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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)

WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000

DR DAVID FLETCHER, MR PHILIP BURGESS AND MR GEOFFREY HOLROYDE

  220. Has that been the only benefit of your organisation; what other benefits have there been of the establishment of your organisation?
  (Dr Fletcher) In addition to producing a cohesive strategy for all inland waterways, and sharing best practice, and for the big to help the small, and for the small to give a united voice to the big, to share on environmental issues, safety, signage, redevelopment, ability to bid for funds in the optimum way from other sources, from Europe, from RDAs, I think there is a very wide range of positive benefits.

  221. So you would not agree that there have not been any tangible benefits from your organisation?
  (Dr Fletcher) I think there have been tremendous benefits, staggering benefits, just in the very short time of the existence of the Association. Perhaps I should ask a smaller navigation authority to comment.
  (Mr Holroyde) It has been terribly useful, Madam Chairman, because, as a very small authority, we are running our own little bit, but we have to connect with all the other navigations. It is really an accident of fate that we have the network split up into very small bits; and since the Association has formed it has provided us with an opportunity to talk to other navigations, share problems, share opportunities, represent our views towards the Government, towards DETR, and others and I can see this continuing to be an enormous advantage, as time goes on.

Mr O'Brien

  222. Dr Fletcher, I want to concentrate on the issue of commercial freight, and in your report you do say there has been a strategic analysis on the scope of water-borne freight. Can there be any significant increase in the freight on waterways?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes. Our analysis shows that many waterways are underused, and I think particularly the broader waterways and the rivers have much more potential, and perhaps I could identify a few of the areas, one or two have been brought to your attention already; it is a question of taking waste and recyclable materials, where they can now not go into landfill sites, it is possible to move these by waterways. I gather, on the Thames, where half a million tonnes, or more, are currently being carried, there is much more potential on these waterways, on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, the Grand Union, the River Lee, to Edmonton, and so on, and so on. So there are many, many opportunities.

  223. Can I draw your attention to the report from the Humber Barges, and they are high on trying to improve the freight on them. How often do you meet them, Dr Fletcher, to discuss their problems?
  (Dr Fletcher) Every couple of months, probably.

  224. What do they flag up as their real problems?
  (Dr Fletcher) They are looking for improved facilities for landing their materials, access points, they are looking for adequate depth for the barges to go on.

  225. What about charges; have they raised that with you, the question of the access charges and the licensing fee?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes, we have been in close dialogue with them, and indeed other freight carriers, as to whether the tolling system is the correct way of charging, and whether that represents a level playing-field relative to the roads and the railways, which are not tolled. So we have had those discussions, and we are now in discussions with the DETR as to whether that scheme can be changed.

  226. Is there any hope that we could encourage greater freight by abolishing tolls, or reducing charges, so that there is an encouragement for people to use the waterways for freight?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes, there is, but members obviously need funds to maintain the channels and the landing-stages, and so on, on their waterways, so they need the funds from somewhere; and maybe the proposed Track Access Grant, whereby navigation authorities can receive a grant from Government for maintaining the track, is perhaps a good substitute for tolls. So that it is something that we are interested in pursuing, and we are in discussion with the Government along those lines.

  227. What are the prospects of them having some funds?
  (Dr Fletcher) It is for the Government to decide. As always, we are enthusiastic and optimistic, so I think there must be a good chance; but it is for the Government to decide, not the navigation authorities.

Mr Donaldson

  228. Gentlemen, in terms of your ongoing work, we have heard evidence that some of the smaller navigation authorities do not adhere to acceptable minimum standards of environmental practice. Is this the case?
  (Dr Fletcher) I believe that is not the case, and we are actually developing, as AINA, a code of best practice to deal with these issues, but perhaps a smaller navigation authority should respond.
  (Mr Holroyde) Certainly, as far as we are concerned, Chairman, we are very environmentally conscious and work very closely with the Environment Agency to see that standards are maintained; and I think if you visited the river you would see no problem whatsoever.

