COMMONS COMMITTEE URGED TO GET ASSURANCES ON DROITWICH CANALS
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Local MP Peter Luff has welcomed the decision of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to look at the work of British Waterways (BW).

In evidence to the Committee he warned that reductions in staffing at BW as a result of both the decision to abandon the Cotswold Canal project and the impact of funding cuts on the organisation could impact on the management of the Droitwich restoration.

British Waterways recently abandoned its support for the restoration of the Cotswold canals that would have re-established a link between the Severn and the Thames. This was a result of government funding reductions and the need to find 15 million over four years for a repair programme for the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in Wales.

Commenting, Peter said,

"British Waterways have given assurances about their continuing commitment to the Droitwich restoration project, and this is very welcome. However, the organisation is going thorough some dramatic changes and the Commons committee can win important guarantees for Droitwich."

In his evidence to the committee, Peter wrote;

"British Waterways has been the victim of a funding regime which has threatened to undermine the important work it does. This was evidenced by the massive and unexpected mid-year budget cuts in 2006 whose origins lay in completely unrelated problems within DEFRA.

"Despite the financial challenges, British Waterways has, in my constituency, continued to exercise its duties with exemplary efficiency and effectiveness.

"This is particularly true of the project to restore the Droitwich Canals (the historically significant Droitwich Barge and Droitwich Junction canals) which has now received all necessary planning permission, and on which construction work should begin shortly.

"I have no reason to believe that the Droitwich project is at risk, but I wish to emphasise four things:

1. Stability in BW's funding is major concern to all those using the exiting waterways in Worcestershire and to the partners in the Droitwich Canals restoration project.
2. BW is an excellent partner and its excellence must not be diminished by any further reduction in its funding or commercial freedom.
3. Reductions in staffing at BW as a result of the Cotswold decision could impact on the management of the Droitwich restoration.
4. The withdrawal of BW from the Cotswold project could deter potential partners from committing to BW schemes in the future. I think particularly of the Heritage Lottery Fund, whose involvement was central to the Droitwich scheme."

The Committee will probably produce its report in early May.

As well as being MP for Mid Worcestershire, Peter Luff is Vice-President of both the Droitwich Canals Trust and the Worcester Birmingham Canal Society

ENDS

For further information on the Cotswold canals, see:
http://www.britishwaterways.co.uk/cotswolds/


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