Fears for jobs with ‘dereliction’ of canal

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Councillors in East Dunbartonshire have united to try to halt a “progressive closure” of the Forth and Clyde canal.

There are fears the born-again waterway rescued from decay at enormous expense is sliding into a new “dereliction” that will hit local jobs and damage the environment.

Bishpbriggs councillor Alan Moir told the Herald the ongoing closure of the canal bridge at Twechar would also put “a damper” on this year’s Kirkintilloch Canal Festival.

Councillor Moir added: “We need to get answers quickly on what is going on with the future funding and maintenance of the Canal. The closure of two road bridges at Twechar and Bonnybridge gives us all concerns about the immediate and longer term effects on the economic, social and environmental impact to East Dunbartonshire and the neighbouring local authorities.

“It is outrageous that it is only 17 years since £78.4m was invested on the Millennium Link project to have the Canal reopened, and to now have years of continued hard work including voluntary contributing to the success of the Canal being undermined is completely unacceptable.

“The Forth and Clyde Canal is one of East Dunbartonshire’s proudest assets and it is absolutely essential that a vibrant future is secured for it.

“Kirkintilloch Canal Festival is a huge attraction for visitors and boating people and the closure of the bridge at Twechar will also put a damper on this year’s festivities”.

Labour councillor Alan Moir called for an urgent meeting of local political group leaders and council officers with Scottish Canals and the Scottish Government regarding the future of the Forth and Clyde Canal. He received the backing of fellow councillors.

Joint Council Leader Vaughan Moody, told the Herald the council was requesting a meeting with Scottish Canals on the bridge issues.

He said: “The canal is one of East Dunbartonshire’s most stunning natural assets and it’s important that we work together - both within the Council and with partners such as Scottish Canals - to ensure it is a useable, accessible and attractive resource.

“The Council is requesting a meeting with Scottish Canals to specifically discuss ongoing issues with the bridges at Bonnybridge and Twechar, and an update will be provided to elected members.”

Councillor Moir’s call comes after Ronnie Rusack, chairman of the Lowland Canals Volunteer Group, accused Scottish Canals of failing to maintain the canal adequately.

Speaking on behalf of pressure group Keep Canals Alive!, Mr Rusack said Scottish Canals had allowed key stretches to become choked with weeds.

He said: “Canalside property development is being pursued at the expense of keeping the canals open for navigation. Councils will bear the brunt of complaints from homes and businesses built along the banks of an increasingly derelict and dangerous water hazard.

“Long-term implications locally include a threat to jobs in a hire boat fleet, loss of income to canalside pubs in East Dunbartonshire, and a cessation of weed cutting and floating litter clearance, especially in urban areas”.

A spokesperson for Scottish Canals said: “The safety of the public, our customers and staff is our primary concern and therefore it was only right that we temporarily suspended Bonnybridge, Twechar and a bascule bridge at Knightswood in Glasgow following recent inspections.

“However the fact remains that with ageing assets, the impact of climate change and the increasing popularity of Scotland’s canals, we don’t have the money to do all we need to do.

“With a £70 million backlog of repairs and maintenance, we have to prioritise our spend according to public safety.

“We will continue working with partners, local communities, communities of interest and local authorities to safeguard these valuable heritage assets for everyone to enjoy.”