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Date: 26 March 2010

Save Britain's waterways by creating the first truly national park says UNISON

UNISON, the UK's leading public sector union, has today (26 March) written to the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Scottish Government, and British Waterways, calling on them to secure the future of Britain's network of canals and waterways, by agreeing to establish them as a cross-border national park.

DEFRA and British Waterways* are currently consulting on plans to turn Britain's waterways into a charity, but the union fears that the tight squeeze on third sector funding could see the nation's waterways fall into disrepair, or locked up from public use entirely.

Inland waterways and national parks are both devolved functions in Scotland, and funding for waterways in Scotland has had a positive relationship in the public sector that many would be reluctant to lose.

A Canals National Park would deliver increased potential for regeneration, and could provide a positive model for joint working to regenerate areas of special interest. UNISON members in British Waterways are well experienced and successful at this kind of partnership working.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said:

"Turning Britain's waterways into a National Park would breathe new life into our network of canals, safeguarding them for future generations. It would be a gift to Britain, on a par with the formation of national parks last century.

"As a truly national park, linking England, Scotland and Wales, Britain's waterways could still reap all the benefits of charitable status, applying for lottery funding, and working with volunteer groups, but the future would be more secure - for the people using the rivers and canals, and for those working on them.

"Generations of children and families have enjoyed Britain's network of canals and waterways - they are part of our cultural heritage. No longer in use for transporting freight around the country, they provide much-needed leisure spaces in cities, and are vital habitats for wildlife and conservation.

"But they are stuck in a legal grey area, classed as transport facilities, making it tough to attract significant funding, throwing their future into jeopardy. The funding crisis in the third sector, means that any plans to switch to charitable status would only fuel this insecurity.

"Severe lack of funding for charities could see the locks and paths along Britain's waterways fall into disrepair. Canals could fill with debris and rubbish, threatening conservation efforts. Whilst boaters and anglers already pay to use waterways, additional entrance fees may be introduced to raise funds, taking away the public's right to use and enjoy Britain's Waterways free of charge."



UNISON represents white collar workers in British Waterways.

*DEFRA consultation: 'Waterways for everyone' and British Waterways consultation: 'Setting a New Course'.