asked the Minister of Transport if he will give a general direction, in the public interest, to the British Waterways Board to dispose of unwanted stretches of canal on favourable terms to local authorities and other interested bodies, in order to preserve them for the purposes of boating and walking.
Will the Minister encourage the British Waterways Board, particularly in respect of areas about which he is approached, such as the extension of the Trent and Mersey Canal at the Caldon branch, where the local youth group is trying to develop this in the Churnet Valley near Leek, which is one of the most beautiful bits of Britain? Would he see that this stretch of canal is saved for the youth of this area, which is on the edge of the Peak District? Is he aware that some months ago we had a hopeful answer from the Minister during an Adjournment debate about this canal?
I agree that where appropriate canals should be used for amenity purposes. The British Waterways Board in a recently published Report—I thought it an extremely good Report—stated in paragraph 172 that a decision on the future of the Caldon branch would depend on the result of further studies and consultations. The Board is quite prepared to have the necessary consultation with any amenity interests in that area.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. May I ask him to consider that all through the industrial Midlands there are lengths of canal which are not of prime interest for transport purposes but have a great amenity interest, and that this includes a couple of most interesting tunnels? May I ask whether my right hon. Friend would go a little further, and in appropriate cases allow the British Waterways Board, without consideration, to dispose of these canals freely to local authorities, because there is great competition among manufacturers to secure the sites and close the canals, which is not in the public interest? May I ask my right hon. Friend to devote particular care to the position in the industrial districts?
I agree that canals are useful for amenity as well as for commercial transport. The British Waterways Board is seized of this point and has said that it would like consultations with any amenity group interested in particular canals. All this depends on the result of further studies and consultations but the Board has shown in its Report how keen it is on this aspect.