Canal & River Trust
Canal & River Trust
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Canal & River Trust


Canal & River Trust

Canal & River Trust



The Canal & River Trust (CRT), branded as Glandŵr Cymru in Wales, holds the guardianship of 2,000 miles of canals and rivers, together with reservoirs and a wide range of heritage buildings and structures, in England and Wales. Launched on 12 July 2012, the Trust took over the responsibilities of the state-owned British Waterways.


The concept of a National Waterways Conservancy was first championed and articulated in the 1960s by Robert Aickman, the co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association, as a way to secure the future of Britain's threatened inland waterways network.

The idea was revived by the management of British Waterways in 2008 in response to increasing cuts in grant-in-aid funding, a drop in commercial income after the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and growing calls by waterway users for a greater say in the running of the waterways.

On 18 May 2009, launching 'Twenty Twenty – a vision for the future of our canals and rivers' on the terrace of the House of Commons, British Waterways proposed a radical overhaul of waterway management and a transfer from public corporation to not-for-profit organisation. The event was supported by speakers from each of the three main parties: Charlotte Atkins MP, Peter Ainsworth MP and Lembit Opik MP. British Waterways chairman, Tony Hales said: "The private sector built the canals, the public sector rescued them and I believe the third sector can be their future".

The six-month consultation that followed was met with strong objections from waterways users and other stakeholders. Despite this, in November 2009, British Waterways published another paper 'Setting a New Course: Britain's Inland Waterways in the Third Sector'. This promoted the original suggestion by British Waterways, that it should become a private company, inheriting all of the property and other waterway assets held in public ownership by British Waterways.

On 24 March 2010, the Labour government announced its decision to mutualise British Waterways, a commitment which was repeated in Labour's 2010 manifesto: "To give more people a stake in a highly valued national asset, British Waterways will be turned into a mutually owned co-operative".

Following the 2010 general election, the incoming coalition government reaffirmed its support for status change on the waterways, as an example of the Conservative Party's commitment to the so-called Big Society. Waterways Minister Richard Benyon MP stated on 21 June 2010 the government's "intention to move British Waterways to the civil society, subject to the outcome of the spending review."

Between March and June 2011, Defra ran a public consultation 'A New Era for the Waterways' on the overall structure of the proposed new body, the potential inclusion of the river navigations under the management of the Environment Agency (another public body), and the abolition of the Inland Waterways Advisory Council.

In October 2011, British Waterways announced a name and logo for a charitable trust which would inherit its English and Welsh operations: the Canal & River Trust, branded in Wales as Glandŵr Cymru (meaning Waterside Wales) — the Canal & River Trust in Wales. The Trust received charitable status in April and received parliamentary approval in June.

In July 2012, all British Waterways' assets, liabilities and responsibilities in England and Wales were transferred to the Canal & River Trust, which was launched officially on 12 July. At the same time, the Canal & River Trust merged with the English and Welsh operations of The Waterways Trust, a charity previously affiliated to British Waterways, to avoid confusion and as both charities had similar aims.

BWML, a private company limited by guarantee, is wholly owned by the Canal & River Trust and manages some 20 marinas. It provides retail sales, moorings and services and also acts as a shop front in the issue of such things as short-term licences.

In Scotland, British Waterways continues to operate as a stand-alone public corporation under the trading name Scottish Canals.

Access to waterways and towpaths

Waterways in the care of the Canal & River Trust are accessible for use by boats, canoeists, paddleboarders and other watercraft upon payment of an appropriate licence fee.

Walkers and cyclists can use the extensive network of towpaths that run alongside the canals and rivers without payment of a fee. Horses may not be ridden or walked on a towpath unless it has been formally designated as a bridleway. Access by motorbikes and other motorised vehicles is not permitted.


The trust is headed by a board of 10 appointed and unelected trustees with a chairman, which is legally responsible for overseeing the work towards the Trust's charitable objectives and sets strategy for the trust. The trust has a 28-member council which referees the business of the trust and whose construction reflects the range of waterway users, from boating and angling through to walking and conservation. Finally, an executive team and six regional directors are collectively concerned with the ordinary running of the trust.


The Canal & River Trust has a governing council of 28 members. Members of the first council included a mix of nominated and elected individuals. Council advises on shaping policy, raising and debating issues, providing guidance, perspective and a sounding board for the trustees.


