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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)

WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000

COUNCILLOR STEWART STACEY, COUNCILLOR STAN CRAWFORD AND MR RICHARD DIX

Mr Brake

  180. Can I just ask you both whether your vision encompassed commercial activities within the canal network, and whether that was achieved successfully; or has it, in fact, stopped, the use of the waterways for commercial purposes, if, in fact, they were being used for those purposes previously?
  (Cllr Stacey) No; there was very little use, if any. I do not think it has had any effect on that. It has encouraged tourism use, both wet and dry tourism, so it has bolstered commercial activity in that way; but, certainly, in terms of freight, there was very little use anyway.
  (Cllr Crawford) Similarly, very little freight, no wharfage has been lost, we had no wharfage; obviously, the development of the marina will encourage more tourism, so it would actually encourage more usage of the river-front.

Mrs Ellman

  181. In terms of private sector investment, how much private sector investment has arisen almost spontaneously as a result of regeneration along watersides, when it has not been part of the plan that was put forward?
  (Mr Dix) If the SRB is around £3.75 million, I would estimate, but I will confirm it in writing to you, Madam Chairman, something in the region of £12 million plus.

  182. But that is within the SRB programme?
  (Mr Dix) This is what the SRB programme has drawn into the Newark riverside in its regeneration; for example, if the marina project is £350,000 worth of SRB, there is £650,000 of British Waterways money.

  183. Are there any other comments? I was also wondering, even beyond what is included in the SRB programme, how much private sector investment is generated then to simply take place as a result of the development that the private sector sees happening?
  (Cllr Crawford) If I could answer. The development of BW, I believe, is actually as a result of the regeneration of the riverside; they saw the work that was actually happening inside the SRB programme and inside the defined area, BW is on the edge of that, so a 7,500 square metres, non-food retail development has come as a result of that. How much that breaks down to I cannot tell you now, but I can get you the answer.

  184. And I would be interested in any other developments that you have seen happen. What is your experience of waterside housing development?
  (Cllr Crawford) We have a mixture of waterside housing on the riverside, we have private sector development on the one side of the river and social housing on the other. We have tried to integrate the mixture; in fact, it has worked very well, so we have a very comprehensive mix along the riverside.

  185. So are you satisfied with what has happened, in terms of housing?
  (Cllr Crawford) Yes. Well, I say yes; if we could get rid of the scrap-yard, I would like to see some more, but we have an issue with the scrap-yard.

  186. Are there any other comments on housing?
  (Cllr Stacey) Yes. I think the canalside housing, if I can go to the housing question, was a revelation to the private developers. We had had great trouble getting housing development within the city core, in Birmingham; Birmingham was becoming one of these doughnut towns, where no-one lived in the middle and came in to work, and we had been trying to kick-start some housing development in the city centre and had not been very successful. We insisted on housing as part of the Brindleyplace development, the developers reluctantly agreed, brought in a housing developer, as I said, we were flexible about amendments to the master plan, and they were absolutely stunned by the response of the market. And now they cannot get sites quick enough; and not just canal sites but elsewhere, within the older urban core, within the city centre, so, for example, within the jewellery quarter in Birmingham, and so on. So it totally opened the eyes of the private sector to what was possible. And I think that started off by the fact that the location was seen as very good because it was waterside.

  187. What is the approximate price range of the private sector, water-front housing; have you any idea?
  (Cllr Stacey) If you have to ask, you cannot afford one, I am told.
  (Cllr Crawford) Unfortunately, I do not come from Newark, I come from the mining community the other side, and I could not answer personally. I do not know whether Richard can.
  (Mr Dix) We will gladly provide you with the information.

Chairman

  188. That will be useful, yes.
  (Cllr Stacey) We will put you in touch with an estate agent.

  Chairman: No; we would rather you did not.

