Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000
80. What concerns do you have about the current
structure of navigation responsibilities for inland waterways?
(Mr Edwards) One of the main problems we feel is a
lack of coordination between the different navigation authorities
and, for example, the different licensing arrangements that are
required for different navigation authorities. We are very pleased
that British Waterways and the Environment Agency have taken some
moves to create some sort of licence that will allow boats to
transfer from one navigation to the other without separate licensing.
We believe an awful lot more work needs to be done in this respect.
There needs to be a much closer working together between all the
navigation authorities involved in the country. They are different
bodies with their own sets of rules and some of them have very
antiquated legislation. It can be very difficult for users of
waterways to appreciate all the different parts of the regulations
that apply to different authorities.
(Mr Pearce) The two major navigation authorities are
British Waterways and the Environment Agency. In my written evidence,
I refer to the fundamental dichotomy that I believe is current
in the Environment Agency. To be absolutely blunt, whilst cooperation
has gone a long way between these two navigation authorities on
the subject of navigation, I do not think it is ever going to
work properly and I believe that the navigation authorities' rolethat
is, the development for all purposes, leisure, freight, whatevershould
be divested with British Waterways. This would help. We ought
to have some form of over-arching planning structure, but perhaps
you will want to come on to that.
81. What are the stumbling blocks? Why do we
not have the system that you have suggested? Obviously it has
been suggested before. What is the problem?
(Mr Pearce) Maybe inertia?
82. On whose part?
(Mr Pearce) This has been suggested before. In fact,
I have suggested it before. The Environment Agency jealously guards
its right to plan in given river basins but this does not mean
to say that we should not allow another professional operator
to operate the waterways as a navigation authority. For whatever
reason, the cooperation that has been going on in the last five
years since the Environment Agency was created has not really
got to the stage of making this seamless navigation work. We are
interested in a fully integrated system and, whilst gold licences
for use of craft on both the Environment Agency waters and British
Waterways' waters are a step forward, there is still more that
can be done.
83. Can you give us some indications of the
benefits if the waterways were under one authority?
(Mr Pearce) There would I think be no hesitation about
standards, maintenance standards, standards of operating the waterways,
if there were one organisation that could set the standards. I
am not necessarily saying that all the minor trusts should be
included in a major authority, but if there is someone setting
the standard, leading the way, I think this will give advantage,
not only for leisure use but indeed for developing freight.
(Mr Edwards) It is very difficult for the smaller
navigation authorities to provide sufficient investment to develop
waterways and to attract new users to them. If the waterways were
better coordinated between them and the funding between them was
better coordinated so that the big ones could support the little
ones a bit more, that would help an equal development of standards
and the future restoration of the waterways to enable the network
of the inland waterways to gradually expand on an even basis,
encouraging people to use it at the same time. At the moment,
it is rather uneven, depending upon the resources of individual
authorities. British Waterways have a bigger resource so their
waterways can often attract new uses and new developments and
action slightly easier than some of the other authorities can
because of sheer size, experience and the breadth of the staff
and so on.
84. What conflicts do you see between your activities,
freight activities and wildlife biodiversity issues?
(Mr Edwards) We see very little conflict between all
three activities. Most waterway users would see themselves as
conservationists and certainly the early members of our organisation
saw themselves very much as conserving the waterways and wildlife.
The voluntary sector has put in at least hundreds of thousands
of pounds to benefit wildlife on the waterways. It is one of the
main attractions for boaters to see a kingfisher or a heron along
the waterways. As to freight, we tend to work, all parties, with
freight transport. There do not seem to be any problems at all.
Very often, the freight traffics are a major attraction, not only
for other boaters but also for visitors and tourists who see the
older barges, narrow boats or even the larger craft along the
inland waterways. It is something that people will come and look
at, marvel at and want to see. In some instances, there needs
to be careful planning to try and ensure that all the different
users of the waterways do not fall into conflict with each other,
but underlying there is a very close liaison between all the different
parties in the inland waterways. Those small numbers of conflicts
that do occur at the extreme edges tend to be noteworthy themselves
in that they are the very few which appear in the press.
(Mr Pearce) I would largely agree with that. There
is room on the waterways for us all. Thinking particularly of
freight, I am convinced that a professional navigation operator
can indeed resolve local difficulties if they arise. Thinking
more about the natural environment, all boaters, all my members,
delight in the beauty of the natural environment in which they
cruise. One of my own club members was really delighted to have
seen a kingfisher in London the other day and to see it feed as
well. Fair minded people can get together and take a balanced
approach when it comes to matters of the natural environment because,
after all, it is navigation on these waterways that keeps them
vital and alive.
85. I am very pleased to hear you say this but
I wonder if you are not presenting too rosy a picture in that
there must be conflict between, say, the wildlife or biodiversity
interests where they want to maintain the bank in a very natural
form, which I would have thought conflicts with freight operations
and possibly your type of activities.
