Canal bridges shut over safety fears

The bridge at Twechar has been identified as a priority for repairs but it is unclear when Scottish Canals will undertake the work.
The bridge at Twechar has been identified as a priority for repairs but it is unclear when Scottish Canals will undertake the work.

A health and safety row with cold hard cash at its core has cast a long shadow on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

For Scottish Canals has announced that the much-loved historic waterway is now closed to all through traffic.

This far-reaching decision stems from mounting fears about the viability of lift bridges at Twechar and Bonnybridge.

A Scottish Canals spokesperson said: “The mechanisms of these bridges have been a cause for concern for some time.

“Recent inspections show that they have now reached a point where we believe their operation could pose a public safety risk.

“While we work up the technical solutions and source the funding required to implement the necessary repairs, we have no option but to temporarily suspend their operation.”

The organisation has promised to do its utmost to restore the status quo – with a view to opening the bridge at Twechar first.

But that’s not good enough, according to Forth and Clyde Canal Society volunteers who don’t expect to see it re-opened in 2018.

Robert Welsh, society chairman, said: “Scottish Canals has known about problems with these bridges for several years and has failed to take any serious remedial work, despite the problems being raised at consultation meetings.

“The closure will affect boat movements on the canal and the closure of Twechar Bridge will impact on the ability of the society to operate in Auchinstarry Basin, where it normally provides boat trips to local organisations and primary schools.

“The bridge closure at Twechar also impacts on our ability to obtain fuel as the only supply on the west end of the canal is at Auchinstarry Basin.

“The closure of these two bridges has left boat owners in Auchinstarry marooned and will prevent holiday hire boats travelling westwards from Falkirk towards Auchinstarry and into Glasgow.”

Banton man Paul Carter, who edits the society’s magazine, believes Scottish Canals needs to get its priorities right.

He said: “These closures could mark the beginning of death by a thousand paper cuts if other bridges and locks are left to go the same way. It is also a blow for the communities and businesses which have grown up along the canal and which will now lose vital income.

“There is obviously a big issue with Auchinstarry being cut off but also the new canal at Grangemouth opened by the Queen last year will be disused as boats can no longer travel sea to sea.”

Meanwhile, Kilsyth Community Council expressed its concern at the lack of cash for what it called “non catastrophic defects” at its latest meeting.

Scott Johnson, chairman, said: “We completely understand that infrastructure requires to be safe and that regular inspections have led to decisions that safety related works need to be undertaken.

“But we are shocked to learn that Scottish Canals does not seem to have any contingency funding.

“We trust that funding, even debt funding, to action these repairs before the peak season arrives will be forthcoming.

“Perhaps less spent restoring redundant railway viaducts at Bowling Basin, in favour of maintaining a navigable waterway may have been a better priority?”

The society believes that the moral responsibility lies partly at Holyrood in its bid to get the boats back.

Canal lovers are now being urged to get in touch with their MSP’s and the Scottish Government to lobby for cash.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Transport Scotland is in regular contact with Scottish Canals to discuss the opportunities and challenges around maintaining these assets.

“Recent inspections of the mechanisms of the bridges show their operation could pose a risk to public safety.

“We are aware of the temporary restrictions being placed on sections of the Forth and Clyde Canal by Scottish Canals and its efforts to minimise this, mitigating the impact on canal users where possible.

“Scottish Canals has been allocated £11.6 million in the budget for 2018-19 with an increase of £0.5 million (16 per cent) in the capital allocation to £3.5 million.

“We recognise the challenges faced by Scottish Canals and will continue to work in partnership to support the organisation in its operations.”