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Defra to CRT: ‘There's no money left for EA navigations’

Defra has announced the postponement of plans to transfer control of the River Thames and other EA navigations to the Canal & River Trust, calling it ‘unaffordable’ in the present climate. 

The news comes after the Treasury told Defra to make extra savings in next year's government spending round. 

The transfer to CRT control was originally planned for 2015-16, but was dependent on the EA waterways coming with a ‘dowry’, sufficient to ensure they could be properly maintained independently of the government. 

However, in a written statement to Parliament on 3rd July, waterways minister Richard Benyon said the government’s view was that CRT taking control was still the most sustainable long-term solution, and it would review the situation ‘after the next Spending Round.’ 

The announcement comes as a blow to CRT, whose chairman Tony Hales immediately responded:
 
“This is disappointing news and a missed opportunity.  In less than a year, the transfer of British Waterways to the voluntary sector has begun to revolutionise the way that our canals and rivers are cared for, opening up improved engagement and new opportunities for volunteering and fundraising. 

"There is no reason that we could not have seen the same benefits on the EA’s navigations. We remain ready to look at these plans when the Government is next able to proceed.”
 
But the response from some quarters was more enthusiastic, as the idea of the transfer is disliked by many EA waterways users. This is especially true on the Thames, where the River Thames Society says a very different culture pervades the 'royal' river.'

"It's great news for everyone on the Thames," said one source from the RIver Thames Society. "Let's hope this 'postponement' turns out to be permanent." 

The IWA was quick to line up with CRT, calling it a 'missed opportunity'. 

IWA chairman Les Etheridge said: "We understand that 65% of the income for the Agency’s navigations comes from government grant in aid, and this has already been substantially cut.  Worse still, there are clearly prospects for further cuts which could impose additional financial burdens on users of the EA navigations, and in particular boaters. Inclusion of EA’s navigations within CRT offers many benefits, but especially surety of income once a deal with government is achieved.”

“IWA will now redouble its efforts to support and lobby for the earliest implementation of this policy.”

Wednesday 3 July  | Andrew Denny  | 11.30am, Wednesday 3 July 2013

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