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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 215)

WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000

COUNCILLOR STEWART STACEY, COUNCILLOR STAN CRAWFORD AND MR RICHARD DIX

  200. Finally, so there is no uncertainly in this, it has been a rigorous application of the planning system by your authorities that has brought this about; it has not been the willing, enthusiastic co-operation of the developers in the first place. Is that a fair comment, or is it unfair?
  (Cllr Stacey) That is certainly fair with those words "in the first place". The developers now understand the benefits to them of being next to a public space, if you like, and that the public round there, and liveliness, and people coming and going actually adds value to their development, in terms of making the place lively and lived in and safe, and so on. So certainly they had to be dragged into it. I think they have learned some lessons.

  201. What about commercial use of the waterways, does that put developers off, having these dirty barges chugging along, with Fuller's earth in them, or potters' clay, up to Stoke, and different things; does that put them off?
  (Cllr Stacey) It is not a problem we have had; as I said earlier, there is very little commercial use. I think some of them would like to see it encouraged in terms of providing that level of activity during the winter, because the pleasure craft reduce, perhaps people using the towpath reduce, so that level of activity that is there in the spring, summer, autumn months drops off in the winter, and perhaps some commercial activity would be welcome.
  (Cllr Crawford) It has not been an issue, Chairman.

Mrs Gorman

  202. I am slightly reluctant to dip my toe in your Birmingham and Newark waters because I have not been there very often, or even at all, but I am interested in comparing your experience with that of the London Thames and also with Docklands. And, from several of the remarks which you have made, such as scrap-yards along the waterway, as if that is a rather derogatory comment about industrial activity perhaps, and also, too, a report that we received from the British Marine Industries Federation, who do draw to the attention of this Committee the danger of sterilising these waterways and making them into river views, rather than commercial areas, literally we squeeze out the wharves and all the other activities which those waterways make come alive. You will be aware of the Docklands experience, where a large number of derelict waterways were languishing because nobody could get to grips, and the establishment of the separate Dockland Corporation which brought all those things to life, in a very imaginative way, I think, including mixed housing, and I wonder whether you have drawn any inferences from the way in which that succeeded? The problem there was that local councils had a different agenda from the commercial sector, who may otherwise have gone in and done a lot of the redevelopment; and I would like to have your comments. I notice that you gentlemen are all representing councils, and I would be interested to know whether you have any input here from the commercial or property development sector that we might hear further from?
  (Cllr Stacey) I think one of the things that we enabled the commercial sector to have opportunities for was by our use of land assembly through compulsory purchase powers; we actually did that as a local authority. It was later done in part by the authority, Heartlands in Birmingham, where we had an Urban Development Corporation, but we certainly did it as a city first, of land assembly, which helped the private sector then to develop. And that is something I know that Lord Rogers, in his report, suggested that local authorities were not doing enough of. Again, that might come back to the issue of Birmingham being big enough to be able to do things like that. But that is where we were able to help as a local authority, we did not have to be a separate body to do that.

Chairman

  203. Newark is a different size?
  (Cllr Crawford) It is; very different, Chairman, I think by the involvement of the business community on the SRB board, indirectly, with being able to protect some of the industry that was on the riverside. I know for a fact that one of the companies that is on the riverside, that is owned by a company based in Liechtenstein, were looking at closing it, but looked at the development that we were doing and the support of industry on the riverside and they decided to stay. In addition to that, we have got listed buildings along the riverside that were once breweries, and the business community are working with us to find a viable reuse for those. If I could just, very briefly, touch on the scrap-yard; the reason why I mentioned the scrap-yard was that it is—

  204. Not very pretty, presumably?
  (Cllr Crawford) It is right in the middle of the regeneration area, very near the castle; and, you are quite right, not very pretty, and quite contaminated.

  205. I just want to ask about historic buildings; are you, in fact, really making the best use of them?
  (Cllr Crawford) Yes. We have some 2,000 listed buildings inside our District, so we have got very good, long experience of listed buildings.

