It’s been a big month in the British Waterways arena and as the bell for the second round of spending sounded, it was the man in the red corner, from Millbank, John ’The Deputy’ Prescott, who opened up first with a series of upper ribbon cuts to the west Midlands area…

In a break from training earlier this month, the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott visited Market Drayton and was delighted to award the first grant awarded from the Market Towns Initiative and announce similar assistance for a further 43 towns across England.

The scheme is aimed at funding the regeneration of rural communities and Market Drayton, on Shropshire’s border with Staffordshire, was the first of the nine waterway towns eligible for funding: Leek (Staffs), Atherstone (Warks), Market Harborough (Leics), Retford (Notts), Devizes and Melksham (Wilts), Todmorden (West Yorks), Thorne (South Yorks). In total, 43 towns will benefit from the unspecified amount in the fund.

British Waterways (BW) welcomed this tangible recognition by the government that Britain’s 2,000 miles of waterways have an essential roll to play in boosting the modern economy. In Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester and London, there are many residential, recreational and business developments centred on the inner city canals and waterways, completely transforming formerly derelict no-go areas.

Living by a waterway adds a 20 per cent premium to the property value. Every year, residents and ten million visitors spend half a billion pounds on waterways’ goods and services, employing 54,000 people directly and in associated businesses. BW is working in partnership on restoration and regeneration projects worth ‘300 million and aims to repeat that success in rural areas.

“We have achieved great things in terms of the city environments touched by the waterways,” said Dave Fletcher, BW’s chief executive. “The regeneration of these centres has brought enormous economic, social and environmental benefits to urban communities and it is now time to spread our net wider – there’s a lot more we can deliver through our waterways.

“The bulk of the canal network runs through rural areas. British Waterways has developed its own Rural Regeneration Strategy to tap and encourage the potential of towns like Market Drayton and the other eight waterside towns eligible to bid. Now we can spread those benefits to the wider waterway network and I am delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister chose a market town with a strong waterway inheritance for today’s announcement.”