Waterways Today - Canal & River Trust
British Waterways (now Canal & River Trust) at its peak employed some 80 people on the ground as lock-keepers, plant operators, lengthsmen, etc. to maintain the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, with a further 18 organising the maintenance, promoting the Canal and attending to the public's enquiries.
This work still continues today all year round with the winter being the main period to carry out major repairs to locks, bridges and sections of leaking canal being drained for relining. In the summer, boats have to be controlled at locks to stop water being wasted, with the vegetation along the towpaths requiring regular attention. Many canal side warehouses, cottages, bridges and wharfs are listed buildings, which require stone masons to maintain and rebuild these, though the large number of such structures makes restoration a slow process.
Over the latter years of British Waterways, it had been working hard to reduce their Government grant, although a major problem was the back-log of maintenance. During the sixties and seventies there was little interest in the canal and its condition was allowed to deteriorate. Canal side industries also declined, with many factories falling into disuse, and the Canal came to be regarded as a rubbish filled back-water. Today the quality of the water has much improved - providing high standards of water quality and the Canal has become a positive force for re-generation.
This trend is not just in the growth of leisure access and activities, but also through investment by attracting new or re-developed canal side houses, hotels and even high-tech industries.
With the Canal system playing a vital part of the country's land drainage system, the levels are monitored to ensure that during stormy weather the vast quantities of rain water which drain into the Canal flow away as safely as possible and there is minimal wastage during dry periods.
The responsibility for England and Wales' waterways was transferred in 2012 from British Waterways to the Canal & River Trust. In order to further increase the use of the Canal system the Trust is strengthening its use for recreation of all kinds and encouraging volunteers and organisations to work with them to improve the environment and take ‘ownership’ for looking after sections of the canal.