  206. And Birmingham?
  (Cllr Stacey) Yes, we have actually declared a canal-based conservation area on the east side of the city now, very much with a view to using those buildings that are there to best advantage.

Mr Bennett

  207. British Waterways: have you been dragging them along in this regeneration, or have they been dragging you along?
  (Cllr Stacey) I feel eyes burning in the back of my head. We have had a very long partnership with British Waterways, in Birmingham. I have no doubt that that was helped by the fact that we had access to funds, as I explained, through the ICP programme, and so on, that assisted them. They have learned, as we all have, through this process, and I think it is a very good and strong continuing partnership which we are taking forward through new means.

  208. So they have not made life difficult for you?
  (Cllr Stacey) They have not made life difficult, except occasionally they were a little disjointed, and I think there were issues over how much they wanted for someone to put a bridge across their canal, and things like that.

Chairman

  209. You mean they were greedy, not disjointed?
  (Cllr Stacey) I think some of them were exercising their commercial remit pretty strongly, and I think there are issues there that we have both learned from, where perhaps you learn that you make a bigger long-term gain by—

Mr Bennett

  210. Alright; that is fairly tactful, yes.
  (Cllr Stacey) Yes.
  (Cllr Crawford) From Newark's perspective, I think they came into the partnership very sceptically, as some of the business communities have done, but over the three or four years they have actually developed into a very strong, willing partner.

  211. Councillor Stacey, you were talking about, yes, encouraging some freight; does the Council look at using them at all perhaps for removal of refuse, or anything like that? It is alright saying other people should be using them for freight, what about yourselves?
  (Cllr Stacey) Absolutely. One of the problems we have in Birmingham with freight use is both the narrowness of the canals and the number of locks, particularly through the centre, which do cause some problems for potential freight use. I have to admit that our waste strategy did not foresee the opportunity of the use of the canals for waste freight. I understand that there are discussions going on currently that may change that, with a commercial organisation, but we have not yet been able to identify a way we could do it.
  (Cllr Crawford) Currently, there are no waste materials moved by water within the District; obviously, we are the collection agency, not the disposal agency, if you like, but we are talking with the County Council, developing their waste management strategy, and that is in our thinking, yes.

  212. Now; vandalism. Some of the canal boats will be perceived to be fairly affluent in ownership, if you like, some of the canals, in Birmingham particularly, pass through some of the more deprived bits; is there a conflict, or an enthusiasm, for some of the tearaways to throw things at the canal barges, and burgle them, and things like that?
  (Cllr Stacey) Yes; there have been problems, I know, from experience from my own ward. The canal comes out of a very long tunnel, in a deep cutting, and it is a sitting target. There is the apocryphal story of the police who got a couple of mountain bikes to be able to pursue youths along the towpaths, and they no longer have the mountain bikes.

Chairman

  213. There has always been a lot of initiative in Birmingham.
  (Cllr Stacey) Absolutely. But we are working on that. That particular one, we hope to work on through, the area has got a New Deal for Communities designation, we are hoping to work on that, and actually involve the local community, including local youth, in seeing the canal as a legitimate opportunity, rather than otherwise.

Mr Bennett

  214. A legitimate opportunity for what?
  (Cllr Stacey) For recreation, particularly recreation, but also, hopefully, we can create some commercial opportunities in an area that is very short of them. In other parts of the city there has been a very positive response from communities alongside the canals, who perhaps for the first time have been given access to them, and see them very much as part of their local community, their local walking routes, and so on; so there has not been that problem in other areas.

Chairman

  215. And Newark, have you got it right?
  (Cllr Crawford) In addressing the regeneration of the riverside, we actually included youth, tenants' associations, and everyone else, right at the very beginning, in the planning of it. We also included the Crime and Disorder Partnership, and we have CCTV coverage just in case; and also we have planned for the marina area some 30 resident moorings, so that, hopefully, while people are living there, they will also provide added security, it is the eyes and ears of the people, if you like.

  Chairman: You have all been very helpful; thank you very much indeed. We will ask for a supplementary note. Thank you very much.





 
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