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British Waterways to be replaced by a new charity - official (updated)

The long-awaited announcement has just been published by British Waterways and the Government. BW - set up in its current form in 1962, and extant in one form or another since 1948 - is to be replaced with a new charity independent of Government control.

BW and the Government are describing it as "a national trust for the waterways". According to waterways minister Richard Benyon: "The engagement of local communities and interest groups will ensure the success of this transfer to civil society, building on the good work of British Waterways and countless waterways enthusiasts. It's a great example of Government giving power back to the people."

Crucially, this will not be the British Waterways Charity. Rather, the announcement is unambiguous that "British Waterways will be replaced by a new civil society body". Work is underway on setting out how this body will work.

Other key features from the announcement are:
  • No decision yet on whether the Environment Agency's navigations (Thames, Great Ouse, Nene, Medway) will be included; the Government says it will "further explore this"
  • New body "to be up and running by April 2012"
  • A "guaranteed long-term contract" with Government to support the upkeep of the waterways (but no word as yet as to how much less than the current grant this will be)
  • The new waterway charity gets to keep BW's property ("a charity-locked property endowment")
  • Decisions ongoing about the Scottish waterways

Update: Waterscape has published a list of Frequently Asked Questions. These are fairly basic, and won't tell anyone who's been following the story anything new. Interestingly, it does confirm the proposed structure which WW reported from a leaked internal BW document over the summer:

A new council of representatives will be established – bringing in a range of interests such as boaters, anglers, heritage, environment, local authorities etc – with oversight over a Board of Trustees with the responsibility for the running of the organisation and for the appointment and oversight of directors. At a local area, waterway partnerships will be set up to give local people and groups a greater role in the running of waterways.

IWA has welcomed the announcement. BW chairman Tony Hales has published an open letter on the subject.

Update 3.30pm: The trade unions representing BW staff continue their opposition to the proposals. Unite spokesman Julia Long said:

We have real fears that the vital maintenance work that is needed on the network will be forced to rely on the efforts of volunteers to fill gaps left by qualified engineers, if enough funding is not found. This very disturbing news increases the level of flood risk to the homes, offices and buildings along the banks of this network. Unite therefore calls for the government to provide some guarantees that there will not be a wholesale cull of the workforce and that there will be sufficient employed, skilled staff to prevent the potential devastation which would be caused if, for example, just one of the banks gave way.

Thursday 14 October  | Richard Fairhurst  | 11.09am, Thursday 14 October 2010

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