(Mr Pearce) Could I suggest that you might like to
go and see some of the work that has been done, mainly on the
South Oxford Canal, a very popular canal for leisure cruising.
The banks have been particularly tackled here to make them not
only robust but friendly to things like water vole so that they
can get on and off. There are ways and means of looking at this
sympathetically. I would hope that we can all continue to live
together and that we would not get to a situation where navigation
on a restored waterway is banned simply because one particular
species might, I emphasise "might", be disturbed.
(Mr Edwards) There are occasionally instances where
certain sites on waterways, particularly those under restoration,
are deemed to be of particular wildlife importance. Therefore,
there are obviously very understandable fears from people that
development of those waterways might lead to loss of wildlife
benefits. Indeed, some such sites have been declared Sites of
Special Scientific Interest and Special Areas of Conservation
and so on. In such instances, it is nearly always possible to
put in place special mitigation measures, whether it be extra
bank protection or extra expense on the construction or all sorts
of things. Where perhaps there is a difficulty and where help
is needed at the moment is when such sites are suggested, identified
and so on, they are usually announced and the waterways lobby
has to try and live with that, adjust for it and cope with it,
but there does not seem to be any finance to go with it to help
solve those problems. Usually, when a site is declared of particular
wildlife interest, it means additional expenditure to help preserve
that wildlife interest, which I think everybody is pleased to
see happen, but that expenditure tends to fall on hard pressed
restoration societies, the voluntary sector, who are trying to
restore the waterway for another purpose. What is needed is further
funding to recognise the importance of that wildlife by providing
sufficient resources so that solutions can be found and the very
need for any potential conflicts is rooted out at source.
86. You are not saying that there is a conflict
between restoration and conservation in the terms that it could
be easily ameliorated by extra cash? Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Edwards) There ought not to be need for conflict.
87. We all know what we ought not to have. What
about the present situation in the Montgomery Canal?
(Mr Edwards) I believe that is one where equitable
solutions will be found because all the parties including the
Wildlife Trusts, the Countryside Council for Wales and English
Nature are talking together through the central body of the Montgomery
Waterway Restoration Trust. It would be wrong to hide that there
have been difficulties in the past and there are sensitivities.
There are members in each of these organisations who are perhaps
at the extreme ends of views. Within every organisation, there
are people who believe so much more strongly in their view that
they may fall into difference of opinion with those who are at
the very extreme of the other end of the view. There are cases
where people have fears and a lot of it is worry and concern for
what might happen rather than what is scientifically shown to
happen. It is the job of all of us to ensure that those conflicts
are resolved. We do not think it is impossible to do that. We
believe it is a main aim we should try for.
88. Is there any evidence that the standard
of maintenance and facilities varies between those facilities
provided by the Environment Agency and those provided by British
(Mr Pearce) I believe there is variation within those
two bodies, maybe on a regional basis. Yes, much has been done
in British Waterways to set standards and to make advances in
this respect. In some respects, they have got there quicker than
the Environment Agency, but there are some concerns, I know, within
the people who use the Environment Agency's navigations at the
moment, on the standard of maintenance.
89. Could you give the Committee a feel as to
how wide these regional variances are? You did not answer the
question directly as to who was the best, British Waterways or
the Environment Agency. You skirted around that and said, "There
are regional variations." Which are the worst regions and
which are the best?
(Mr Edwards) Taking the Environment Agency's navigations,
if one looks along the Thames you will see high standards of maintenance
in terms of the attendance of lock keepers, electrically powered
gates and so on. There are many, many users of the Thames. Therefore,
they justify a very high expenditure to keep them up to standard
because the income is there for them to do so. On the other hand,
if you looked at the agency's navigations in East Anglia, particularly
on the River Nene and the Great Ouse, you would find those navigations
in a very run down state and a lot of work being needed to get
them into good order. Perhaps because there are so many more structures
that require maintenance and there are fewer boaters using them.
That is one area where, within one authority, there are great
differences in standards. British Waterways have, over recent
years, been trying to improve their standards and to recognise
that there has been an awful backlog of maintenance work. They
are trying to pull that forward, but the Environment Agency has
greatly been disadvantaged because its navigation is seen as such
an extraordinarily low priority within the Agency and its funding
has been cut so dramatically within recent years that, despite
the valiant efforts of lock keepers and members of the agency
staff on the Thames, they have struggled to maintain standards
and generally they are recognised as not being as good as they
used to be. It is no fault of the individual staff members concerned;
it is down to lack of funding.
(Mr Pearce) I would agree with all that.
90. Mr Pearce, you mentioned inertia earlier.
Do you think there ought to be a new national navigation authority?
(Mr Pearce) I wrote a paper along those lines five
years ago. Whether we would call it a navigation authority or
a strategic body or an over-arching planning authority, I believe
we need something. We should encourage British Waterways to take
the lead as the main professional body, and I have already given
my view about what should happen to the Environment Agency navigations.
We need some form of strategic body.
91. How would that body be composed?
(Mr Pearce) I think that is a leading question.
