The government plans to create a new charity to give local communities more say in how public waterways are managed.
The New Waterways Charity (NWC) will secure the long-term, sustainable future of more than 4,000 kilometres of canals and rivers in England and Wales, according to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
This is because the charity will be able to access new sources of commercial and private income for the publicly-owned inland waterways, currently managed by British Waterways and the Environment Agency.
The charity will also create the opportunity to grow a strong base of volunteers who can help to maintain the waterways.
Ministers are seeking people’s views on the new charity and proposals through a public consultation.
The proposals include a governance model to foster local engagement and ownership, the charity’s constitution, and improving the long-term financial sustainability of the waterways.
Environment minister Richard Benyon said: “Our inland waterways are important pieces of heritage, havens for wildlife, and vital for leisure, recreation, health and well-being – enjoyed by millions of boaters, anglers, walkers and cyclists.
“We want to unlock the true potential of the waterways, so that they are valued and enjoyed by even more people.
"Creating a new charitable body for waterways will give people the chance to have a greater say in the running of their local canal or river."
The government intends to transfer waterways to the charity subject to a special trust, which will be set out in a Trust Declaration requiring the waterways to be protected for the public’s benefit.
The consultation, which ends on June 30, can be found online at www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/waterways-1103/