Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 108 - 119)




  108. Good morning. Can I ask you to identify yourselves?
  (Dr Bardsley) I am Dr Louise Bardsley. I am a freshwater officer for the Wildlife Trusts UK Water Policy Team. I would like to introduce you to Mr Robert Cunningham who is our water policy officer for the water team. The water team is a national team for the Wildlife Trusts, set up to look at policy and practice on the waterway network.
  (Mr Withrington) I am David Withrington. I am the senior freshwater officer at English Nature, the government's nature conservation agency.

Christine Butler

  109. This is to English Nature. British Waterways inherited a lot of money on sale of assets and its non-operational assets now are worth over £247 million. You might be interested because the previous witnesses set up this public/private sector partnership. They are dealing with such things as development, regeneration and so on. Do you get any of that money at all or do you have anything to do with British Waterways in trying to pursue your own objectives in terms of a cash hand-out?
  (Mr Withrington) As far as English Nature is concerned, we do not receive any money as a public body from British Waterways. We cooperate with them as equal partners and we are aware of their brief to make money out of regeneration of the waterway network.

  110. Is that to your advantage at all times or is it sometimes to your disadvantage? Do you approve of what is being done with the money?
  (Mr Withrington) I am not entirely sure exactly what is being done with the money. I am not trying to avoid the question.

  111. That is significant in itself, is it not?
  (Mr Withrington) Yes.
  (Dr Bardsley) British Waterways do publish annual accounts which we see. The Wildlife Trusts would like to see more money put into habitat enhancement.

  112. Are you consulting, apart from the statutory stuff that the local authority might do, when there is a proposal for major regeneration initiatives using the ceiling money? Do you sometimes think or not that this is beneficial to wildlife and to conservation? Do you think some of these projects have inhibited the potential for wildlife?
  (Mr Withrington) What we have suggested to British Waterways and others who are proposing these schemes is that they should set out environmental requirements as part of the design of these schemes so that they can be built in. If you take the Rochdale Canal, it has been built in but on some other schemes such as the Huddersfield Narrow Canal it was not built in, but was added at a later stage, which has meant that some of the measures that have been taken have been more to mitigate the effects of renovation of the canal than to creating a new wildlife resource.
  (Dr Bardsley) Because of the way restoration has traditionally been funded, it is approached in a piecemeal fashion which means all the environmental impact assessments occur on just that little stretch of the waterway, which means the overall impact on the catchment scale on wildlife is not approached at any point. Therefore, we strongly believe that the wildlife impacts and water resource impacts and environmental impacts need to be assessed right at the beginning of the whole proposed restoration. This is not occurring at the moment.

  113. Who is responsible for trying to incorporate into regeneration proposals or maintenance of the canals biodiversity action and habitat action plans?
  (Dr Bardsley) Obviously there is a statutory duty for conservation on three large navigation authorities, the Broads Authority, the Environment Agency and British Waterways. They have published a biodiversity action plan from British Waterways this year. For the remaining navigation authorities, there are no statutory duties for conservation. It is very unclear to the general public. I have looked at all angles of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities' publications. It is just not clear what their commitments to biodiversity are. There needs to be a strategic overview. There need to be common standards of minimum environmental practice that are statutory for all waterways.

  114. For everyone that is a stakeholder?
  (Dr Bardsley) For everyone who is a navigation authority. It is fairer to the navigation authorities. Everybody this morning has said that we need a strategic overview. We need strategic, minimum, environmental standards.

  115. Could you tell the Committee of any things which you feel, because of this fact, where wildlife has been endangered or their habitat—boats that are going too quickly or whatever—has been put in danger, because this is missing?
  (Dr Bardsley) There are innumerable cases. Montgomery was referred to earlier. Because it is very old, it had planning permission for restoration in the 1980s but it has since become a internationally important wildlife site. Because of the way SSSI legislation is at the moment, it has no legal protection because they have planning permission. For cases like this where it is an internationally important site, we have to have some kind of formal recognition that wildlife has a value. There are 165 million leisure visits per year on the British waterways and canals network alone. There are only 100,000 boat licences so most of those people are going to enjoy the amenities.

Mr Donaldson

  116. We are rediscovering our waterways in Northern Ireland and we are anxious to learn from the experience here. Our first minister spent his summer holidays along these waterways; I am not sure whether that was for recreation or to learn about what is happening there. In our restoration programmes obviously we are anxious to preserve wildlife habitats. Is it worthwhile and possible to create alternative habitats of similar character to replace preferred navigation routes?
  (Dr Bardsley) It depends very much on the timescale and the type of habitat. Unfortunately translocation, moving animals, has not proved very successful. The evidence to date from terrestrial and aquatic habitats where they have tried translocation is that the rarest species are the ones that do not succeed. You need 20 years for a habitat to establish, before it is suitable for translocation. Unless we take a strategic overview and decide which waterways are key and which wildlife sites are key and accept the fact that unnavigated, maintained waterways have a very important amenity value and they can generate an income from their amenity value alone—Devon County Council runs the Grand Western Canal at County Park. It is very successful and it makes money—it is unlikely that very rare habitats will succeed.

  117. You mentioned earlier environmental impact assessments as part of your restoration programmes. Do you think there is a role here for the planning side of things, the planning system, to protect waterways? For example, is there merit in having a dedicated planning policy guidance made on this issue?
  (Dr Bardsley) There is, definitely. £60 million of public money goes into British waterways alone per year. That makes it worthwhile to make sure that waterways are strategically planned. There are many different user groups and planners need to make sure that all those are given due deference. The only way to do that is to have a planning policy guidance and to get the waterways included more strategically in development plans.

Mr Brake

  118. You have talked about unnavigated waterways. Presumably you would like to keep those unnavigated. Are you advocating the closure of any existing waterways on biodiversity grounds?
  (Dr Bardsley) No, and we do not want to keep all unnavigated waterways unnavigated. We want a formal acceptance of the value of some unnavigated waterways, where they have extremely high wildlife value. We believe that people enjoy boating and there is an ability to compromise. However, in some cases, no navigation is the best answer. All we want is an independent, strategic overview for this.

  119. How would you describe the dialogue between yourselves and the users of the waterways? We have heard from previous witnesses that, apart from a few minor problems, on the whole, everything is fine; there is no conflict between biodiversity. Are you not talking to these people to tell them about the problems that you have just outlined to us?
  (Dr Bardsley) We are talking at a local and national level. We have a very good dialogue with the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority. Sometimes at grass roots level, we do not necessarily have the best dialogue that we could achieve. The fault for that does not lie anywhere. We are having a dialogue; it could be improved. Unfortunately, I believe there is a conflict but it can be resolved if there is more of an acceptance on behalf of navigation authorities that some remainder waterways and some waterways that are in existence would be more efficiently managed without navigation.

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