92. It is an important question.
(Mr Pearce) I believe we have to work with what we
have. On balance, I believe we should look to enhance the role
of IWAAC, the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council.
(Dr Squires) The fundamental problem is that we do
not have a means by which there can be an over-arching strategy
for waterways. Whether this is because the different elements
of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
are each following their own particular avenue rather than looking
at an over-arching strategy is a question that you and your colleagues
only can answer, but it must be that a national conservancy which
is looking at all of the many benefits and aspects of the use
of our waterways is a far better way of dealing with the issues.
The problem is that we have a history of a large number of individual
navigation authorities, a large number of vested interests and
a large number of structures, none of which can easily be dismantled
without a major work on your part.
93. You have suggested that there is no conflict
between boat users and nature conservation. What about the question
of paying for it? Do you think the balance between what the taxpayer
pays at the moment for the system, what the boat users pay and
what the anglers pay is about right?
(Mr Edwards) At the moment, the boaters and possibly
the anglers, who are the main groups who directly pay for their
use of the waterways, pay as much as the market will stand and
at least as much as is equitable. The general taxpayer, if you
like, benefits enormously from the waterways and therefore it
is not unreasonable to expect a budget to come from both central
and local resources, from the taxpayer. The reason for this is
that most of those who use the waterways and most of those who
benefit from them cannot be directly charged. You could not conceivably
put turnstiles on the towing path. You could not charge people
who feed the ducks and appreciate the boats going past. You could
not very easily charge all those who benefit from regeneration
through city centres and rural areas of the waterways. So many
people visit the waterways out of the population. British Waterways
could provide more accurate figures from their research, I am
sure, but the vast majority of the population of this country,
one way or another, at some time or other, appreciates, uses and
benefits from the inland waterways. Only a minuscule proportion
of that number, the boaters and the anglers, pay for the direct
privilege. All the rest of the people pay for it through their
taxes. The proportions of people who pay directly and those who
pay benefit indirectly are so far outweighing that there is a
very good argument for more money going in from central resources.
It should not just be seen as lost money; it is very much an investment
to regenerate city centres and rural areas.
94. You would firmly argue that the taxpayer
should pay more but is it not the boaters who have pressed for
the restoration of very substantial amounts of canal? The Rochdale
Canal is now being restored. The Huddersfield narrow one is being
restored. Boaters were the ones who campaigned. As far as nature
conservation as far as walkers are concerned, they were perfectly
adequate as they were. That adds very considerably to the overheads,
does it not, of maintaining the waterways by having all that brought
back into use. Ought not boaters to contribute a bit more?
(Mr Edwards) No. If you took each individual restoration
society and canal society and analysed how many of its members
owned or used a boat, I am confident you would find in virtually
every canal society's case it would be less than half. The vast
majority of the people who are members of canal restoration groups
are local people who want their local area improved. They want
to see amenity for their particular area. The individual canal
societies tend to be fairly parochial in their membership and
they tend to be a very diverse cross-section of people.
95. The hirers of boats: it seems to be an industry
that is in decline. Why is that? Is that because there is too
much crime on the canals?
(Mr Edwards) I do not think that is the cause. I think
the causes are very diverse. Partly it is the competition of other
attractions and partly it is to do with management.
96. Going on a narrow boat is boring?
(Mr Edwards) Certainly not but conveying that to people
is very difficult. 20 years ago, the range of holidays that people
could afford to go on was much narrower than it is now. There
is now so much more competition and people can afford to go to
many far off places that they could not afford previously. Drawing
attention of potential hirers to the benefits of being hirers
and the wonders of waterways is a much more difficult thing than
it was previously.
97. On the issue of public subsidy, how much
does it cost leisure boat users to license boats?
(Mr Edwards) It depends upon the length but for a
full length narrow boat it would be in the region of about £500
per year on British Waterways, and there are also mooring fees
up to about £1,000 to £1,500.
98. What proportion of that, if you are paying
to run the boat, goes towards running costs and maintenance costs?
(Mr Edwards) It obviously depends upon the size of
the boat but it is a very substantial proportion of it. It depends
if you include the depreciation of the boat and all sorts of things
like that. Boating can be an expensive hobby. One of our fears
is that it is becoming a pastime for the better off and this is
a serious concern because we strongly believe that the waterways
should be for all classes and all incomes. It is difficult for
the smaller newcomer to the waterways to find a starting point
at a modest rate because of the high charges that exist for licences
99. What would those charges be for the average
sized recreational gin palace?
(Mr Pearce) I can give you a precise example. My boat
is 40 feet long. The annual licence is, in round figures, £400
and I believe at St Pancras Cruising Club I have the cheapest
moorings in London but they are £1,000 a year. A lot of people
have gone out of boating and narrow boats in recent years because
of considerable cost to implement the boat safety scheme. Those
of us who are practical and do much of the work ourselves, a few
hundred pounds maybe, but people have been involved in thousands
of pounds in terms of modifications to meet the standards.