I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear. Waterways Ireland is the largest of the North-South bodies and it looks after 1,000 km of navigation, which is probably one of the country's largest outdoor recreational assets. Our statutory function is to manage, maintain, develop and promote those waterways. The slide on view shows the spread of what we are looking after. We look after two major lake systems, the Shannon and the Erne navigation. There are 420 km of canal, 360 km of which is water, from the Royal and the Grand canals coming from the centre of Dublin right across to the Shannon, the Barrow navigation which runs through the east and the Lower Bann on the north coast.
Our goal as an all-island body is to deliver world class waterway corridors, to capitalise on these unique natural assets and to leave them in better shape than we found them for the next generation, and to use them to create jobs and support businesses while sustaining their unique built and natural heritage. There are challenges along the way, some of which I have set out. Like all public bodies, we have declining resources. There have been changes in the weather patterns, with two 100-year storms in the past three years and with extreme flooding in the winters during very short periods, as well as a shortage of water this summer. Invasive species are another challenge and are coming at us almost quicker than we can identify and map them. Last year we disinfected boats coming back into the Shannon to keep out a crayfish plague. We look after almost €1 billion worth of ageing and historical infrastructure, most of it over 200 years old, so we are looking after antiques, with all the care and cost that involves. We need to modernise our by-laws, an issue I will turn to later in the presentation. We have issues around water quality and supply. The water supply for the Royal Canal is currently being used for drinking water and we are working with Dublin City Council and Irish Water to ensure, when the midlands and Dublin water supply is restored, we get back the original supply for the Royal Canal. There are also some pollution issues. In addition, we work in highly designated lands. All of our waterways are SEAs or proposed NHAs, with the challenges that brings to look after them.
How have we responded to these challenges? When Waterways Ireland was originally formed, we redeveloped and reopened the Royal Canal. We now use our capital funding for repairs of critical condition infrastructure, and the slides show some of the work we are undertaking. By their nature, waterways are expensive. The second slide shows the replacement of lock gates taking place at Rooskey. There are five major locks on the Shannon navigation and the gates cost in the region of €800,000 to replace, although it is a once in 75-year job. We are using a combination of our own in-house labour and we have started to make lock gates again in Tullamore with our core skilled workforce. The next slide shows how we can respond to emergency failures, in this case by fixing an embankment.
Given reduced resources, we have taken action to reduce costs. We have recognised that some of our posts should be seasonal, reduced fixed overheads by 50%, reduced the management team and used technology to try to save costs. We have tried to match the employment of people to periods of greatest need for the service through a lock-keepers agreement. We have also looked at how we can earn income, and one of our goals is to try to create a sustainable significant income for each waterway. We have also looked to commercially use the land assets belonging in particular to the canal network and to create income through that. We have used third party funding to be able to continue a programme of development, and I have given some examples, including funding of over €4 million for towpath development.
The canals are a particular opportunity in that they are in public ownership so there are long, linear corridors for walking, cycling and boating that run from the centre of Dublin through the midlands. We have looked to form partnerships whereby we can draw down funding, for example, with Fáilte Ireland, which is currently 75% funding three key projects. These are to develop a master plan for the development of the Shannon; to examine the possibility of a greenway in the city, using the canal towpaths; and to develop a tourism master plan for the development of Grand Canal Dock. I have also given further examples. Last year, we had support through the rural recreation scheme and were able to attract €500,000 to develop a floating boardwalk that connects the blueway between the villages of Leitrim and Drumshanbo which over 10,000 people a month use for walking.
Our goal, very simply, is to increase use, with a target to increase use of inland waterways by 5% annually. We want to do this in two ways. We want to increase use by local people, which we are doing through programmes like Paddles Up, Blueway 10 km and open water swimming. We are moving away from sponsoring once-off events to developing six-week or 12-week programmes which engage local communities in learning a new water sport. In this way, we are hoping to create a generational shift so that, in time, every town and village beside a waterway will have, for example, an open water swimming club, rowing club or canoeing club, and people will more regularly use the recreational assets on their doorstep.
The other half of increasing use is through using the waterways to bring visitors into an area to create jobs and deliver prosperity. There are different ways in which we are doing this. We are looking at how people are changing the ways they use their recreational time and we can see there is a desire for activity tourism. We have looked at developing things like the blueways, thereby presenting our waterways to a new audience, not just to boaters but to all who want to get out and get active. We have looked at sports tourism in order to bring in international events. We are developing a heritage trail through using our existing facilities and presenting them to a new audience. We are looking at all attractive harbour sites along the Shannon, in particular how we can map those and lay them out for people who come to Ireland in motorhomes.
