Today sees the launch of the Canal & River Trust - the new waterways charity in England and Wales.
The canals are a passion for me. I have been part of the resurgence of the Kennet & Avon Canal and seen firsthand how it has enhanced the quality of people's lives, as well as the local environment and economy.
Setting up this new charity ensures that there is a continued safeguarding of our historic waterways and the maintenance of 2,000 miles of heritage sites, wildlife habitats and open spaces.
Through the creation of the trust, the waterways will be closer and more accessible to the public and to the people who enjoy them most for generations to come. The new Trust also means that for the first time pedestrians will have guaranteed free access to the towpaths.
We have invested over £1 billion to get the Canal & River Trust off to the best possible start, letting communities and volunteers shape the future of our world-famous waterways. It includes the property endowment which was built up by British Waterways and is worth £460 million, and funding of £800 million over the next 15 years to help put the nation's historic network on a firm footing for the future. In addition, the creation of the new Trust will give local communities and stakeholders a greater role in caring for their waterways.
This is a good deal for the taxpayer, the waterways and for the millions of people who enjoy them. The Trust's charitable status will also mean new opportunities for revenue through donations, charitable grants and legacies, increased borrowing powers, efficiencies and volunteering activity, enabling more investment into the waterways.
Transferring the waterways to the Canal & River Trust provides the opportunity for thousands of people who cherish the waterways to influence the way in which their waterways are managed. So it's only right that we are handing over the role of looking after the waterways to local people and communities who will have the chance to influence the management of their waterways to ensure that money is spent where it meets local needs. This includes boat owners, boating businesses, anglers, walkers and cyclists who use the towpath, and who are just some of the groups that I would like to encourage to get really involved in the Canal & River Trust, in whatever way they can.
That's why today is so exciting. By engaging with the public, I know the Trust will be able to unlock the potential of our canals and rivers and make them as good as they can be.
The creation of the new charity means that the future of the waterways is now secured.
These are clearly exciting times for our waterways and I'm proud to support the Canal & River Trust in efforts to ensure that this new chapter in their history is a success.