THE cash-strapped Environment Agency is considering closing rivers to navigation on ‘health and safety’ grounds instead of securing proper resources from Defra for their maintenance, The Inland Waterways Association has warned.
It will campaign vigorously to prevent the government agency ignoring its legal obligation to maintain navigation rights on much of its Anglian network.
IWA has learned that, in minutes of a meeting between EA and Canal & River Trust about the proposed transfer of EA waterways to the trust, EA officials acknowledged that funding cuts could lead to the closures of a number of river navigations, despite their status being protected under the Anglian Water Act 1977.
IWA, a voluntary charity that works to protect and restore Britain’s 6500 miles of canal and river navigations, has been warning for many years that just such an action was going to be the likely result of years of persistent and deteriorating underfunding from successive governments, and remains convinced that a properly resourced management transfer of the navigations to CRT is the best solution to protect the health and leisure benefits the waterways bring to local communities.
IWA national chairman Les Etheridge said: “Whether or not the EA waterways are transferred to CRT, these navigations need to receive increased funding from Government in order to halt the progressive deterioration that is currently taking place.
“IWA’s wish to see the EA navigations transferred to CRT has always been conditional upon sufficient funding being provided and threats of closure to currently navigable waterways while in the government’s care are simply unacceptable.”
He added: “Waterways provide far too much to the nation in terms of health benefits, recreation and regeneration for this to be a sensible option and we must not allow it to happen.”