Wakefield MP meets with Canal and River Trust chief executive over government funding cuts

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Wakefield MP Simon Lightwood has held a meeting with the Canal and River Trust to discuss the impact of government funding cuts on the city’s waterways.

The charity says it is set to lose more than £300m from 2027, forcing cuts in repairs and maintenance.

Mr Lightwood met Canal and River Trust chief executive, Richard Parry, and the Yorkshire and Humber regional director, Sean McGinley, on the banks of the Calder and Aire Navigation.

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The Labour MP said he had received dozens of emails from his constituents who are concerned at what new funding arrangements will mean for the region’s waterways.

Wakefield MP Simon LightwoodWakefield MP Simon Lightwood
Wakefield MP Simon Lightwood

Mr Lightwood said: “I am really concerned by this latest funding announcement and fear that the government does not truly understand the value of canals, which are hugely valued here in Wakefield.

“I know that people across Wakefield hugely feel the benefit of our canals.

“Whether that be for just taking in our beautiful views, for canal-side walks or for houseboat dwellers.

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“Without proper maintenance, our canals will fall into disrepair.”

“The Canal and River Trust, alongside local navigation, harbour and waterways authorities, do a crucial job.

“It is vital that this work continues and that the government does not roll back on its commitments to net zero or the protection of our waterways.”

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey announced last month that the trust will receive a funding package of £400million between 2027 and 2037, along with £190million between now and 2027, and that it has to increasingly move towards alternative sources of funding.

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The trust argues this will mean real-term cuts of £300million.

The government currently funds around 25 per cent of the charity’s activities to maintain the waterway infrastructure and to keep structures such as locks and bridges safe and operational.

Research cited by the Canal and River Trust shows that canals support around 80,000 jobs and contribute £1.5billion to the economy, alongside £4.6billion in social welfare and health benefits and £1.1billion in savings to the NHS.

Mr Parry said: “Our charity cares for our nation’s historic 2,000-mile canal network which includes critical assets such as locks, bridges, aqueducts, embankments and reservoirs.

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“We know from independent research that our canals deliver huge economic, well-being and environmental benefits.

“At a time when our canals are more popular than ever, with 1.5 million visits every fortnight in Yorkshire alone, we are facing our greatest challenges – the impact of climate change and the recent announcement of a reduced grant from 2027 that will almost halve the value of public funding for canals in real terms compared with recent years.

“The future of the nation’s historic canals are at risk, with the potential closure of some parts of our cherished waterways network.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “Since it was first created in 2012, we have been very clear that the trust would have to increasingly move towards alternative sources of funding.

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“To date, we have awarded them £550m funding and are supporting the trust with a further £590m between now and 2037 – a significant sum of money and a sign of the importance that we place on our canals.

“We have been discussing this with the charity for some time and have been offering support on how it can increase income from other sources.”