The Canal & River Trust will get more than £1bn of Government cash. Photo: Roger Kidd CC-BY-SA-2.0

The Canal & River Trust will get more than £1bn of Government cash. Photo: Roger Kidd CC-BY-SA-2.0

A £1bn deal to transfer England and Wales’s canals and rivers to a new charity is a good deal for the taxpayer, the Government said.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon announced today that the new Canal & River Trust will receive £1.26bn-worth of funding over the next 15 years.

The deal will see England and Wales’s 200-year-old network of canals and rivers pass from public ownership to a new body dubbed the ‘national trust for the waterways’.

The Holyrood Government has decided Scotland’s canals stay in public ownership.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said a £10m-a-year element due to be paid to the new body would depend on the satisfactory maintenance of towpaths, flood management and keeping assets in a satisfactory state.

Defra said: “This is a good deal for the taxpayer, the waterways and for the millions of people that enjoy them.

“Releasing the nation’s waterways from Government control gives more certainty than ever to their financial future.

“The Canal & River Trust’s charitable status will mean new opportunities for revenue through donations, charitable grants and legacies, increased borrowing powers, efficiencies and volunteering activity.”

Mr Benyon said: “The Canal & River Trust will be a national trust for the waterways, maintaining and restoring 2,000 miles of heritage sites, wildlife habitats and open spaces so that we can all enjoy them for generations to come.

“Bringing our waterways into the Big Society puts decision-making into the hands of the thousands of people who cherish the waterways near their homes.

“Our £1bn investment will get this new charity off to the strongest start possible, and let local communities and volunteers shape the future of our world-famous waterways.”

The Ramblers, whose former chief executive Tom Franklin is a member of the trust’s board, welcomed the announcement.

The charity said it lobbied hard to make certain that public access to the country’s towpaths and canalside footpaths formed part of the trust’s charitable objectives, in recognition of the fact that walkers are amongst the biggest group of people to use our canals and rivers.

Kate Conto, Ramblers senior policy officer, said: “With millions of people each year using our canals and rivers it is clear that a walk besides Britain’s waterways is an important part of our cultural heritage.

“This funding announced today is good news for walkers and waterway users everywhere, meaning that the trust can take the best first steps possible towards protecting our waterways and ensuring that they can be enjoyed by all.

“The Ramblers warmly welcome this commitment to our waterways and the importance of improving public access to our rivers and canals for recreation, health and social wellbeing.”

Commercial property worth £460m already in the hands of British Waterways will be transferred to the new trust to allow it to continue funding its infrastructure work.

The Canal & River Trust will also receive a grant of £39m a year, linked to inflation, along with the £10m already mentioned.

A one-off grant of £25m to be used in the next few months will also be made and a Government guarantee on pensions liability made.

Defra said more than half the population lives within 10 minutes of a waterway.

If Parliament approves the plans, the new charitable trust is due to be launched in June. Rivers in the care of the Environment Agency are planned to come under the charity’s control from 2015-16.

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