The regeneration of the Midlands could be reversed because of Government plans to axe funding for the region's waterways, it has been claimed.
Concerns that the clock could be turned back "more than 30 years" on progress the region has taken in recent years were aired by senior politicians and canal campaigners.
British Waterways, which will see its funding cut by #5 million, also claimed the Government was "killing the goose that lays the golden egg" by turning its back on waterside developments. The organisation which manages the country's canals will be forced to shed about 60 employees in the region with the closure of its Birmingham office. This will result in the loss of canal experts who help to obtain Section 106 compensation money from 'city living' residential developers which is used to improve the waterways.
Dudley Council leader David Caunt (Con Sedgley), who is also a narrowboat enthusiast, said: "I hope British Waterways will retain the expertise that they have developed, otherwise the region's councils will turn their backs on canals like they did 30 years ago."
Vaughan Welch, chairman of the restoration committee of the Inland Waterways Association, said: "Canals have provided the catalyst for the regeneration of much of the Midlands in the last few years.
"By ignoring the benefits that well-maintained canals can have for improving local areas, the Government is threatening the development of current projects and risking turning the clock back 30 years to when canals were just backwaters."
Birmingham has witnessed the transformation of its city centre entertainment and residential districts through the canalside development of areas near the Mailbox and Brindleyplace.
Birmingham City Council has two major canalside development schemes on its books, at the Icknield Port Loop site in Edgbaston and the Warwick Bar scheme on the Fazeley Canal in Digbeth. A spokeswoman yesterday said the projects should not be held up by British Waterways' funding issues.
However, she added: "We have done great work with British Waterways over the years which has had a major impact on the quality of life in Birmingham, so we will be looking for reassurance that collaboration and joint working will continue."
Other major canalside schemes in the Midlands include the redevelopment of the historic Soho Foundry, which was created by Matthew Boulton and James Watt on the Birmingham/Sandwell border.
Sandwell's cabinet member for regeneration and transport Coun Bob Badham said there would not be any "direct impact" on the scheme caused by British Waterways' cashflow issues.
John Baston, from British Waterways, said: "We would be killing the goose that lays the golden egg if we did not have our best officers on the case to drive forward these projects. We carry out essential work looking after canals on a day-to-day basis, but if we do not keep on top of this the whole system will be affected.
"Our aim is to continue with the projects that are on-going but it is likely that future projects may well be hindered by this lack of funding.
"We have had tremendous improvements in regeneration projects in recent years but it is not certain whether this will continue if we cannot maintain our waterways properly."
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