British Waterways has moved a step nearer becoming a "mutual" organisation, similar to a charitable trust, after today's budget statement.
The previously-announced proposals are part of the Government's plans to rationalise its many "Arm's Length Bodies".
British Waterways says that the proposals will give communities greater involvement in the running of their local waterways, provide a more stable long-term footing for the network and, over time, reduce costs to the taxpayer.
BW notes that the Budget statement recognises the importance of BW's property endowment in helping to fund the long-term care of the waterways and recommends that it be "charity locked" for the benefit of the network.
The Government proposals states: "at present the favoured option is a charitable trust responsible for managing waterways assets on a long lease with the non-operational property endowment held in a "charity locked" arrangement. However further work is needed to identify the exact form of mutual and the detail of its governance and relationship with government."
BW chairman Tony Hales welcomed the statement, saying: "This is a significant moment in the history of our inland waterways. A mutualised canal network will give the communities that have grown up around the waterways since the 18th Century an increasingly important role in the way they are run in the future.
"The proposal reflects a widely-held, cross-party and stakeholder view that the waterways are a national treasure which should be moved into the third sector if we are to unlock the enormous public support that there is for them. This is a tremendously innovative model for reinvigorating the waterways, it will ensure their continued revival and safeguard against a return to the decline and dereliction which they faced in the last century."
There are more than 600 "Arm's Length Bodies" sponsored by the UK Government, including 152 Service Delivery organisations, some of which are to be merged.
The H M Treasury document "Reforming Arm's Length Bodies" can be downloaded here. Specific mention of BW appears on page 10.