Phil Woolas, the DEFRA Minister of State, this week answered a question from Bob Spink MP by acknowledging the vital role waterways play in Britain today.
Mr Woolas wrote: “We fully recognise the economic, environmental and social benefits of the inland waterways and the role they can play in supporting Government objectives in health, recreation, regeneration, social inclusion, conservation of heritage and the environment.”
He went on: “British Waterways has been involved in over £2 billion worth of urban and rural regeneration over the last decade and a further £7 billion of waterside regeneration is under way. Its canals also contribute to flood mitigation. In terms of tourism and leisure use, there were 268 million visits to British Waterways last year by boaters, anglers, cyclists and walkers.”
This is an important point we are trying to get across - 268 million visits! There are only around 30,000 boat on British Waterways system, which goes to demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of people who enjoy the benefits of the waterways are not boaters! Yet boaters are the ones who are being leant on to help make up the funding deficit through increased licence and mooring fees.
Fishermen make a small contribution through their rod licence, but most waterways users pay nothing at all directly. This is why the government should make sure that the contribution that people do make, through taxation, gets through to the organisations that have to keep the canals and rivers operating.