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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. What changes would you like to see in regional guidance?
  (Dr Fletcher) I think we would like to see the waterways taken full account of, whether it is for amenity, or transport, or environment, or leisure, or business, or freight use, to have all these things written into the regional planning guidance, and, as I said earlier, to have a long-term plan as to how the waterways can be exploited to the wider public good. It is far more than just a navigation. We are an Association of Navigation Authorities, but we understand the wider benefits of the waterways to the community as a whole, to the public as a whole, and we are determined that those are exploited. And it is, I think, by those means that maybe the smaller navigation authorities will eventually get the funding they need so that they can take care of their environmental obligations, and others.

  241. Where are the gaps at the moment, what are the changes you want to see?
  (Dr Fletcher) I just think there are a million gaps where there is a lack of knowledge of both the navigation authority and the RDAs' long-term objectives and where they overlap; but those are the gaps we are trying to fill by this dialogue. There are many, many programmes, dozens and dozens of programmes, with RDAs and waterways, going on, the length and breadth of the country, so I do not want to sound a dull note at all, we are making tremendous progress and we will make even more in the coming years.

Mr Olner

  242. Would it be true to say that the navigation authorities are really historic fiefdoms, protecting their own little interests?
  (Dr Fletcher) That is not my experience, as the Chairman of this Association. I have found them to be generous and far-sighted and to give of their time and their money and their talent in an unstinting way; so I think the very existence of AINA and the way it has been flourishing belies your suggestion.

  243. But do you not think that there is scope for some of the smaller navigation authorities to merge, to make themselves into a more appropriate body?
  (Dr Fletcher) I will ask Mr Holroyde maybe to respond.
  (Mr Holroyde) My personal view, Chairman, is that I would support a move in that direction. We have got a very fragmented network, because bits have been restored here and there and everywhere, and it is inherited from 200 years ago; there probably is a need. In fact, I am chairing a working party at the moment for AINA which is having a look at the strategic possibilities, over the next ten or 50 years, and this will include not only restorations but also some possible new canals. It would be very surprising if what we have inherited from 200 years ago was right for 100 years hence, and that is very important that we look at that. And if you look at my own situation, on the Upper Avon, where, together with the Lower Avon, both of which have been restored as a result of the activities of enthusiasts some years ago, it is almost like saying the M18 belongs to private charities who took the trouble to build it and who will be charging you for using it, if you want to go from the M1 to the A1. I think we need to move away from that to something which is much more a national network which enables people to move round, and it would help the whole business of standards, and everything else. I would be perfectly happy to see some of the smaller navigations ultimately absorbed into a kind of national body.

  244. And what about the bigger one, the Environment Agency, do you think there is a real problem with them, that they are a navigation authority and they are also the body that is responsible for standards?
  (Dr Fletcher) I do not think we have a view, as the Association, on that.


  245. Has it not been discussed, Dr Fletcher?
  (Dr Fletcher) Not as directly as that question has been asked, not in AINA, no; it has obviously been discussed in other fora, but not in AINA.

Mr Olner

  246. Do you think there is merit in transferring the Environment Agency's navigation responsibilities, say, to British Waterways?
  (Dr Fletcher) What AINA are seeking to do is to bring us closer together and to share best practice, to make a seamless service to be delivered to all the users of the waterways, and that is our remit, that is as far as our remit goes.

  247. But a seamless service seems a bit toothless, as well, it does not seem to have any teeth in it?
  (Dr Fletcher) The Association's teeth are just by the consensus of its members; we have no authority over the members, other than to represent their views of a consensus. It is not a consensus, we cannot represent a consensus view.

  248. So do you think there ought to be an overarching body that has got some teeth and can set minimum standards and see that they are adhered to?
  (Dr Fletcher) We are seeking, by consensus, to agree standards which can be used across all the navigation authorities.

  249. But that is not really answering my question, is it; do you see there to be a need for a body which has got these teeth?
  (Dr Fletcher) The direct answer, Sir, is that the Association does not have a view on that matter, because I can only speak as a consensus of all the members, and there is not a consensus on that point.

