I have consulted closely with the chairman and chief executive of British Waterways about the in-year cut of about 7 per cent. of grant in aid amounting to £3.94 million. They accept that Government have provided £524 million in funding for British Waterways since 2000, of which £452 million was for waterways in England and Wales. Over this period, British Waterways has substantially improved the state of its waterways and has eliminated the safety backlog. It has also concluded substantial regeneration and property projects and facilitated the restoration of some 200 miles of derelict canals. The current assessment of the effect of the reduction in the 2006-07 budgets is that there is likely to be some delay to capital works and a setting back of the date by which British Waterways will be able to reduce year-on-year the requirements for grant in aid from Government.
I will be meeting the chief executive again and will look further at the implications of the cuts in funding and how British Waterways can continue to contribute to Government priorities.
British Waterways received an additional £42 million between 1999 and 2004, which has enabled it to clear its backlog of safety maintenance. There remains a general maintenance arrear of £119 million. It is responsible for about 60 per cent. of the navigable waterways in England and Wales, about three quarters of which are canals.
The Environment Agency manages about 1,000 kilometres of waterways in England and Wales, roughly 25 per cent. of the total. Its backlog of safety maintenance work to its waterways assets, all of which are on navigable rivers, is currently approximately £50 million.
The Broads Authority manages about 3 per cent. of the waterways of England and Wales. It has a backlog of dredging estimated at £21 million, but the costs of disposal and maintenance are still being evaluated.
Information on the condition of waterways owned or managed by non-public navigation authorities is not available.
British Waterways is restructuring its organisation in order to deliver improvements in its customer service and business efficiency.
As part of this there are proposals for the merger of the West Midlands and Central Shires business units which include Sandwell. These proposals are currently subject to consultation with the trade unions. The impact on the canals in Sandwell will be assessed in parallel.
This process of restructuring has been accelerated by the recent reduction in Government funding.