We are also looking at the redevelopment of key sites. The slide on view shows a picture of Tullamore harbour. There are two major harbours, or a harbour and a branch line, right in the centre of Tullamore, so there is real potential to create a water quadrant in the town. We have bid into the rural regeneration fund with Offaly County Council in seeking to develop this as a focal point within the town.
We want to anchor back-office, high-end IT jobs linked to Grand Canal Dock and also create housing and a social and recreational amenity and a new destination in Tullamore. Our key priority is to get the towpaths along the canals complete. We will open 140 km of the Royal Canal next year and we will have an application to go into the greenway strategy for the Grand Canal this autumn, working with all the councils across the length of it, which will be another 140 km. The Barrow blueway is in planning and has gone to appeal.
I have mentioned blueways a number of times. Blueways are about repositioning the waterways to make them attractive to a new range of people who want to walk, cycle, canoe or stand-up paddle board along them. Instead of just providing a physical facility and hoping people will come, it is about engaging with local communities, the local authorities and the private sector to anchor people. We provide the maps and infrastructure but it is about putting a package in the shop window that people can buy. It has been highly successful. The Shannon blueway was the pilot in 2014. It contributes €4 million per annum to the rural area around the Lough Allen Canal. We launched the Shannon-Erne blueway in 2015 and this year we launched the Lough Derg blueway. It is about linking together businesses, paths and opportunities and mapping them and making them accessible.
The next question is: is there a demand for outdoor recreation? The answer is "Yes". Activity tourism is big business. We commissioned research with Fáilte Ireland, which led it. It looked at the key markets for Ireland in terms of activity tourism. If we only got 5% of all the people surveyed who expressed a strong interest in coming to Ireland and who take activity tourism holidays, it would be an extra €1 billion in tourism revenue. There is real potential in this area.
One of the projects we are working on to try to unlock some of the latent, untapped potential is developing an inland waterways spiritual trail. The inland waterways were once a highway for pilgrims. There are sites dotted along them. We are working with 13 local action groups led by us, Fáilte Ireland and the built heritage section of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht through the LEADER action groups. We have drawn down money as a co-ordination project. The feasibility study to develop it has started.
Another area we are interested in is the Ulster Canal, often called the missing link in terms of creating a unified navigation from the top of Ireland to the bottom. It is 76 km in length. I have shown the committee on the map where it turns. The Ulster Canal would connect the Erne system through to Lough Neagh which would then link into the Lagan. We opened 3.3 km, which was just completed in September of this year, which provides a new navigation from Lough Erne to Castle Saunderson. We chose Castle Saunderson as there is an international scout village there and Cavan County Council owns 70 acres of land. We hope to see it developed as an activity hub like Lough Key outside Boyle. There has to be a destination at the end of a navigation so people have a reason to go there. In 2015, we also took the idea to the North-South Ministerial Council that the way to develop the Ulster Canal was to champion the development of a greenway along the route that would protect the route for future generations if there came a time when the canal could be redeveloped. It provides an immediate economic benefit and will eventually provide the link for an off-road walking and cycling network that would run from Dublin to Belfast.
I am conscious I am skipping through my presentation. We managed to draw down almost €5 million of INTERREG funding through the sustainable transport fund and we have 22 km of that Ulster Canal towpath development under way. Monaghan County Council led the way with a 3 km route through the middle of Monaghan. This builds on that by developing from Smithborough through to Middletown. One can see in the pictures where we are hoping to go from and go to.
Another important project for us is realising two of our greatest assets which are Grand Canal Dock and Spencer Dock in Dublin. The intention is to create a water quarter, a blue playground for the city and a new destination within the city. It will be a fast-track development zone for the Dublin tourism co-ordination committee. In my presentation I listed some of the things we are doing to try to animate that strategy. We have a Dublin City Canal events programme which draws together disparate events and brands them into a programme for visitors to come and use. We have started an open triathlon training session in Spencer Dock. We are hoping to have a new exit and boardwalk from the Grand Canal DART station. It does not open into Grand Canal Dock now. That is a game changer because we are one stop from Trinity College Dublin. It means 80,000 visitors could get from Trinity College Dublin immediately into Grand Canal Dock if it opened directly into the dock. We have developed - and the Fáilte Ireland study will flesh out the bones of it - an inner city greenway using the canal towpaths, which is 40 km in length. We are working with Dublin City Council and Irish Water on a water quality issue in Grand Canal Dock. There is a storm water outflow that creates intermittent pollution but otherwise the quality of the dock water is excellent because the water from the canal comes from Pollardstown Fen and it is bathing quality water. Potentially there is a dock that people can use for open water immersive events.
