Look at many of the major urban regeneration programmes taking place in the UK and see if you can spot a few common themes.

There are several features that such long-term schemes share, but one of the most telling involves water.

The regeneration of Birmingham two decades ago was focused around the canal system at Brindleyplace and still continues to spread out around the city’s historic waterways.

Cardiff’s programme is based around the former docks area and the development of Cardiff Bay – as it has been re-named and re-branded – in recent years has moved into top gear. Similarly, the banks of the Tyne river has provided a catalyst for regeneration of both Newcastle and Gateshead.

Liverpool’s historic waterfront is providing a magnet for development as it prepares for 2008 when it becomes European Capital of Culture.

It is one of the reasons why the announcement of job cuts at British Waterways – the organisation charged with maintaining and re-opening our network of inland routes – together with a significant funding cut, has been met with such anger and disdain.

This weekend, a large water-based protest will be taking place in Birmingham to highlight the folly of the cutbacks.

Organised by those who now live and work on the canals around the West Midlands, the protest should also have the support of those spearheading the regeneration of Birmingham and other places like Walsall.

The canals that played a vital role in the early industrialisation of this country are now playing a similarly important role of breathing new life into some of our most neglected and socially and economically depressed urban areas.

The plans to axe cut 60 jobs at Birmingham British Waterways were announced in October, with local services being moved to Fazeley in Staffordshire. The Inland Waterways Association, which is leading the two-day protest, also maintain that a £12.5 million deduction could herald a return of the under-funding that blighted the 1970s, leaving miles of canals in a state of disrepair.

The IWA (http://www.waterways.org.uk) is now lobbying the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to reconsider the decision and deserve widespread support.

Campaigners will gather on the steps of the Sea Life Centre, at Brindleyplace, at 11am on Saturday (November 25), with the protest beginning at 12pm. On Sunday the demonstration will move to the Mailbox at noon.

It appeared that we had learned some important lessons from the lack of foresight which saw our waterways seriously neglected for so many years. The long-term benefits they can bring – in terms of regeneration, job opportunities and tourism – are clear to see.

Yet the job and funding cuts represent a very narrow-minded approach and could stall the regeneration programmes this same government has been so keen to encourage in the last decade.


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