Conservation charity the Inland Waterways Association says it is “deeply disappointed” at the shock decision by Falkirk-based Capercaillie Cruisers Ltd to cease trading after 2017 – which the firm blames on proposed new charges from Scottish Canals.
The IWA says the move will scupper the entire hire boat operation on both the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals.
It is urging Scottish Canals to urgently reconsider its positition, and has also criticised a move to take two caissons at the Falkirk Wheel out of service so that it can be used as a revenue-boosting visitor platform.
The IWA wants Scottish Canals to adopt a long term strategy to increase all forms of boating on its waterways, commenting: “Restricting the use of the Falkirk Wheel and the closure of hire boat companies is not the way to achieve this.”
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Scottish Canals has issued a robust defence of its operational methods, stressing its real costs are higher than commonly supposed.
It has also criticised Capercaillie for abandoning talks on charges “prematurely”, arguing that its undisclosed new charges could have been subject to negotiation.
But the IWA says the firm’s decision that it has no long term future under Scottish Canals’ proposed conditions is “very bad news for the future of these canals”.
Its spokesman said: “It will significantly reduce the number of boat movements and mean that very few people will now be able to experience boating on these restored waterways.
“IWA believes that boats are an essential part of the waterways and that the Scottish canals need more boating activity, not less.
“It appears that there is a large gap between what Scottish Canals wishes to charge and what Capercaillie Cruisers and potentially other operators believe they can pay, and IWA has asked Scottish Canals to reconsider their position.”
Scottish Canals says it will do all it can to ensure a hire boat fleet remains on the Lowland Canals and will negotiate a deal with operators in England so they can continue providing a holiday boat offering on the Union and Forth & Clyde Canals.
It also aims to secure jobs involved in Capercaillie’s decision to quit, and minimise the economic impact as far as possible.
Meanwhile IWA has asked Scottish Canals to ensure that its plans for the Falkirk Wheel will not affect the use of the wheel by either hire boats or private boats, “as that would be contrary to the original purpose of the Falkirk Wheel as a Millennium project to link the two restored canals.”
The charity says the best way for it to boost revenue is to increase the number of boats on canals while giving people affordable opportunities to hire boats.
The Inland Waterways Association, works to protect and restore the country’s 6,500 miles of canals and rivers.