Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000
40. British Waterways wound up their freight
division seven years ago and they are still the proper coordinating
body for all freight on United Kingdom waterways. What do you
think ought to happen with this new strategic authority that you
mentioned? It seems to me that British Waterways have put a damper
on freight because it is not in their interest. Their interest
is in the leisure field.
(Dr Hilling) I think there is a conflict of interest
within BW. Most of their waterways now are essentially recreational.
Whilst there have certainly been places where they have been encouraging
freight, they only account for a very small part of the total
freight moved by waterways. Therefore, I do not think they are
the appropriate authority to deal with all the freight on waterways.
41. Mr Johnson, most of the waste that goes
down the river is mixed waste. Is that right?
(Mr Johnson) That is correct, yes.
42. Is there no scope for separating out waste
paper and, for instance, taking it all the way to Aylesford? Is
that bit of the Medway just not navigable?
(Mr Johnson) All the way to Aylesford I think would
be pretty difficult to do on a commercial scale, but you would
certainly get round to the Medway.
43. Is there not an argument that if we are
going to get an extra waste paper mill built for news print it
should be somewhere where it could be linked with water collection
(Mr Johnson) I think that would be an excellent idea,
44. Would it be feasible for you to separate
(Mr Johnson) It is not feasible for us to do it. It
is feasible for the householder to do it. It is a question of
getting people to do something that they inherently do not want
to do or find it difficult to do. Were it to be separated, you
can upgrade it and take it separately, but you do need large quantities
to make it viable.
45. How many of the big reprocessing plants
like waste paper processing and steel from tin cans are on waterside
(Mr Johnson) I think the Kent mills are. I am pretty
sure that the Bridgewater Paper Mill on the Dee is. The steel
ones probably also are.
46. Hardly any of them receive much by water,
(Mr Johnson) Indeed.
(Dr Hilling) There are a number of the Scottish paper
mills on waterside sites which are currently being served almost
entirely by road transport. They could be served by water transport.
This comes back to the coastal idea that we were talking about.
47. Is it cost that makes them favour road transport
or is it that no one has got involved in the waste, other than
in London, using water?
(Dr Hilling) I do not really know the answer and what
the operators were playing at in this. Obviously, in the short
term, it was probably convenient to move it by road because it
was very flexible. It is almost instantly available. Water transport
takes greater organisation, capital funding, planning etc. Therefore,
it is more difficult to do. There are studies being done on this
at the moment to try and get that traffic off the roads and onto
48. Mr Lowe, in an earlier answer, you said
that you thought leisure users of the canals welcomed freight.
Is that true of fishermen?
(Dr Hilling) They do not like any boats.
(Mr Lowe) In my recent epic voyage to which I referred,
the fishermen were extremely friendly, rather to my surprise.
49. You say, however, you had nothing on board.
(Mr Lowe) We had nothing on board, I regret to say.
Can I come back to costs where wharfage is involved? It is a fact
that if road takes a commodity, as an example, from the Humber
ports to the Midlands, the cost is whatever£10 a tonne;
this is just a round figure off the top of my head. If we can
take it half way or more by barge and tranship it onto a road
vehicle for onward delivery, it is very often the case that the
cost of that final road delivery may be nearly as much as all
the way through, or it may well be more than half. This is where
it is a case of adding up all the costs.
50. You used the words "nominal licence".
You were saying you wanted a level playing field with roads. How
nominal do you think this licence should be for a barge?
(Mr Lowe) That would depend. The reason I said "nominal"
is because that was a suggestion made through British Waterways,
who said they did not care how they got the money.
51. What sort of nominal sum?
(Mr Lowe) A pound a tonne carrying capacity per annum
springs to mind, so a 500 tonne barge would pay £500 a year,
52. This is rather important to the taxpayer.
What is the scale of subsidy required to really make a difference
in bringing freight onto the waterways from the road?
(Mr Lowe) If you took the present toll income of British
Waterways only, that would be 800,000 a year.
53. You are talking in terms of the cost to
your industry but I rather have the feeling that toll charges
and licensing fees are incidental in terms of the whole economic
cost of moving things on the water.
(Mr Lowe) If it is 30, 40, 50 or 60p a tonne, that
is a lot of money. To give you an example of a toll, we have been
talking recently about reviving sand aggregate traffic into York.
Talking to York City Council, they are proposing to charge us
£30 for the movement of each barge, which is about a mile,
on the River Foss. That is an extraordinary amount of money.
54. How many tonnes do you carry in each barge?
(Mr Lowe) Maybe 150 to 200. It is a lot per tonne.
55. Do you get the impression that these people
do not want you using the waterways for freight?
(Mr Lowe) It is difficult to say. The vibes coming
our way from most authorities are very positive, and I include
British Waterways in that, but it may be that some heads need
knocking together. These navigation authorities are going to say,
"We think this is a good idea but we do not want to lose
56. Are you saying that a subsidy of £800,000
a yearin other words, equivalent to the abolition of toll
chargeswould produce a significant increase in the amount
of freight carried on the waterways at the moment?
(Mr Lowe) It probably would. If it did not, it is
such a small amount of money that it is worth taking the chance.
57. I want to return to Mr Johnson and the use
of the river for transporting waste. In passing, there was, was
there not, a wharf at Wandsworth which used to collect waste paper
but which packed up because it was not commercially viable any
more for processing all that paper. Is that true?
(Mr Johnson) I am not aware of that.
58. But it did close down?
(Mr Johnson) If it did, it is some time ago.
59. We used to take our newspapers there when
we were kids to earn some pocket money. Do you have any idea of
the decline in the use of the Thames for carting London's waste
material down to your wonderfully named Mucking Flats and also
(Mr Johnson) The total quantities have gone up over
the last 20 years as the amount of waste generated has gone up.
The one blip in that of course was the decision of Westminster
City Council in 1995 to take most of their waste off the river.
We have shown about a four per cent year on year growth during
the last decade in tonnage handled on the river.