Lowland Canals closure a ‘very real danger’

Lowland Canals The Lowland Canals are under threat of closure by Scottish Canals. Credit Peter Sandground/ Scottish Canals

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has said there is a ‘very real danger’ of Scottish Canals closing its Lowland Canals, despite recent confirmation of an additional £1.625m funding for the organisation’s work from the Scottish Government.

Calling Scottish Canals’ consideration of downgrading the Lowland Canals from their current ‘cruising’ status ‘shortsighted’, the IWA said its proposal to close them on the grounds of usage and maintenance was ‘ludicrous’ due to their tourism value.

“IWA fears that there is a very real danger of Scottish Canals implementing the closure of its Lowland Canals and is extremely concerned at suggestions that these waterways could be downgraded in status,” the organisation told Boating Business.

Statutory duty

The canals were only upgraded from ‘remainder’ to ‘Cruising’ waterways in 2011, and this placed a statutory duty on Scottish Canals to maintain them for cruising vessels stressed IWA, but Scottish Canals' argument in its new Asset Management Strategy that the coast to coast route is not being used sufficiently to justify it being kept open, while a lack of dredging and poor maintenance – together with recent closures and restrictions has contributed to a reduction in use, means this agreement is now under threat.

“This change was put in place in order to protect the investment made in restoring the canals and it would seem very short sighted to reverse that decision just 7 years on,” commented IWA.

“Given the importance of the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies to Scotland’s tourism it seems ludicrous that Scottish Canals should even be considering closing the through route that helps to keep these tourist attractions alive with boats,” it added.

Conditional funding

The funding for the restoration of these canals from the Millennium Commission and the European Regional Development Fund included conditions that the canals must be maintained to cruising standard for up to 25 years.

“Regardless of there still being another eight years to go, IWA considers that these waterways should be maintained in a navigable condition for the benefit of the whole community way beyond the 25 years,” stated IWA.

Last month, Scottish Canals highlighted the £70m repair backlog it faces as it launched its Asset Management Strategy to set out how the organisation will manage, care for, and prioritise works on the infrastructure of the nation’s 250-year-old waterways between now and 2030.

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