The First Minister has announced a £1.6 million capital grant to Scottish Canals to allow the organisation to repair bridges at Twechar and Bonnybridge.
Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the funding, which is separate from the government’s £11.6 million core funding and £3.5 million capital allocation for Scottish Canals included in this year’s budget, during First Minister’s Questions.
It came after Highlands and Islands list MSP Edward Mountain asked what action the government was taking regarding Scottish Canals’ financial situation.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Scottish Canals carries out vital work in managing Scotland’s waterways.
“The Scottish Government is the main source of funding for the organisation although it also has other sources of income, including investments and commercial revenue.
“In this year’s budget, we increased our funding from £10 million in 2016-17 to £11.6 million, which is a rise of 16 per cent.
“We also increased the organisation’s capital allocation by £500,000, to £3.5 million.
“However, we are aware of the financial difficulties that Scottish Canals has faced due to the enforced closure of bridges on the Forth and Clyde canal, so I am pleased to be able to confirm that we will provide an additional, just over £1.6 million of capital grant-in-aid, to enable Scottish Canals to repair the Bonnybridge and Twechar bridges and also to carry out further work at Ardrishaig pier.”
The two bridges have been closed since February due to public safety fears leaving the Kelvin Valley stretch of the Forth and Valley Canal, including Auchinstarry Marina, isolated from the rest of the network.
The capital grant has been welcomed by Cumbernauld and Kilsyth MSP Jamie Hepburn and Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East MP Stuart McDonald.
Jamie said: “I was delighted to be in the chamber when the First Minister announced this vital intervention.
“This shows the Scottish Government’s dedication to the canal network and the communities that rely on it.
“While the works themselves need to be completed as soon as possible, this a critical step forward and will allow Scottish Canals to bring forward a full engineering solution as soon as possible.”
Stuart added: “I know how concerned residents and businesses were about these closures.
“The fact that the Scottish Government has stepped in to provide finance for a solution is very much to be welcomed.
“The next step will be to ensure that these substantial works are carried out as soon as possible.
“Working with SNP colleagues I will look to ensure further detail is made available as to when the works can be carried out.”
Catherine Topley, interim CEO of Scottish Canals, expressed the organisation’s gratitude.
She said: “We are delighted with the news. We have been in dialogue with the Scottish Government for a number of months about needing additional investment to fix these assets and this injection of money will enable a long-term repair that ensures the bridges are fully operational once again.
“We are passionate about maintaining a moving canvas on the Lowland canals as this is important to their renaissance, which has delivered significant investment, new jobs, tourism spend as well as health and environmental benefits since they were reopened in 2002.”
Scottish Canals faces a number of complex challenges that come with being responsible for a 250-year-old asset and has a repairs backlog in excess of £70 million.
Central Scotland list MSP Mark Griffin believes more needs to be done.
He said: “Since February I have called on Scottish Canals and the Scottish Government to fix the bridges.
“Throughout that period Ministers have dragged their feet so I am pleased that action is finally being taken.
“Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment, Scottish Canals continues to face a funding crisis.
“It requires an additional £6 to 9 million in the next few years simply to address a £70 million repair backlog.
“The government has a statutory obligation to keep Scotland’s canals functioning so while this investment is welcomed, ministers must now commit to a capital funding package.”