Report of the Director - Neighbourhoods
Mr Erwin-Jones presented an overview of the geographical area and work of the Canal and River Trust Partnership (CRT). He explained that in 2003 the Council signed a twenty year service level agreement with British Waterway’s (which became the Canal and River Trust charity in 2012) which set out that they would maintain access for Rushcliffe residents to Grantham Canal and that they would manage grass cutting, hedges, towpaths and access points. He explained that the agreement did not cover managing water levels and water loss from the canal. He added that the CRT had also received £27k in UKSPF funding from the Council in 2023 for reed clearance work on the canal.
Mr Erwin-Jones took the Group through the various types of work and associated costs that the CRT undertook, including towpath management, hedge management, reed management, operation management, wellbeing activitives, education and infrastruture management. He said that in 2023 Defra announced that there would be £300m of cuts to the charity’s future grant, which formed about a quarter of it’s overall budget.
Mr Erwin-Jones said that the CRT’s current agreement with the Council expired in 2024 and he suggested four possible options that the Group may wish to consider for a future agreement:
· End the agreement – no cost
· Maintain current levels - £48,265
· Enhanced Environmental Management - £78, 265
· Enhanced Environmental Management, Wellbeing Activities and Education and events - £110,365
The Community Development Manager said that the recommendation from the Group would be taken forward through the Council’s budget workshop process.
Councillor Phillips said that the canal was well used by a wide section of the community and he noted the positive difference in funded maintenance of the canal in Rushcliffe compared to when it moved into Leicestershire.
Members of the Group referred to the barriers along the canal. Mr Erwin-Jones confirmed that maintenance of them was covered by the current funding. In relation to accessibility, he noted that they can cause difficulty for cyclists and said that they had been removed in some areas, but that consultation was required before doing as there could be risks involved.
Members of the Group referred to the wellbeing activities and Mr Erwin-Jones confirmed that these did not currently form part of Rushcliffe’s agreement although some had been held in Rushcliffe at Holme Pierrepont and had included some Rushcliffe residents and volunteers. He said that it was possible to carry out water based and other activities on parts of the canal and also on the river Trent.
In relation to how much input the Council could have into shaping wellbeing activities and social prescribing, Mr Erwin-Jones, said that some areas had a dedicated community groups officers dedicated who worked with local organisations and community groups to tailor packages to local need. The Community Development Manager added that the Council had the Reach Rushcliffe fund which could be used to pump prime a range of social isolation projects across the Borough, to the value of approximately £2k.
The Chair asked about the UKSPF funded reed clearance works. The Group was informed that this was a one-off pot of funding to cover reed clearance in specific areas of the canal but that ongoing clearance would require a reed clearance management plan.
The Community Development Manager said the four options offered covered three areas of delivery, being ecology and diversity, access and active travel, protection and heritage of the canal and education and activities. The explained that the current agreement covered access and active travel opportunities and that this would need to be reduced if the Group wished to include other options at current funding levels.
In relation to water, Councillor R Mallender said that there was community support for the CRT to have an active role in keeping the canal in water. The Environmental Sustainability Officer said that whilst some of the enhanced programme of works would support water retention, such as through reed clearance, to make a significant difference would require separate culvert repairs at approximately £100k per culvert.
The Chair asked for Members of the Group to vote on which of the four options they would prefer, with the majority vote being for ‘Enhanced Environmental Management at £78, 265’, and confirmed that this would be reported into the Council’s budget setting process.
It was RESOLVED that Communities Scrutiny Group:
a) received a summary presentation of the work that has been undertaken by the Council in partnership with the Canal and River Trust (CRT)
b) made comment on the strategic ambitions of the CRT for any future Service Level Agreement and the associated funding required for this work.