Birmingham’s canal network faces falling into ruin after the Government announced that British Waterways will be scrapped, a heritage group has warned.
British Waterways is one of 123 quangos which is going to be axed as part of Whitehall cuts that were leaked last week.
It is responsible for maintaining Birmingham’s 35 miles of canals and the sprawling network of waterways in the Black Country.
Ivor Caplin, secretary of the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society, said the group was concerned that a funding shortfall would mean boats were unable to pass several stretches of water.
“The canals are 250 years old and need a lot of maintenance or they can very quickly fall in to a state where boats find it very difficult to pass,” he said.
“There are already parts on the Walsall Canal that haven’t been dredged for some time and depending on the level of the water it can be tricky.
“As soon as you start taking money out, there will be a significant effect on the canal network.”
Mr Caplin said he believed that British Waterways would continue as a charitable trust and allow more enthusiasts and volunteers to be involved in running the canal network.
In 2008 – the last year that figures were available – the body spent £164 million, including £95 million on maintenance.
The spending was funded by £68 million from Government, £22 million from boat licences and mooring fees and the remainder from grants.
Michael Fabricant, Tory MP for Lichfield, has been a defender of the UK’s canal system and has spoken in Parliament of his wish to see some UK freight moved on to the waterways.
He said he believed that grants would still be available from central government but that private companies who benefit from canals ought to shoulder some of the financial burden.
“Birmingham has more canals than Venice and they are an important feature of the city. I think that you only need to look at the example of Brindley Place and the Mailbox developments to see how the private sector can help enhance the canals and maybe that needs to happen more often.”