We need to modernise the canal by-laws. It is over 30 years since they were last modernised. In terms of the challenges, there are almost 14,500 registered boats. Most of those boats are on the Shannon. There are 8,500 on the Shannon and 6,000 on the Erne. There are only 508 boats on the canal network. In Ireland, we are spoilt with an embarrassment of riches. There are two open water lake systems which are much more attractive to boating than using the canal system. We need to develop the canals and how we look after them to make them attractive and to grow the boating sector. As part of that, we have to develop the canal by-laws because of the 508 boats that are on the 360 km, 75% never move. The Heritage Act 2018 passed this summer and some members will be familiar with it. As part of the by-law proposals we will be bringing forward, we want to modernise the charging. We provide the public infrastructure on all of our navigations for mooring and navigation signs but on the canal network we own the whole thing. On our other waterways there is private sector investment so when one is not cruising and using one's boat recreationally, one buys a private mooring and stays on it. In the canals we own everything so everybody is always on our property. The charge to use the canals for a year is €126. The maximum charge of €152 to park one's boat in a location for a year regardless of size is too cheap to stimulate any inward investment. We want to modernise the charging for the canals, not least because one of the difficulties we have is that with the current charging, it is cheaper to just to abandon one's boat. The only sanction we have now is to remove it. It is in the nature of boating that people buy boats and then things happen or family circumstances change and boats get abandoned. It costs us an awful lot of money to remove them. In the canal by-laws, one of our proposals is to introduce a fixed penalty notice which was granted in the Maritime Safety Act 2005 but needs a by-law to bring it into use. I assure the committee we will not become like carpark attendants but it is to give another measure for people who, over months and years, persistently do not comply with the navigation inspector's request to move their boats and not be a pollutant. It gives us another way of encouraging people to become more active boat owners.
The other areas in the by-laws we will be looking at is making provision to manage new use. For example, 30 years ago nobody anticipated there would be the demand for houseboats that there is today. The new by-laws will allow us to manage and provide for those.
I am coming to the end of my presentation. I just wanted to give the committee a feel for the value of the inland waterways in terms of what they contribute each year. It comes to just under €400 million. Private boating directly contributes €88 million. The cruise hire sector which has grown strongly over the past three years contributes €55 million. Angling, just on the waterways we manage, contributes €142 million and access to recreational opportunities which is the softer pursuits such as canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding contributes another €50 million. Health benefits to the people who are using them actively is valued at €30 million and events are valued at €80 million. The good status water quality is valued at €16 million. With regard to what we cost, the committee will see in the table in my presentation the changing levels of funding. In 2010, our grant from Government was €39 million. Today it is €27.68 million. We are funded 85% by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and 15% by the Department for Infrastructure in the North. That represents the percentage of navigation in each jurisdiction. Both jurisdictions fund their own capital.
The next slide in my presentation illustrates the pressure on critical structure repairs. The top line the budget required is the amount of money when we looked at the assets we manage.
If we are to repair only those which are in unsafe and critical condition, we need more than €6 million on average each year. One can see the grant we have received each year. Our Department has been good to us in the past two years and has managed to find extra money to bring our funding up to €5.5 million. This year, however, it was unable to find that resource, and next year the allocation falls short. There will be challenges with that in trying to manage just the infrastructure that is in critical condition before we do the planned preventative maintenance.
The other pressure we have is pension costs. When Waterways Ireland was formed 223 staff were transferred and designated for the body. Those staff came in the second and third quarters of their careers with pension accruals and we pay all the pension costs out of our current allocation, which has not increased. The money for front-line services, therefore, continues to diminish. When we started the cost was zero, in 2010 it was €700,000, but next year it will be €3.3 million, which directly takes away from what is available for front-line services.
I am sorry my presentation was rushed. In summary, we manage 1,000 km of navigation, and we are doing our level best to lever as much opportunity as possible out of that for everybody on the island of Ireland, while also protecting and looking after it.