  229. So you are saying, Dr Fletcher, that you have no evidence that some of the smaller navigation authorities have fallen below the acceptable minimum standards?
  (Dr Fletcher) I think a number of our members do not have sufficient funds to adequately fulfil their obligations, whether they are for navigation or indeed for environment, and therefore I think some organisations just have not been able to afford it. Environment costs money, and some of our members do not have sufficient money to do these things as they would wish. I do not think it is ignorance on their part, it is economics.

  230. Does that imply then that, for example, you would not favour the establishment of a set of minimum environmental standards?
  (Dr Fletcher) As I explained to you; no, your allegation is incorrect. We do believe that there should be an established set of standards, and that is why we are producing a best practice guide on exactly that point; we are producing that using best practice biodiversity action plan arrangements, and that will be a code which will be voluntarily adopted by all AINA members.

  231. How can they afford to implement it, if you say that the cost of implementing it, for some of the smaller navigation authorities, is beyond their means?
  (Dr Fletcher) For some it will be difficult; and what we are also doing, as I explained earlier to the Chairman, is trying to help certainly the smaller navigation authorities, help find means of funding, whether it is applying for Lottery money, European money, or perhaps by earning money from their own track by innovative means that they had not thought of; so we are also assisting them in means of getting the money.

  232. And how would you see a minimum set of standards being enforced?
  (Dr Fletcher) They are enforced by the navigation authorities themselves. AINA is a trade association, we can only set best practice standards; it is up to that navigation authority themselves to implement those standards.

  233. Would you like to have greater powers?
  (Dr Fletcher) No. The trade association does not need powers, it is a consensus organisation representing the views of its members. The authority to implement comes through the navigation authority members themselves, not through AINA.

  234. Do you have anything further to add, Mr Holroyde?
  (Mr Holroyde) No. I agree entirely with this, I think this is the right way forward, standards being set to which we all subscribe and which we will make happen. But Dr Fletcher did mention that some smaller navigations find it difficult, because of the financial situation, to meet their obligations, and this is all tied up with the cost of maintaining a navigation, and maybe that has some influence on other issues, like leisure usage becoming very expensive, and thus not in everyone's reach.

Chairman

  235. Do you have anything to add, Mr Burgess?
  (Mr Burgess) I would add that we have a two-year timetable ourselves, within which we would intend to produce a generic framework for ways and means by which navigation should be managed in a holistic environment way.

  236. What does that mean actually, Mr Burgess?
  (Mr Burgess) Dr Fletcher referred to our strategy earlier on, and you will see, in that, that there are many issues that the Association has to engage itself in and represent those issues that navigation authorities have to bear in mind; freight is one of them, and major conservation, and many others. So we want to take on board all of these things and produce a generic framework which will be of assistance, backed up by best practice guidance on many specific issues, which will be of assistance to navigation authorities, for them to implement as best they can.

  Chairman: Mr Donaldson: I am sorry.

Mr Donaldson

  237. Do you think that it is best that the smaller navigation authorities therefore should be self-regulating, in terms of minimum standards, or do you see the need for a new strategic navigation body?
  (Dr Fletcher) The Association does not have a view on having a singular strategic navigation authority, because, the consensus of 30 navigation authorities is needed. Not all of us agree on that point.

  238. So, because there is not a consensus, you do not have a view?
  (Dr Fletcher) I do not have a view because I am a Chairman representing 30 other organisations. I have a personal view but that is not appropriate for this session.

Mrs Ellman

  239. In your written evidence, you stress a lot the importance of strategic issues and new regional guidance. What links do you have with Regional Development Agencies, regional Chambers and regional Assemblies?
  (Dr Fletcher) We have good and developing links. I think the Regional Development Agencies have far more to do, with regard to the waterways, but there is a growing realisation, as I think you heard in previous evidence, of the value for waterways to regenerate wide areas associated with a waterway, and I think the Regional Development Agencies have a major role to play in that; we are seeking to develop our links with them and they are ever-growing. One of the things we are attempting to do is to have a strategic review of all the waterways, with all the RDAs, so we can produce a national strategic plan of how the waterways and the RDAs may relate one with another; so those discussions are ongoing, and we are very optimistic that we can fulfil that much greater potential than we have in the past. But we, AINA, are new, and, of course, the RDAs are relatively new, so I think we have got some way to go yet.


 
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