For each of the trust's waterway areas there is a regional partnership drawn from local communities. In addition an all-Wales partnership considers issues relating to Welsh waterways and a separate partnership exists for the trust's museums and attractions.


The trustees are legally responsible for ensuring that the trust meets its charitable objectives. Trustees are the unpaid board directors of the trust, taking collective decisions on policy and overarching strategy and providing oversight of the executive directors.


Executive directors manage the everyday operation of the trust and develop policy and strategy for approval by the trustees.


The trust is supported through a number of advisory committees covering a range of different areas from freight and navigation to volunteering and heritage. These groups provide advice direct to the management of the trust.

The trust's head office is in Milton Keynes. It operates 11 local offices that deal with the general maintenance of the waterways in their area. These offices are based on the Waterways Partnership regions which are:

  • East Midlands region, based at Newark, Nottinghamshire
  • Kennet & Avon region, based in Devizes, Wiltshire
  • London
  • Manchester and Pennine region, based in Stoke-on-Trent; Stalybridge, Greater Manchester and Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
  • North East region, based in Leeds
  • North Wales and Borders region, based at Northwich, Cheshire
  • North West region, based at Wigan, Greater Manchester and at Bradford, West Yorkshire
  • South East region, based at Milton Keynes and at Braunston, Northamptonshire
  • South Wales and Severn region, based in Gloucester
  • West Midlands region, based at Fazeley and in Birmingham


The Trust receives a fixed grant from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the 15 years commencing 2012. Its major other sources of income are from utilities (including fibre optic data connections and water sales) and property rentals from a £500 million property endowment granted by the government. It also receives an income from issuing licences for boats using and mooring on the waterways; this is one of the largest income streams that Canal and River Trust Limited has, after the government grant and has been given a funding pledge by the People's Postcode Lottery of over £1 million.

Supporters and corporate partners

The Prince of Wales is the patron of the Canal & River Trust and the actor Brian Blessed supports the trust's volunteer appeal.

In June 2012 the trust announced three major corporate partners to support the Canal & River Trust:

Google partnered with the Canal & River Trust to include the UK's towpaths on Google Maps. This includes highlighting access points, bridges, locks and tunnels. Once the project is complete, members of the public will have the ability to plan journeys that include canal and river towpaths as well as roads.

The People's Postcode Lottery pledged to support the Canal & River Trust with £1m of funding. The charity lottery promised to support the restoration and conservation work of the Canal & River Trust over the next decade through the Postcode Green Trust.

The Co-operative Bank and the Canal & River Trust work together to provide financial products that allow people to support the work of the Trust.


The Canal & River Trust operates several museums and visitor attractions that relate to canals and waterways.

  • National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire
  • The Canal Museum, Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire
  • Gloucester Waterways Museum, Gloucester
  • Anderton Boat Lift, Anderton, Cheshire
  • Standedge Tunnel & Visitor Centre, Marsden, West Yorkshire


In December 2016, Private Eye magazine reported that the Canal & River Trust had seized a historic retired lightship which had been moored for ten years at the docks near the maritime museum in Liverpool, following a dispute over unpaid berthing fees. The ship, named Planet, had served as the country's last manned lightship until 1989, when it went to a museum and later to Liverpool's docks, where it was restored and used as a cafe and volunteer-operated maritime radio museum. The ship's owner reportedly owed overdue berthing fees, which were subsequently paid but not before the trust had towed and impounded the boat in Sharpness, Gloucestershire, thereby incurring further hefty fees. The Merseyside Civic Society launched a petition to bring the vessel back to Liverpool but the trust later sold it for £12,500, less than its estimated scrap valuation of £70,000. The trust faced possible legal action over the seizure and sale of the ship.

In November 2019, the Trust was criticised for not acting on calls to open a sluice gate in Worksop during extensive flooding in the area. The gate was eventually opened by the fire service, several hours after the first request to the Trust. The gate is within a building (not owned by the Trust) which the Trust considered to be unsafe.

In January 2020, the Trust was criticised for not allowing a 200-year-old barge business to transport bulk-goods from Hull to Knostrop wharf, Leeds, despite the agreement of Leeds City Council and the fact that each shipment would remove 17 HGV journeys from the road network. By March 2020 the Trust had relented which should now allow the transport of bulk-goods from Hull to offload in Leeds.


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Alena Potapova

Development Director
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