Mr Stevenson

  189. Could I ask again about RDAs, because there seems not uniform enthusiasm from RDAs. East Midlands RDA, through their Chief Executive, have offered us a sceptical view about canals and their development and wonder whether RDAs will see it as a priority, because they are not sure of the economic and employment benefits that flow from that. Would you like to comment on that?
  (Cllr Crawford) Particularly in our District, I think minds were drawn from the East Midlands Development Agency to the coalfield side of it, very much, in the first instance, because of, obviously, everything that has happened there. In our District, we have problems, we have the distinct coalfield community, the community around the river, and the rural piece in the middle, so we are trying to encourage EMDA to engage right across on all of them; and, if I were brutally honest, the direction was very much towards the coalfield. In the last 12 to 18 months, after quite a considerable amount of work, yes, that is now starting to look into the other areas and is developing strongly now; originally, I do not think it was there.

  190. So the East Midlands RDA is now more enthusiastic, you think?
  (Cllr Crawford) Very much so, yes.

  191. Is that the same for West Midlands RDA, or Advantage West Midlands?
  (Cllr Stacey) As I understand it, yes. I hope that they could not be anything else, with the lessons that we have had in Birmingham, and I referred to the SRB Six scheme, which is corridor-based, and one of those corridors is the canal corridor, where they want to put investment in improving the infrastructure, in order, again, to attract the private sector investment to deliver their aims, in terms of jobs, and so on.

  192. You do not see great difficulty in getting the match-funding for that, SRB Six; you do not anticipate problems?
  (Cllr Stacey) I am not directly involved in the SRB, actually.

  193. My question is in terms of the European Union decision on Gap funding; is that a problem for you, in terms of your plans there?
  (Cllr Stacey) Not that I am aware of. We will let you know if there is a problem.

  194. Could I move on now to planning, and I am interested in your comment, Councillor Stacey, about if you have got to ask you cannot afford to buy one. This is an issue, is it not, in that not everywhere but there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that developers are interested in the higher end, the top end, of the market when developing houses along waterside sites; would you concur with that view?
  (Cllr Stacey) Yes, I would; yes. We did not see that as a problem at the start because, in fact, Brindleyplace is opposite a large council estate, so we were actually looking for private housing to diversify the community anyway. But you are absolutely right that they are very interested because of what they have learned for commercial ...

  195. Would Newark share that view: Councillor Crawford?
  (Cllr Crawford) We addressed it very early on. I mentioned earlier the issue around social inclusion, we built it into our SRB bid. But I would echo that, for a private developer, yes, it is attractive, obviously, the riverside.

  196. What about such things as, for example, public access to the waterside; presumably, here comes a developer, interested, wants to build these high-class, top-quality developments, but he does not want all the plebs walking through, and so on? I have seen some examples of that throughout the country. Have you experienced that; in other words, a problem with maintaining reasonable public access?
  (Cllr Stacey) One of the parts of the vision we had was actually to improve public access to the canals; and, as part of our planning frameworks, we have actually insisted that developers fund improved access. Now there have been trade-offs to make, in terms of, well, you give public access to the canals but you do not give them to that particular bit of housing; so, again, the triangle at Brindleyplace.

  197. You have led me on to my last question, and that is about 106 Agreements. How effective are they, are they effective enough, and what about policing and monitoring them to make sure it actually happens?
  (Cllr Stacey) I think they have been very effective, once, as I said, we had learned the lessons and got ourselves up to speed. One of the issues we are still grappling with is about maintenance of the canalside, footpaths, and so on, which I understand actually is not a requirement of British Waterways to do; so where we have got all these improved towpaths, which we make sure are done to high standards and are very wear-resistant, and so on, the issue of who maintains them is becoming a question. That was actually an advantage in the early days, that we could get funding for their improvement simply because it was not BW's job, and we could get access to funding; now it is becoming an issue. Well, okay, we can get a development to fund an access, or a bit of towpath or embankment, but who maintains it, and we are looking at that now.

  198. So that will be one of the mistakes you could not think of earlier on, when you were answering Mrs Dunwoody's question?
  (Cllr Stacey) Whether it was a mistake or whether we have only just realised that there may be a gap in the law, I do not know.

  199. Thank you. Would you share that view, Councillor Crawford?
  (Cllr Crawford) Yes. The revenue implications are an issue that I think we have to recognise. On the issue of, if you like, gentrification, we try to plan that out; our riverside walk is a circular walk with bridges so that it is open, it actually opened up a lot more of the riverside to the wider public.


 
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