‘Canal at risk of losing charm from shadow of development’

Conservationists are concerned that Regent’s Canal may be under threat of development if a charity entrusted with looking after the country’s waterways suffers a funding shortfall.

The Canal and River Trust (CRT) was handed 2,000 miles of canals and waterways to manage by the government in July.

Although the charity has been given �800million to manage these assets for the next 15 years, the trust needs around �1.5billion or at least �100m per year, to run the canals over this period.

This means it needs to raise the remaining money from other sources.

The trust owns part of Camden Market and the Interchange building beside Regent’s Canal in Camden Town, and conservationists fear that this could be sold to developers if the trust is short of cash.

The trust recently sold its stake in land bought in Docklands 10 years ago to property developer Canary Wharf Group.

Planning permission for hundreds of new homes has also been granted on a site the trust owns in Brentford.

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Lester May, a historian and retired naval officer, of Reachview Close, Camden Town, said: “What we don’t want is a corridor of new development that literally casts a shadow over the Regent’s Canal.

“The waterways are open space, a haven of peace as the CRT itself describes this national treasure, and over-development will surely mean that the canal will become more of a closed and noisy space with less and less public access.”

Ian Shacklock, chairman of the Friends of Regent’s Canal, said: “I fear that the Regent’s Canal is at greater risk of exploitation than the rest of the network.

“If the new trust ever faces financial difficulties, then it could be very tempting to rely on construction or other opportunities to raise money at the expense of the heritage and charm of the canal.

“If anybody thinks that I am just imagining that the Regent’s Canal is at risk of losing its charm and of being overshadowed, then I will refer them to the widely criticised Rosemary Works redevelopment that was approved by Hackney Council last year.

“The transition of British Waterways to a trust is going to create a mixture of opportunities and threats, and with a huge influx of new supporters and investors there will be some conflicting priorities that need to be addressed from the outset.”

The trust has refuted any suggestions that the land it owns beside Regent’s Canal will be sold to make money.

Ed Fox, head of communications for the trust, said: “The funding situation we have now is better than anything in living memory.

“We have more certainty of funding.

“The property we own that was previously under threat of being sold off has been transferred as an endowment to fund the work of Canal and River Trust.”

He said the bulk of the money the trust needs to raise will be generated through commercial activities such as property rentals, moorings, licence fees and fibre optic cables running under the waterways.

“Every charity has a shortfall,” he added.

“We have had a shortfall since the railways were invented.”