Page last updated at 19:26 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Budget plans to give British Waterways independence

Narrowboat on a canal
British Waterways will soon have more charge of its own cash flow

The body in charge of England and Wales' 2,200-mile long canal network will become a mutual organisation, the government has announced in the Budget.

British Waterways, which runs the system, welcomed the move, which it has been pressing for for some years.

Details of the switch have not yet been released, but British Waterways could be turned into a charitable trust.

What is clear, though, is that the 200-year-old network will have more say over how it raises and spends money.

British Waterways said the move would help it plug a £30m ($45.6m) shortfall in its budget, by giving it more freedom to access grants and charitable funds.

Tony Hales, British Waterways chairman, said the plan would preserve the canals, and their associated infrastructure.

Network used by 32,000 boats - more than during the peak of the industrial revolution
Anglers, cyclists, walkers and nature lovers make more than 260 million annual visits
Contains more than 1,000 wildlife conservation sites
Around 200 miles of new or restored waterway opened in the past decade
Source: British Waterways

He said: "The proposal reflects a widely-held, cross-party and stakeholder view that the waterways are a national treasure which should be moved into the third sector if we are to unlock the enormous public support that there is for them."

He added: "This will ensure their continued revival and safeguard against a return to the decline and dereliction which they faced in the last century."

The proposals relate only to British Waterways' network in England and Wales, which under the current government-funded system receives some £60m ($91m) a year.

Discussions are underway with the Scottish Government about how Scotland's waterways can benefit from any proposed changes.

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