Mon & Brec to close?

Published: Monday, 27 February 2023

CANAL & River Trust (CaRT) took on responsibility for British Waterway’s navigations in England and Wales in July 2012.

Mon BrecSceneIt did so in full knowledge of two threats to the viability of the Monmouthshire and Brecon (Mon & Brec) Canal.

Just months before the trust took responsibility, narrowboatworld documented those threats in the article Twin threat to Mon & Brec.

Ten years on, Allan Richards asks if anything has changed.

£60 million spend needed

In early 2012, BW stated that it needed to spend £60 millions to reline the canal in order to provide it with a sustainable future. Needless to say its successor, CaRT, has done little other than repair breaches as they occur and patch up the worst of the hundreds of leaks during winter work. Photo credit: Paul Thomas.

In 2012, narrowboatworld reported:

'For 200 years the main water supply for the canal has been taken from the Usk at Brecon. However, under the Habitats Regulations Directive affecting the Usk Special Area for Conservation, the Environment Agency have proposed abstraction restrictions from the river that would seriously affect the canal requiring the closure of large sections at peak time on a regular basis.

Although Welsh Water has spare capacity in their Usk Reservoir sufficient to compensate for loss of supply from the river they have refused to consider making any available'.

monbrec 2017Abstraction licences

Over the last few years, CaRT has had to apply for abstraction licences for 155 of its feeders, reservoir outflows and pumps to ensure compliance with the Water Act 2003.

The 155 include the Usk abstraction licence for the Mon & Brec which came into force at the beginning of this year. This licence includes the abstraction restrictions proposed ten years earlier.

CaRT has had ten years arrange an alternative supply. Despite this very relaxed timescale, at a board meeting in September 2022, CaRT trustees were told that 'Alternative options for resources remain unresolved'. (The image shows work on a breach in 2017.)

Interim solution not available

At the same board meeting, trustees were told that an interim water supply solution may not be implemented in time for the '2023 boating season'. The interim solution involves taking water from the Afon Lwyd (also known as the 'grey river' due to historic pollution levels).

As a result, CaRT were looking at an emergency solution of taking water from Usk reservoir on a commercial tariff. This tariff would result in costs of £600,000 in a dry year.

The emergency solution has not been agreed with Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water) and Natural Resources Wales.

Will it close?

One is left wondering why CaRT has failed to act over the last decade to secure the future of the Mon & Brec. The chances of closure in 2023 due to lack of water resources are high and its long term future looks increasingly bleak.