New cash aid could help fix problem-hit Falkirk canals

Bonnybridge lifting bridge.
Bonnybridge lifting bridge.

Problem-hit canal bridges at Bonnybridge and Twechar could benefit from a review designed to keep boat traffic moving on key waterway stretches around Falkirk.

The system has been plagued by closures through accident and decay, while Scottish Canals says it has struggled to meet the challenge of an antiquated Scotland-wide system with its existing funds.

Now a £5,35m cash boost is set to bring progress to some of Scotland’s worst-affected canal assets, and will involve replacing the lock gates at Fort Augustus on the Caledonian Canal.

A review of remote operations at the bridges at Bonnybridge and Twechar are included in a nationwide package that also includes, for example, investment in new dredging equipment.

The extra money will also see improvements and upgrades to various assets across the antiquated network, and will also be channelled into projects designed to raise cash for reinvestment into canals.

Earlier this year Scottish Canals published an assets management strategy after pressure group Keep Canals Alive! complained the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals - plagued by a spate of technical problems at locks - risked falling into stagnation and decay.

Scottish Canals argued it was doing its best with the funds available, but said it faced a formidable challenge trying to keep a sprawling network of Victorian era canals fully operational.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson (who is MSP for Falkirk West), said: “The additional funding will enable Scottish Canals to undertake a number of projects including work on the Caledonian Canal, one of Scotland’s best known waterways, which attracts almost 300,000 visitors each year.

“It is essential that this work is carried out now to alleviate the immediate pressure at Fort Augustus for both commercial and leisure vessels.

“The repairs will also help ensure that boats will be able to continue to use the canal in future years as it approaches its 200th anniversary in 2022.

“These repairs will be in addition to the planned maintenance that Scottish Canals will be carrying out this year as part of its asset management programme.”

Scottish Canals’ recently appointed new chief executive, Catherine Topley, said: “This is fantastic news and is testament to the ongoing conversations we are having with the Scottish Government about the value of the canals to Scotland.

“These working heritage assets are incredibly important, not only to Scotland’s marine economy but in attracting tourists, visitor spend and investment, stimulating job creation and business growth as well as helping to protect the environment.

“This additional investment not only helps to improve the assets themselves but supports our efforts to generate income that can be reinvested in the canals.”