Canal campaigners have called for Scottish Canals to back up Government funding for repairs in Bonnybridge and Twechar.
The pressure group Keep Canals Alive! welcomed an announcement from Scottish Government pledging an additional £1.625m funding to repair Bonnybridge and Twechar bridges on the Forth & Clyde Canal.
And they say it is essential that the Scottish Canals Board top up the Government’s grant in aid (GIA) with more of its earned income to avoid a repeat of this present ‘crisis’.
The Falkirk Herald this week highlighted the recent report which warned navigation on the local waterways could be stopped, with campaigners fearing of a reputational disaster to the area if that was to happen.
And now, with funds being delivered to improve the waterways Keep Canals Alive! has called on Scottish Canals to reconsider their Asset Management Strategy and provide more funds for improvements to ensure that keeping the canals open becomes the over-riding priority.
The document, published on 20 June and based on the GIA includes the statement “… while also aiming, when funds allow, to maintain operational functionality”.
Campaigners claim that well-maintained canals, open to navigation, are fundamental will allow the water transport system to prosper for the next 250 years.
Ronnie Rusack, the well-known canal enthusiast and campaigner, said: “The nationally important goals of health, wellbeing and community sit alongside economic benefits of some £828m of investment, and the millions of canal visits by the public each year.
“However, this success is only sustainable if the canals are properly maintained and remain open to navigation. Make no mistake, a canal closed to boats will degenerate quickly, as was clearly seen in the short time after the closure to navigation of the Lowland Canals in 1963: not only the 250-year-old structures of national historic importance – the waterways themselves will fill with weed, stinking silt and rubbish. These unique and irreplaceable assets, the millions of pounds and the hours of work from individuals, voluntary organisations, local authorities and the Scottish Government itself will go down the drain.”
According to the Asset Management Strategy there are 1,600 boat movements on the Forth & Clyde Canal and 5,300 on the Union Canal.
MSP Mark Griffin welcomed the Government’s funding.
He said: “Since February I have called on Scottish Canals and the Scottish Government to fix the bridges and ensure through navigation is secured on the Forth and Clyde Canal. I have questioned Ministers and lodged a motion calling for urgent action.
“Bridges at Bonnybridge and Twechar have been out of commission for five months and throughout that period Ministers have dragged their feet and refused to act, so I am pleased to see that action is finally being taken, a move which will come as great relief to those who live and work on the canal, and those who use it for recreation.
“Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment, Scottish Canals continues to face a funding crisis. It has stated it requires an additional £6 to £9 million over the next several years simply to address a £70 million repair backlog. The Scottish Government has a statutory obligation to keep Scotland’s canals functioning and while this investment is greatly welcomed, Ministers must now commit to a capital funding package that ensures the sustainability of our canal network.”