A letter voicing fears for the future of canals, including the Leeds and Liverpool, has provoked much debate.

Below are two more letters we've received on the subject...

Great sadness to read of canal fears

IT was with great sadness that I read Oliver Sagar’s letter regarding fears for the future of the Leeds and Liverpool and other canals.

As a child in the 1950s I have fondest memories of boating from Lymm in Cheshire onto the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to Gargrave, Skipton and on one occasion to Leeds. Lives were very much different. It was all enjoyable hard graft.

I am a retired chief executive officer of a fully-listed public limited company. Myself and two watermen decided to resurrect the Great River Race in 2022 with zero funds, no website or timekeepers.

If you peruse our website you will see what a success it has become.

However, last year I arranged a meeting with the Canal & River Trust (C&RT) harbour master for West India Dock in Docklands where the Great River Race starts.

He was more worried about a lady carrying her shopping along the jetty without wearing safety shoes. So much so, he had a large photograph of the lady on his desk as a warning to others of such dangers.

At our own expense, we cleared the whole slipway area and created a commendable spectacle praised by all local residents.

I asked the C&RT to be introduced to four or five C&RT volunteers from 8am to noon on the day of the race, just to assist as messengers along the beach or with car parking; breakfast would be provided.

After much delay and chasing, the C&RT emailed advising if they contacted their volunteers it would be considered they were promoting the event, which would be contrary to their memorandum. If they gave us volunteer contact details, it would be contrary to the Data Protection Act.

The Government washed its hands of our inland waterways when it scrapped British Waterways and formed C&RT.

Russell Bracegirdle, Walton on the Hill, Surrey

CRT expected to do impossible job

I HAVE every sympathy with your correspondent Oliver Sagar – Worrying trend for those living on Canal, Keighley News letters, December 28 – but I also feel for the Canal & River Trust (CRT) which is currently being expected to do an impossible job on inadequate resources.

The original decision to create a charitable trust to look after Britain’s inland waterways was clearly a cynical cost-cutting measure implemented by the then Government to save a small amount of money; this led to the unachievable commitment to make CRT self-sufficient, noted by Oliver.

The model of the National Trust was always held up as an exemplar, despite the obvious disparity between the fundraising capacity of the properties managed by the National Trust and the fundraising capacity of the inland waterway system. The latter is of course free for us all to use – apart that is for boaters and for some anglers. This has led to the unfortunate consequences so clearly identified by Oliver.

The burden of maintaining the system has unduly fallen on boaters, with the unfortunate consequence of resentment towards other waterway users as well as the ever-increasing costs of licences, mooring, etc, which is driving boaters away from the system. Charitable status has also led to the loss of the skilled and experienced staff that Oliver refers to. CRT is essentially funded by ‘soft money’.

So many of the staff are now on short-term contracts (ironically, it is now the volunteers that Oliver refers to who possess the best cumulated knowledge of the system). It is a constant source of frustration to us in the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Society to find ourselves having to regularly rebuild our relationship with newly-appointed short-term CRT staff.

A different funding model is needed. When Barbara Castle saved the majority of the inland waterway system from closure in the 1960s, she did it because she recognised the potential of the canals as ‘leisure ways’. What is needed now is a recognition of their potential as ‘health ways’.

As a septuagenarian cyclist with the privilege of a house with direct access on to the canal towpath I am provided with traffic-free access to Leeds, Bradford, Skipton, Gargrave and beyond. Notwithstanding the potential for conflict between users, it is highly encouraging to see the numbers of dog walkers, runners, cyclists, etc, making use of the free gymnasium that runs along the side of our house.

Before retirement I worked in epidemiology and public health with a particular interest in the ‘upstream’ social and environmental interventions that lead to longer-term health improvements.

The proper funding of the inland waterway system offers a prime example of such an intervention. A new funding model which reflects the recent recommendation of Lord Richard Layard that our country should “make policy based on its impact on wellbeing as well as on the economy” could be the mechanism for the rejuvenation of our ailing inland waterway system.

Pie in the sky? Over the coming year we will all have the opportunity to vote for whichever Government we think has the most likely prospect of protecting those valuable public assets provided by both our local authorities and the Canal & River Trust.

We will all make our own choices. On a purely personal level, I would note that our most likely parliamentary representative following the election will be the former incumbent who, at that time, chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Inland Waterways. As a proven supporter of inland waterways, I would urge John Grogan to ensure that the incoming Labour Government adopts Lord Layard’s broader mechanisms of policy evaluation rather than the narrow focus on economic growth currently advocated by his party leadership.

Colin Thunhurst, Sandbeds

* Email your letters to alistair.shand@keighleynews.co.uk