Canal Boat – July 2018

(Barré) #1 Canal Boat July 2018 13


operated road liftbridges (Twechar and
Bonnybridge) on the central section of the
Forth & Clyde Canal, as a result of failure of
mechanisms installed at the time of the
reopening – with apparently no funds
available for repairs. These were followed by
failure of a traditional footpath liftbridge in
Knightswood, Glasgow, cutting off the
navigable routes from the city to both the
Forth and the Clyde. IWA wrote to SC,
describing the closures as ‘unacceptable’.
A campaign group formed of 11 Scottish
waterway organisations has taken this
further. The Keep Canals Alive campaign,
which includes canal societies, boat operators
and boating organisations, has written to all
seven local authorities on the route, calling on
them to press SC to fulfil its obligations to
keep the canals open.
The open letter was penned by Ronnie
Rusack MBE, well-known Scottish canal
supporter and leading light of the restoration
campaigns for the Union and Forth & Clyde
restorations. He said: “After 47 years of
campaigning for the Lowland canals I’m not
prepared to allow them to deteriorate any
further”. Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, he
said: “I’m frightened they’re going to close the
canals: gradually run them down and close
them. It’s getting bad. They’ve not been
dredging. The maintenance has gone down all
the time.”
In the letter, Keep Canals Alive highlights
the closures, expresses fears of a threat to jobs
in the hireboat operation and to canalside
businesses, and says that SC “has not
maintained the canals adequately”. The
proportion of its budget spent on basic
maintenance has fallen by one third, it adds,
resulting in numerous failures, while staff
cuts mean that some lengths are only open
one day per week – and appear “virtually
disused again”. Meanwhile, the letter says,
none of the money that SC raises from
canalside developments finds its way into the
maintenance budget.
The letter points out that local councils

paid £7.2m towards the restoration, and calls
on them to press SC to adjust its budgets to
meet its statutory maintenance
responsibilities – not to stop investing in
canalside developments, but to “realign
priorities to ensure that the canals do not
return to the dreadful state they were in
before the Millennium. We are asking for a
review of new canal developments – some of
which have new opening bridges – until SC is
able to maintain the bridges it already has”.
In response, Falkirk Council was due to
debate a motion supporting the campaign and
calling on those who funded the reopenings
to urge SC to comply with its obligations to
keep the canals open. And the issue has
reached the Scottish Government, with
parliamentary questions tabled by the
Scottish Conservatives, who pointed out that
a freedom of information request had
revealed that 35 holiday hireboat bookings
had already been cancelled so far this year,
and expressed fears that tourism would suffer
if the canals were “left to rot”.
But SC Chairman Andrew Thin countered
that the canal was still open “to 99.9 per cent”,
when counting all the users besides boaters,
said that SC was “generating more self-earned
income for reinvestment in the nation’s inland
waterways than it receives in Grant In Aid
from the Scottish Government”, and defended
its Chief Executive Steve Dunlop from “being
castigated for alleged failure” after “the
bearings and hydraulics fail on a couple of

18-year-old mechanical bridges”. And a
spokesman for SC said that “the vast majority
of canal users, from runners and walkers to
cyclists and kayakers, will be completely
unaffected by these restrictions.”
Ronnie Rusack isn’t convinced by that. He
quotes the Scottish Government’s own policy
paper Making the most of Scotland’s Canals,
which says “Boats add colour and interest to
the canals. We wish to see further growth in
the numbers of boats navigating our canals,
and encourage both Scottish Canals, boaters
and other parties to work together towards
exploiting opportunities to achieve this.”
SC insists that “we are committed to
bringing these bridges back into operation as
quickly as possible”, and that “by generating
our own income to reinvest in the canals, we
are working towards a long term financially
sustainable future”. However it also cautions
that “with ageing assets, the impact of climate
change and the increasing popularity of
Scotland’s canals, we don’t have the money to
do all we need to do” – adding that there is a
£70m backlog of repair and maintenance
work on its canals.
In the meantime, arrangements were made
in early May for the first restricted openings
of the three affected liftbridges for boaters
needing to move their craft. But SC has made
it clear that the state of the lifting gear means
that in the case of Bonnybridge Bridge, this is
a one-off with no future openings until funds
can be secured for full repair.

Twechar liftbridge: funds needed for full repairs

The Forth & Clyde Canal before restoration

The Falkirk Wheel: crowning achievement in 2002

Knightswood bridge, Glasgow, before closures prevented craft from making sea-to-sea journeys
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