Emergency appeal to repair canal breach

The first day of an ’emergency appeal’ to meet the costs of a canal breach has raised £4000. The Canal and River Trust is proving it really  is a charity by asking for donations towards the estimated £1.5 million bill for repairing the canal breach at Dutton on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Image courtesy of Matthew Veasey

In the first major test of the potential of voluntary support for the waterways, as against Government funding, it has launched an ’emergency appeal’ for £1.5 million, claiming that ‘Canal breaches are exceptionally rare, although they are extremely expensive to fix’. Their ‘Boating Communications & Consultations Manager’ points out that that is ‘the equivalent of a third of our dredging budget or the installation of 30 new sets of lock gates.’ Walter Menzies, chairman of the Canal & River Trust’s Manchester & Pennines Partnership, is quoted as saying  ‘The Trent & Mersey Canal is a huge asset to the local area and an engineering marvel. Today we are counting the costs of the deluge and asking local people who love the canal to help us overcome this major problem.’

Many boaters, already paying thousands of pounds each year to keep afloat, may not be happy that they are expected to foot part of the bill for repairs.

That canal breaches are ‘extremely rare’ will come as a suprise to many boaters, especially those on the Mon and Brec, Llangollen and Trent and Mersey canals which have all suffered major breaches over the last few years. Although the weather is being blamed, one report claiming’canals were never meant to cope with heavy rain’, most boaters believe the real problem is lack of regular planned maintenance of an ageing system.

Many canals, like the Trent and Mersey between Northwich and Preston Brook, were built on hillsides with embankments raised to form the canal trough. There is a 200 year history of embankment failures, blamed variously on badgers, culverts, mining subsidence etc. The difference now is that B.W., and now CRT, no longer have trained lengthsmen who know their stretch and walk it daily. And even when problems are known about, they don’t have their own equipment and engineers to carry our repairs before a problem becomes a disaster, as in this case.

The embankment weaknesses at Dutton and Croxton were both known about. Boaters have reported that the towpath at Croxton was down to water level this Summer. And there was time to install stop planks at Dutton, although many bridges there reportedly did not have serviceable stop planks so a clay dam had to be used at Acton Bridge. A serious breach on the Llangollen Canal was recently prevented by use of temporary material covers while the embankment behind was repaired. Once a small leakage is allowed to develop it can, as at Dutton, scour out hundreds of tons of the canal embankment.

Perhaps a more sustainable use of CRTs charitable status would be to recruit volunteer ‘lengthspersons’ who regularly walk short sections of towpath checking for slippage and leaks and that usable stop planks are at every bridge and can easily report back by text or email. Many local walkers and dog walkers might be happy to volunteer. That way problems might be caught before they became disasters. But of course there would have to be a budget allocated for the repairs.

Donations may be made via the CRT website. http://canalrivertrust.org.uk/

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