No recent representations have been received on the activities of British Waterways in the Stoke-on-Trent area. However, I understand that British Waterways, the local regional development agency and other partners are working together on a variety of projects in the area, reflecting the importance of partnership in working to achieve our shared goals of getting the best from our waterways.
In anticipation of the representations that the Minister will receive from the Burslem port project, may I welcome the investment in canals? However, will he give his active support in that partnership working to the plans to bring the arm of the Trent and Mersey canal back into use at Burslem port? We want to see the volunteer scheme, which is about to clear the site, matched by a firm commitment from British Waterways to find a way of getting a realistic and feasible business package for it.
I am very happy to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s sterling role in advocating the canals that are so important to her area. In fact, I would be more than happy to meet her to discuss the issue further. Ultimately, it is a question of British Waterways and its partners getting on with the business on the ground, identifying the priorities and driving them forward. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with my hon. Friend.
Is the Minister aware that studies have shown that the existence of canals can increase economic activity by some 300 per cent. in the areas they serve? What help can he give to the Litchfield and Hatherton canal restoration trust, which will provide the much-needed link between canals in the east and the centre parts of the west midlands?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a valid point. Through our work with British Waterways, the Broads Authority, the inlands waterways authorities and others we have made it clear that we recognise the wider public benefits of canals, not just in terms of recreational boating but, for instance, of health, education and awareness of nature. Again, I do not want to interfere in individual projects—it is important for them to take place on the ground—but I am always happy to meet Members who feel passionate about their own areas.
Does the Minister share my concern about the fact that Rudyard Sailability and its centre of excellence for disabled sailors at Rudyard lake is still being blocked from building the boat store that is essential to its survival, despite its victory in a public inquiry nine months ago? Will he urge British Waterways, which owns Rudyard lake, to promote talks to save a vital charity that transforms the lives of so many people and their families?
I am grateful for the work that my hon. Friend does as a trustee of RYA Sailability, and we have corresponded on the issue she has raised. The organisation does sterling work in encouraging people of all abilities to participate in sailing activities. I understand that the matter is currently being discussed by the parties involved, and I hope that it will be resolved speedily. I gather that a local British Waterways manager is still helping to broker a solution and will keep my hon. Friend fully informed of the state of the negotiations, but I am happy to discuss the matter further with her.