The Canal & River Trust has published its Annual Report & Accounts for 2022/23.
The Report highlights the importance of the 250-year-old canal network in helping to address key societal challenges, but also the significant risks the ageing canals are facing due to a shortfall in funding and more frequent extreme weather events brought about by climate change.
Whilst the Report celebrates record usage of the network with 888 million visits, and more boats than ever before, it also highlights the impacts of rapid inflation and external, global factors affecting supply chains. These have added to the increasing cost of maintaining the Trust’s 2,000-mile network with its many thousands of structures including reservoirs, aqueducts, bridges, locks and heritage buildings.
There was an increase in income to £225.1 million (2021/22: £214.6 million) mainly due to inflationary increases in commercial revenue. Spend on charitable activities increased to £199.5 million (2021/22: £180.2 million). The financial contribution from government, representing just under a quarter of the Trust’s income, remained frozen with no allowance for inflation, and therefore continued to decline in real terms.
The Trust delivered one of its largest programmes of repairs and maintenance to date, described in the Report, with 83 large-scale works including statutory works to reservoirs, and a further 325 in-house construction projects. Nonetheless, with rapid inflation and the increasing fragility of the ageing network, measures had to be taken to address a projected shortfall in its finances, with maintenance and repairs focussed on the most critical and urgent issues.
Beyond 2027, when the Trust’s existing grant agreement ends, the government has announced year-on-year cuts to funding amounting to more than £300 million in real terms compared to recent levels. Launching a campaign to ‘Keep Canals Alive’, the Trust has warned that the proposed cuts to funding would see an inevitable decline in the condition of the network leading to eventual canal closures.
David Orr, chair of the Trust since September 2022, comments: “Our canal network can help address a number of challenges faced by today’s society. It brings nature into our towns and cities, improves community wellbeing, helps tackle health inequalities, provides traffic-free routes for active travel and recreation, supports jobs and local economies, and plays an important role in the nation’s water and utilities infrastructure. Just as they were the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution, canals have the potential to shape our futures.
“We remain committed to our mission of protecting and enhancing the canal network in perpetuity for the benefit of current and future generations. We want to unlock the full potential of our waterways to help society to prosper and to mitigate the effects of climate change and biodiversity decline. This requires the support of all who use our waterways and we remain extremely grateful to those who donate and volunteer to help keep our canals alive. The unique value of our historic canal network to deliver wide-ranging benefits to society only comes from a resilient and adequately funded waterway system.”
Richard Parry, chief executive, comments: “The government’s announcement that, despite concluding that the Trust has delivered value for money, our funding is to be further reduced so that it will fall by half in real terms by 2037, means a perilous future for the much-loved waterways. It puts at risk the huge and varied public benefits that they contribute.
“This is why we have launched our Keeps Canals Alive campaign to raise awareness of what’s at stake. We believe there is a strong case for greater ongoing public funding, to complement the much larger amount raised from other sources, to help prevent the deterioration of our canals and keep them safe, given the evidence of their positive impact on people, communities, the economy and nature, and their potential to tackle the stark environmental problems that we face.”
Other highlights from the year include the continued contribution from volunteers which, in the reporting period, saw the landmark of five million hours of volunteer time given since the creation of the Trust. There was also continued growth in the number of canals receiving Green Flag accreditation – with now almost a third of the Trust’s network holding a Green Flag award.
The 2022/23 Annual Report & Accounts is available to view online at https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/about-us/annual-report-and-accounts.
The Canal & River Trust’s Annual Public Meeting will once again be held online, on 1 November 2023. Questions to the Trust’s chair and chief executive can be submitted in advance or during the meeting via firstname.lastname@example.org.