Long term funding risk for the Mon and Brec Canal

As a canal Trust we focus our attention and efforts on the restoration of the non-navigable part of the Mon & Brec canal. However, we also work with our partners to ensure that the navigable part of the canal from Brecon to Five Locks is maintained and usable for boaters, other water users, cyclists, and walkers. We have frequent meetings with the owners of the navigable canal, the Canal and River Trust (CRT) and Torfaen County Borough Council (TCBC), where we raise issues that we think need attention. 

We are concerned that recent announcements by the UK government around the future funding of CRT could have an effect on how CRT maintains our canal over the next few years.

On the 10th July 2023 CRT responded to the UK government’s announcement that the UK government’s contribution to CRT funding would decrease in real-terms going forward, with a reduced grant from 2027. The Government’s grant currently accounts for about 25% of CRT’s total income.

We are tasked by the government to care for and manage safely this important and historic infrastructure. The government has confirmed the value and importance of the nation’s canals and their vital role in our health and wellbeing, for wildlife and nature, and in supporting jobs and the UK economy. Yet, at the same time, they have announced a funding decision which puts the very future of canals at grave risk.

By sharply reducing their investment in the critical work to care for and safely manage this vulnerable national canal infrastructure, the Government is failing to recognise the full cost of sustaining the vital benefits they provide. We have ambitious plans for continued growth in income from donations, investments and other funding streams and are also growing volunteer numbers to help with our work. However, even taking these into account, the decision by the government leaves a substantial funding shortfall which puts decades of restoration and recovery of these much-loved historic waterways at risk.

Richard Parry, CRT Chief Executive
10th July 2023
Llangattock relining 2017
Llangattock relining 2017

CRT’s annual funding of the Mon & Brec canal has always been limited though the canal has benefited from some major investments from CRT over the last 20 years when serious problems have occurred.

CRT owns and manages the majority of the navigable canal – from Brecon down to bridge 47 in Sebastopol. Torfaen County Borough Council owns and maintains the much smaller section of the navigable canal from bridge 47 to Five Locks in Cwmbran. The Torfaen CBC section of the canal is dependent on water flowing from the CRT section.

The CRT part of the canal is managed by the CRT Wales and South West region. The canal frequently has to compete with other CRT owned canals in the region such as the Kennet and Avon, the Gloucester and Sharpness, the Llangollen and more recently the Montgomery canal. All of these canals are connected to the main network and hence are potentially usable by a much greater number of boaters who can travel from other parts of England and Wales. Due to it being constructed on much of its length clinging to the hillside, our canal has potentially high maintenance costs. Every year there are expensive water leakages that need repairing, and there are also a high number of tree falls across the canal which need dealing with.

We feel that the canal is always struggling within CRT for people, money and attention. The canal has had some significant investment such as the Llangattock relining in 2017, but CRT’s budget is always limited. The fact that CRT is now under significant pressure financially going forward is going to put even more pressure on whether our beautiful and much loved canal gets the funding and resources it needs to maintain it. 

We believe that there is a likelihood that CRT will be forced to make some tough decisions in the future including stopping funding maintenance work on specific canals. Our view is that our canal could be seen as an easy target due to its isolation and high maintenance costs. Although it’s clear that these decisions may well be some time off, it’s important that we fight for our precious canal now.

How are we responding to this? We believe that the canal is a vital amenity and resource within Wales. It is a historic, leisure, ecological and employment resource. We believe that the importance and value of the canal within Wales needs to be highlighted with the public, the press and especially with the Welsh Government. Over the next few months we will be highlighting the importance of the canal, its benefits to Wales as a whole and its importance to the well-being of local residents and visitors. We have good contacts with our representatives at a local Council level and at the Senedd and we will be further highlighting the benefits of the canal and the risk to it. We would encourage you to contact your local representatives to highlight the importance of our canal and the risk of it being under-funded and neglected in the future.

We're supporting Fund Britains Waterways

At a UK level we have also joined the “Fund Britain’s Waterways” campaign group as a supporting member. The Fund Britain’s Waterways (FBW) group has been set up in response to the threat posed to our canals and rivers by inadequate funding. The UK government funding situation is already causing deterioration and will only worsen with the challenges of high inflation and the impact of climate change, which are both at a level unforeseen when current funding was agreed. FBW has come together to campaign to persuade national and local government to ensure that the benefits provided to the public do not continue to be eroded. We would encourage you to sign the petition linked to from the Group’s webpage.

We believe that CRT needs all of our support to safeguard all of the canals across England and Wales. We are working with CRT to help them in any way that we can.

We believe that everything should be done to try and reverse the UK government’s decision.

If you feel strongly about these issues please contact your local councillors and Members of the Senedd (MS). You can also support us by becoming a member of our Trust. The more members we have the stronger our voice. You can become a member of MBACT on our website. If you have any interest, knowledge or expertise in these areas we would love you to volunteer with us. We would really appreciate your help. You can volunteer via our website  – https://mbact.org.uk/mbact-volunteer-contact/