Budget cuts threaten access to canal system
Lewis Smith, local democracy reporter
Public use of a 200-year old canal system could be at risk as a local authority looks for ways to save money in its annual budget.
Neath Port Talbot Council discussed the option at a scrutiny committee earlier this month, after the council took its draft budget for 2024-25 to consultation, with a number of cuts now expected in what has been described as its most difficult budget setting process to date.
As well as a potential increase in council tax by as much as 10% and the dimming or switching off of street lights around the borough, there are also proposals for a “Termination of Licence Agreement on the upper section of the Neath Canal,” and a “Termination of Neath Canal Public Access Rights Agreement on lower section.”
Council bosses heard how the use of these two sections currently cost the authority around £135,000 per year in order to retain a public access along the towpath of the canal.
Cllr Sean Pursey of Sandfields East asked if the proposed measures could lead to the risk of losing access to the canal, considered to be part an active travel route for members of the public, situated between the town of Briton Ferry and Neath.
Officers said when it came to the use of the paths, there were a number of areas they would now look at to maintain public access for walking and cycling, while also reducing costs to the local authority which is currently paying “significant sums” for a private company to maintain its own land.
They added they could try to demonstrate a right of way argument to the owner to secure the right of way status, with the option of incorporating maintenance of the path into its own program instead of paying to carry out work, such as cutting vegetation and keeping the paths clear.
The Neath canal is owned by property developers St Modwen, which manages part of the canal alongside Neath Port Talbot Council. It is partially open to “trailable craft”, and has a total length of 13 miles.
The canal, which stretched from Pontneddfechan to Neath, was first completed in 1795, with extensions added from Neath to Giant’s Grave a year later, and further private extensions including the Jersey Canal- reaching Briton Ferry by 1842.
The review of costs involved with the canal will now be out for public consultation as part of the budget proposals until January 10, when council members will discuss options to address an additional £20m in budget costs for the next year.
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