Birmingham's famous canals at 'risk of closure' as government cuts grant

View of Gas Street Basin in Birmingham, looking towards Brindleyplace

Birmingham's famous canal network is "at risk" of closure due to government cuts to the Canal & River Trust, ITV News Central can reveal.

The trust says it is facing a £320m real-terms cut in its finances over 10 years from 2027.

Richard Parry, Canal & River Trust chief executive, said: "We know how vital the network is to Birmingham but this settlement does mean that some parts of that canal network could be at risk.

"We will fight determinedly to make sure that we keep them open, our mission is to ensure that canals are available for people to enjoy, but without an improved settlement, some of the canals in Birmingham could be at risk."

Under the Transport Act 1968, Britain's waterways were divided into three categories: commercial, cruising and remainder, with the latter traditionally considered to be of the lowest worth.

Despite its popularity, parts of the 100 mile-long Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) are classified as 'remainder'.

Mr Parry continued: "We're going to see canals enter a period of decline unless we can secure an improvement to that settlement.

"That could mean canals close and the amazing story of the renaissance of canals over the last 50, 60 years could go into reverse unless we see a stronger commitment from government."

How much is being cut?

In 2021, the government froze its funding for the Canal & River Trust at £52.6m a year.

But from 2027, public funding will be reduced by 5% year-on-year, starting at £50 million in 2027/28 and ending at £31.5 million by 2036/37

The trust says it represents a real-term reduction of £320 million over ten years.

At present, the Government grant accounts for a quarter of Canal & River Trust funding.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said: “We support canals across the country and recognise the benefits they bring to local communities.

“Since the Trust was first created in 2012, we have been clear they would have to increasingly move towards alternative sources of funding. We have awarded the Trust a significant £550 million in funding and are supporting them with a further £590 million between now and 2037.

“We have been discussing this with the charity for some time and have been offering support on how it can increase income from other sources, as per the original objective of the grant funding.”

The trust describes the BCN as 'one of the most intricate canal networks in the world' which was 'the life-blood of Victorian Birmingham and the Black Country.'

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

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “It’s often said that Birmingham has more canals than Venice but their importance goes far beyond this famed statistic.

“Our vast and diverse canal network is a remarkable historical inheritance – cherished by the wildlife that exists around them and the local communities that enjoy them today.

“I feel strongly that this very special legacy should be maintained, nurtured and celebrated for generations to come and I’m sure many fellow residents right across our region feel the same.

"That’s why I stand ready to work constructively with both local and national stakeholders to help ensure these unique waterways are preserved in the months and years ahead.

"Indeed, I will be meeting with some of the leadership team at the Canal & River Trust very soon to advance exactly that agenda."

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