The continued renaissance of Scotland’s canals is planned to see them become busy centres of activity for recreation, tourism and sport, and act as a catalyst for wider regeneration.
Transport Minister, Keith Brown, made the prediction as he revealed details of the Scottish Government’s policy for the country’s historic canals in the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
For many decades, Scotland’s canals were largely unloved and fell into decline. It is a changed picture today, with significant public investment the canals have been restored and revitalised. Over the past eight years, there has been a 300% increase in the number of visitors walking and cycling along the canal towpaths. There has also been a growth in water sports and tourism.
Argyll annually sees an innovative water festival held on the picturesque engineering triumph of the Crinan Canal.
Effective partnerships and collaborations have formed between Scottish Canals and organisations in the public, private and third sectors along the canal corridor and together they are delivering positive changes to canal-side communities.
Keith Brown says: ‘Scotland’s canals are a great national asset and their revival offers real opportunities, not only for recreation and regeneration, but for the wider economy as well.
‘We have outlined our aspirations for the future of Scotland’s canals over the next five to ten years following the successful transition from British Waterways to Scottish Canals in 2012.
‘This significant milestone means that we now have a board appointed by Scottish Ministers and that the policies and activities of Scottish Canals are determined solely by Scottish considerations. Not only does this stand us in good stead moving forward, it is also emblematic of what can be achieved. It demonstrates that, though challenging, with goodwill and hard work it is perfectly feasible for Scottish and UK Ministers to work jointly to disentangle functions, in this case after almost 50 years of cross border operation.
‘It allows us to look forward to an exciting period of continued revival of our canals which will not only see them become bustling centres of activity for recreation, tourism and sport – for example, through use of the towpaths for cycling and walking, but also an opportunity for wider regeneration.
‘Scotland’s canals can play an important role by helping to stimulate economic development for some of the country’s most populous communities.
‘Our canals are important assets that we wish to see utilised in order to enhance quality of life and to help create a more successful, sustainable country. We look to build on the successful start made in revitalising our canals and in gaining wider public benefits from them. We encourage their full and sustainable development in a way that impacts positively.’
In response, Scottish Canals launched its new vision ‘Safeguarding our heritage, building our future.’ The overall strategy is growth, underpinned by three strands that focus on helping communities to thrive, generating income which will be reinvested in the canals and supporting people to build their skills and actively help transform the way the organisation operates.
Dr Jon Hargreaves, Chairman of Scottish Canals, says: ‘This is an historic day and one which will not only see the canals’ continued revitalisation but will place them at the heart of Scotland’s economic prosperity once again.
‘We plan to develop them in ways our forebears would never have imagined. As custodians for the canals, we want to safeguard their heritage for generations to come and do so by helping to build stronger communities along the canal corridors, attract new customers and income and work with empowered and motivated people.’
Dr George Findlater, Heritage Management Team Leader, Ancient Monuments East at Historic Scotland says: ‘Many of the buildings around the canals in Scotland are of significant and outstanding architectural merit.
‘It is important that we preserve these sites to show future generations a key part of our industrial and economic past. Historic Scotland and Scottish Canals are working together so that we can deliver a first class canal network that enhances and promotes these nationally important monuments.’