THE Canal & River Trust (CRT) manages most of the canals in the UK, but it has demonstrated poor management in losing millions of pounds of boaters’ and public money in its running of these canals and is now threatening complete canal closures in the future. This will include the Leeds and Liverpool, and affect all who use this lovely canal.

The canals and their infrastructure are already in a poor state of repair due to CRT’s insufficient maintenance, as demonstrated by the lack of inspection of the Todbrook reservoir where a catastrophe was only narrowly averted, and constant emergency canal closures all over the system.

CRT has failed to become self sufficient, which it signed up to do when the trust was formed. Many boating organisations at the time said this could not be achieved but they were not listened to and sadly these groups have been proved to be right.

CRT’s fundraising efforts have consistently cost millions more than they have raised, and the trust has failed to achieve adequate Government help to address its financial shortfall which currently stands at £167m, with the Defra grant post-2027 being much reduced.

The answer that CRT is adopting is to hit its easiest target, boaters, with unreasonable licence rises and costs, a rise in two years of 33 per cent for the most vulnerable group, and more above-inflation rises promised for the next five years.

This will force many people off their boats, putting greater pressure on local councils to rehome them when there are no houses to be had. The alternative of course will be to sleep rough.

There have been many attempts by boater groups to talk with CRT about these increases, the long-established National Association Of Boat Owners being just one, but the trust simply says that boaters can go onto benefits if they can’t afford the increases.

I feel this is an appalling attitude, demonstrating an unbelievable lack of empathy and a failing to their boating customers who already provide CRT with its third-highest income stream.

CRT itself has not made any internal cutbacks, in fact it has doubled the number of very highly paid directors and its staff since it took over in 2012, with no visible benefit to the UK’s unique canal heritage.

Its reliance on volunteers has saved money but at the cost of consequently sacking many of the skilled and experienced staff on the ground who practised money-saving, proactive canal maintenance.

Now it’s “wait ‘til it breaks”, a sad reflection for the future for all who appreciate the UK’s unique-in-the-world canal system and a worrying trend for those who call the canals their home.

Oliver Sagar, canal boat resident

* A Canal & River Trust spokesperson says: “Our canals generate more income for themselves than ever before, but they are hundreds of years old and aren’t locked away in a museum, so are vulnerable to storms and floods, as well as use and age-related wear and tear.

“The Government’s review of the trust concluded back in the summer that the trust and our canals deliver ‘clear value for money’. As a charity, we do need the Government to help adequately fund the huge public benefits and national infrastructure that the canal network supports, and we are continuing to lobby to have our funding increased to a level that will allow us to keep canals open and safe.

“We are growing income from our property and non-property endowment, and from other commercial sources such as hosting utilities and water transfer, and are targeting a step-change in fundraising with income projected to grow by ten per cent each year. The cost of the licence has largely kept pace with inflation since the trust was formed, and now we’re asking boaters to pay more to safeguard navigation, with those who gain most utility paying a surcharge.

“We welcome all boats and boaters onto our network and aim to treat everyone with compassion and care. We have a boat licence support team and dedicated welfare officers to assist those in need.

“The trust is committed to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and all our amazing waterways. So much has been achieved in the past decade and there are more users and supporters of our network than ever before. By joining us and helping to #KeepCanalsAlive, we will safeguard this amazing legacy from our industrial forefathers for this and future generations.”

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