Press release

New era for waterways

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Government announced last year that the publicly-owned inland waterways, should in future be managed by a new charity.

Plans to create one of Britain’s biggest charities to secure the future of more than 4,000 kilometres of canals and rivers in England and Wales have been set out today.

The Government announced last year that the publicly-owned inland waterways, currently managed by British Waterways and the Environment Agency, should in future be managed by a new charity.

This would secure the waterways’ long-term, sustainable financial future by enabling the new body to access new sources of income and greater public support, and give local people a greater say in their upkeep.

Now Ministers are seeking people’s views on the new charity and proposals including:

  • a governance model to foster local engagement and ownership;
  • the charity’s constitution; and
  • improving the long-term financial sustainability of the waterways.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said:

“Our inland waterways are important pieces of heritage, havens for wildlife, and vital for leisure, recreation, health and well-being - enjoyed by millions of boaters, anglers, walkers and cyclists.

“We want to unlock the true potential of the waterways, so that they are valued and enjoyed by even more people. Creating a new charitable body for waterways will give people the chance to have a greater say in the running of their local canal or river.”

The Government intends to transfer waterways to the charity subject to a special trust, which will be set out in a Trust Declaration requiring the waterways to be protected for the public’s benefit, in perpetuity. The Government proposes that the Trust Declaration should include free access to the towpaths will be protected.

Howard Pridding, Executive Director, British Marine Federation, said:

“The British Marine Federation, as the representative body of the leisure marine industry, supports the concept of British Waterways transforming into a civil society organisation. We are keen to seize this opportunity to place our canals and navigable rivers on a sustainable footing for the years to come and believe that this model can ensure that the vital service and maintenance responsibilities are retained at a sustainable level. The BMF will be actively involved during the consultation process on behalf of waterside businesses to ensure that issues important to industry and tourism, including maintaining navigation, levels of service and the industry’s role in governance are fully considered” 

Paul Owen, Chief Executive, British Canoe Union, said:

“The British Canoe Union welcomes this consultation for the new waterways charity. Our inland waterways are a truly special resource and we hope that everyone with an interest in our waterways will comment on the proposals. The NWC will provide a great opportunity for local communities, especially young people, to come together and get involved with managing and developing their local waterways and the surrounding environments. We are especially looking forward to working with the NWC to encourage more people to get out on the water, and to build a future where everyone can enjoy our waterways for years to come.”

Rex Walden, Chairman, Residential Boat Owners Association, said:

“We honestly believe that the chosen route and model is exactly what the waterways of England and Wales need for them to have a future - It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and has the potential to genuinely place the hands of the users on the levers of power.”

David Pearce, National Chairman, Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs, said:

“These are still early days, but I see the New Waterways Charity as a splendid opportunity for the people of this country to influence the future of our inland waterways for the good. All the main political parties support the idea and it builds on much preparation that we have done jointly with BW in recent years. The Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs sees this as the best chance to guarantee the future of a thriving and integrated system for all to enjoy and I would ask everyone with an interest, however slight, to participate positively in this consultation exercise.”

Clive Henderson, Inland Waterways Association national chairman, said:

“I welcome that the Government shares our vision that there should be a sort of ‘National Trust’ for the waterways. We have been asking for this since the middle of the last century and we are in no doubt that this is the right way forward for the management of Britain’s inland waterways. With the right governance this can lead to real, tangible, community engagement with all the benefits that this approach can deliver. Local ‘ownership’ of waterways will incentivise more volunteering and over time will bring new funding to the waterways.

“This consultation document has been eagerly awaited. We will consider the  proposals with great care and will aim to support the Government in getting the process right so that we can all look forward to a sustainable future for the waterways.”


The consultation is online at

Subject to the passage of the Public Bodies Bill, the new charity is expected to be created in April 2012.

British Waterways is a public corporation responsible for approximately 3,000 km of waterways, of which about three-quarters are canals. The Environment Agency manages almost 1,000 km of waterways, most of which are navigable rivers. The two bodies are responsible for around 75 per cent of the 5000 km of waterways in England and Wales.

The Government is committed to delivering a “national trust for the waterways” that includes the British Waterways and the Environment Agency navigations. To give the charity the best possible start in the current tight fiscal climate, it wishes to take a phased approach to delivery of this vision, with British Waterways’ canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs in England and Wales transferring into the new civil society body, as soon parliamentary authority is gained and the inclusion of the EA navigations into the new waterways charity, after the next Spending Review in 2015, subject to affordability and the agreement of the NWC Trustees.