28 July 2007

(S3O-445) Forth and Clyde Canal (Kirkintilloch)

28th June 2007

Forth and Clyde Canal (Kirkintilloch)

2. David Whitton (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab): I confess that I lodged my question because I was unsure which minister is responsible for canals.

To ask the Scottish Executive what action is being taken to develop and improve the canal network, in particular the Forth and Clyde canal at Kirkintilloch. (S3O-445)

The Presiding Officer: Stewart Stevenson will put the member out of his agony.

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I am indeed the minister who has the great pleasure of being responsible for canals.

British Waterways is working with local authorities and other partners to take action to develop and improve many parts of our canal network. Kirkintilloch provides a very good example of a community that is capitalising on the rebirth of the Forth and Clyde canal. More than £15 million is being invested there in canalside developments.

David Whitton: Well, now we know—that is very nice.

In a spirit of good will, I invite the minister to come in the summer to Kirkintilloch in the heart of my constituency—as he knows, it is the canal capital of Scotland—for the Kirkintilloch canal festival on 25 and 26 August. There, he can see for himself how that investment has been put to good use.

After the hurly-burly of trams and train links, I recommend that the minister focus on the more sedate mode of travel that canals provide, which can make a big contribution to the Scottish economy through tourism and trade. Canals carried freight before railways were invented and they could still carry freight today.

The Presiding Officer: The member needs to get to the end of his question.

David Whitton: I hope that the minister has read "Scotland's Canals: an asset for the future". Will he ensure that canals continue to benefit from a share of Government spending in their infrastructure investment?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for the invitation. I have communicated with British Waterways, whose annual general meeting is on 27 September, and I certainly hope to receive an invitation from it to visit a canal in the summer. Now that the member has given me the appropriate dates—25 and 26 August—I may encourage it to consider inviting me to Kirkintilloch.

Canals are an important part of tourism, travel and sustainable development. The member may care to know that in the most recent year, the Scottish Executive provided its highest level of funding to British Waterways Scotland for a considerable number of years. I have no reason to believe that the future will carry anything different but, of course, because of the comprehensive spending review, I am in the hands of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): What plans does the minister have to ensure that there is a fixed link over or under the Caledonian canal at Tomnahurich in Inverness, so that there is a free flow of canal and road traffic at all times?

Stewart Stevenson: I am aware of local concerns about that issue. I understand that a working group that Highland Council heads and which is working closely with British Waterways is seeking to identify options. Because I am the minister with responsibility for planning, too, I do not wish to make a specific comment at this stage. However, I hope that the matter will be resolved speedily.

Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill) (Lab): I have no wish to disrupt the consensual attitude in the chamber these days, but I must take issue with my colleague Dave Whitton. Maryhill is of course acknowledged as the capital for the canal in Scotland. Maryhill lock is a scheduled historic monument and we in Maryhill are particularly proud of it.

Joking aside, when the minister discusses such issues with British Waterways, will he take up the regeneration of the area around the Forth and Clyde canal in my constituency? The prospects for regeneration are huge, and the opportunities are immense for the communities that live around the canal, but progress has been very slow. There seems to be movement now, but I would be grateful if the minister took the issue up with British Waterways.

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to do that. One of my favourite books used to be "Para Handy", so Bowling—which is, at least, near Glasgow if not in Maryhill—is close to my heart. I will raise the point that the member makes when I meet British Waterways.

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