to ITV News Central about what drew her and her husband, Olly, to live on the water, she said: "We really love being, independent, off grid, the independence of it all."

"We can just go off like we're doing today with our home on our backs, we haven't got a pack or anything."

Ms Husar adds: "The canals are under threat. Without that top layer of money coming in, the canals will probably go to wreck and ruin.

"They'll become muddy ditches and then nobody will want to walk along them, the anglers won't be able to fish, boaters will be worthless boats because we have to go, it will be appalling.

"The UK will have lost an incredible part of its heritage. It would be a bit like letting the Tower of London fall down. We're all very worried."

Around 1/4 of Canal & River Trust funding comes from the government grant in question.

A crucial decision over a grant given to the Canal & River Trust (CRT) has been postponed Credit: ITV News Central

Some fear the decision to delay a commitment to funding hinders the Trust's ability to plan for the future, with a number of large projects underway to ensure the structures, some of which are 250-years-old, are resilient to the increased impact of climate change.

Richard Parry, CRT Chairman said: "It's really important we do long-term planning because we're caring for such vital old infrastructure.

"We need to look years into the future to plan and prioritise, so having uncertainty about what government will contribute does cause us some difficulties.

"Without that, government funding we fear that canals would enter a cycle of decline, so they would deteriorate, they become less popular, they would generate less income, they'd cost us more and there's a lot of risk to communities from our waterways as well."

Lichfield MP, Michael Fabricant, who is Chair of the all-party Parliamentary Group on Waterways said: "I would say, look, it's important that the money comes in.

"There are four years yet to run on the 15-year grant, which the Canal on River Trust currently have, but it's more and more vital that the money is assured over the next few months and that's what my committee will be pressing for."

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “We are conducting a review to determine the case for continued funding for the Canal & Rivers Trust, and are unable to provide further detail until this has concluded.”