Mr Stevenson

  250. Can I refer you back to the structure of control of canals and waterways. I have just done a quick calculation, so I cannot be exact, but it looks as though, from our information, something like three-quarters of the kilometres of navigable inland waterways are controlled by, are the responsibility of British Waterways, the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority, leaving a quarter for the 30-odd smaller authorities; that quarter is nearly 1,600 kilometres, so it is not insignificant. When you say that smaller authorities will eventually get the funding required, I thought your answer was more in hope than expectation. How can it be that such a fragmented, important part of the total mileage of navigable inland waterways in the UK, in the hands of so many small operators, is going to attract the resources? Is there not a case for saying that there is a critical mass to be developed that would allow those resources to be forthcoming?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes. I accept your contention, and there is such a case, yes.

  251. Could I ask what your organisation is doing to promote that case and to put that case to Government?
  (Mr Burgess) I would say that we are not promoting that, in any sense.

  252. Why not, Mr Burgess?
  (Mr Burgess) Our members would express such views, and if, indeed, members saw the need to get together then we would support them in achieving that.

  253. Coming back to Mr Donaldson's point, about a strategic overview, which I thought was very relevant, how can you argue that you are looking to have this strategic vision, but at the same time accept what appears to be a serious issue, the fragmentation of 1,600 kilometres of navigable inland waterway, that would not, as the present structure indicates, attract the funding that is necessary that you all want, agree with a rationalisation of that sector and yet do nothing about it?
  (Dr Fletcher) Could I just try to comment. What we have sought to do is, by bringing people together, getting them to talk to each other, to see the sense of drawing themselves together, but it is for the navigation authorities to make the decision. Are they making the decision? Mr Holroyde explained, in recent years, just in the last few years, some organisations have come together and others are considering coming together to make fewer of them. So that process is going on; and the Association has tried to assist people by bringing them together to show the sense of this convergence. So a gradual convergence is going on. The number of navigation authorities in the last four or five years is reducing, and they are consolidating into larger groups.

  254. May I ask if you have any information to hand that would give us some indication of how slow or fast that process has been; for example, what has happened over the last five years, and what is likely to happen over the next five?
  (Dr Fletcher) I know that maybe four or five navigations have been consolidated under British Waterways, the last one was the Tees and the Tees Barrage, and there are discussions with smaller navigation authorities with each other as to whether they would come together.

  255. So you do not see a role for Government there, in helping you to promote that exercise?
  (Dr Fletcher) I think we would like encouragement from Government, and the Government, in `Waterways for Tomorrow', has explicitly commended this coming together and is seeking to support AINA, so we very much valued that pledge of support in the Government policy. So we do need Government support in this process.

  256. I understand your organisation has recently completed a strategic analysis of the scope for water-borne freight. I understand also, from our information, that internal traffic, not sea-going traffic such as harbours and ship canals, accounts for less than 1 per cent of the freight moved, and freight operators, I think, are bullish about the possibilities here and potential. Is not your evidence somewhat confusing; despite the strategic analysis, it is not clear whether the Association is supportive of increasing freight on the waterways? Could you comment on that?
  (Dr Fletcher) We are absolutely supportive of getting as much freight as practicable on the waterways, we are absolutely supportive, and that is why we produced this strategy, and why that strategy will then go forward as part of the Government's review of freight carriage on all the waterways, inland port creation, etc.

  257. Forgive me, this may be in your evidence, if it is I do apologise, but did your analysis and what you have just said that supports that analysis and your attitude towards this, can you give us some indication of how that less than 1 per cent may grow then in the next five or ten years?
  (Dr Fletcher) We think, over the next five, seven years, we should be able to double the current freight carried on inland waterways.

  258. That is interesting. The very last question is about encouragement and incentives. There is some suggestion that, as leisure traffic is subject to an annual fee, I think, and commercial freight traffic is subject to tolls, this tolling is a disincentive to the navigation authorities to actually develop freight. Would you agree with that, and if so what needs to be done?
  (Dr Fletcher) I think we discussed it earlier with your colleague on your right, that perhaps we could exchange the tolling system as part of the Track Access Grant, which would therefore level the playing-field between the roads and the railways; so that is something we will encourage. I should just add that I know some navigation authorities have voluntarily already waived tolls to encourage or to retain particular freight programmes, but it is only really the larger groups can actually afford to do that.

  259. Finally, do you think that that would be enough; is there a case for Government to provide fiscal incentives to navigation authorities?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes, I think there is.

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