Why Government must invest in our canals

Government must understand that canals generate immense social, environmental and economic value.  The Canal and River Trust’s Election Statement outlines for the next Government why it should invest to ensure the future of our waterways network.

We believe that this important information should be as widely considered as possible so we have included much of the CRT statement below. You can see the full statement here.


The next government will face enormous challenges – from the climate emergency and its impact on nature, water and the environment, to widening inequality and the cost of living and health crises. Our canal network is itself under threat from the effects of extreme weather, stretching resources to breaking point and potentially risking lives and livelihoods, our precious heritage and our nature habitats. Yet with the right partnership with government, we know that we can continue to play our role in tackling these challenges together, safeguarding the huge returns that a resilient canal network can deliver for the nation – valued independently at £4.6bn in annual social value and £1.5bn financial economic benefit.

CRT is calling on all political parties to recognise what our inland network of canals, reservoirs and docks contributes for people, communities and businesses around the country; for nature; for water supply; and for our fight against the effects of climate change. Government must commit to investing in our inland waterways – ensuring that they play their vital role in a greener and more sustainable future.

With the right partnership and support, our canal infrastructure can:

Support health and wellbeing on the doorstep for over 9 million people. Our canals offer free access to ‘blue-green’ space and nature for millions – a low-cost public health and wellbeing gift from the past, which passes through many of our most deprived urban communities. For many, it is the only such space within reach. It is imperative that these spaces are well-managed and safe, to encourage people to use them and benefit from them.

Protect lives and livelihoods from the growing impacts of climate change. The existence and the resilience of our network of canals, together with our systems to manage water, form an important component of the flood protection landscape. The network provides defences that equate to billions of pounds worth of flood resilience.  Properly maintained, our network offers an opportunity for water movement, ensuring water security at a time when this is increasingly under threat. Our interconnected canals allow the movement of water from wetter areas to drier areas – they are used already to supply drinking water to London, Bristol and Cheshire, with other projects poised to follow suit. Conversely, without adequate investment, failure of any one of over 1,000 of our assets could pose a material risk to life and property: 70 of the oldest reservoirs in our care are classified as high risk, and over half of our planned asset spend is on reservoir safety.

Support nature recovery and biodiversity along our 2,000-mile ‘linear park’. Canals provide much-needed habitat for threatened wildlife at a time when biodiversity in the UK is in crisis. Our network is the UK’s longest linear blue-green space and a vital part of the nation’s nature recovery network – a 2000-mile wildlife corridor that connects urban green spaces for wildlife and is home to many everyday and protected species .

Contribute to economic prosperity. Our network of canals and associated heritage structures generates some £1.5bn of economic benefit per year to England and Wales through hospitality, tourism and marine businesses, supporting over 80,000 jobs. Furthermore, the economic and social value of urban regeneration with water at its heart has been shown multiple times – transforming places and recreating communities where this is most needed.

Encourage innovative low-carbon energy solutions. Running through the hearts of our towns and cities, our canals and docks contribute to a low-carbon future, offering traffic-free routes along our towpaths for local travel as well as recreational walking, running and cycling, and routes for waterborne freight. The latent energy in the water itself provides further exciting opportunities – cooling urban areas in warm weather, providing low-carbon heating and cooling for neighbouring buildings, and generating green energy through hydropower schemes.

Information from The Canal and River Trust  Election Statement

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