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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 270)



Mrs Gorman

  260. Fiscal incentives is, of course, a euphemism for other people's tax money. How do you see these waterways really helping the communities through which they run; who makes the money out of it?
  (Dr Fletcher) All the navigation authorities do not actually, of themselves, make a profit; what they are doing is putting all their earnings back into the waterways and the communities which they serve. And I think many of the navigation authorities have very wide remits for social inclusion, education, conservation, environment, and so on, written into their constitution; and we are trying to share amongst all members that best practice, from the constitutional requirement for people to do that, to encourage the other navigation authorities, who are not constitutionally required, to have the same sort of remit and the same obligations. And it is, indeed, often worth our while, because we have had the discussion on vandalism earlier, with the Birmingham Councillor, if you can involve the community, get them to adopt the waterway, get into the schools, with rangers, and so on, and get them to take on these waterways, to care for the environment, to use them as part of education; and people like to see boats, they like to see freight traffic. So, I think, by that social inclusion of the poorer communities, it will actually help the costing on the waterway; it will certainly reduce the vandalism there, which is considerable.

  261. There are areas like the Norfolk Broads, which I imagine makes a good general industry down there, which, I suppose, must benefit the people who live in Norfolk; do you take examples from there, do you study the way in which they have managed to make theirs into a success?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes. All members share their successes and their problems with each other, and I think that is one of the best parts of the Association, that we can learn from each other's successes and failures.

  262. Can I ask you one other question, it is tangential, because I have looked through a lot of this paper, nobody mentions fishing. As I understand it, fishing is the major leisure activity in Britain; do you cater for fishermen along these canals, or are they just a nuisance, with the boats going along? I cannot envisage where they fit into these schemes of things. Or do you allow them little bits of water on the side?
  (Dr Fletcher) Fishing is a very important part of the activity. The Association's members provide the largest coarse angling organisation in the entire country, so there are more fishermen coarse angling in the inland waterways than in any other place. There are many new innovations, for example, the development of off-line fishing, or specially stocked fish, or competition fishing along long lengths, international competition fishing; so there is an enormous amount of effort. And one of our members, the Environment Agency, is particularly interested in the development of fishing and angling and the quality of the environment, and so on, fish stocking; so in all areas best practice is spread amongst members. So there is enormous support for fishing. There has been a recent initiative by a number of the members to work with the angling clubs to see whether those in decline can be rejuvenated and supported; so, again, charging mechanisms, stocking, encouragement of young people, provision of free rods for youngsters, is being considered by the members.

  263. It is astonishing that nobody, Madam Chairman, has mentioned this particular activity, and so I am very interested to hear what you have to say on that. It did not seem to loom very large in anyone's consciousness; but, anyway, thank you.
  (Dr Fletcher) It is going on.


  264. You might like to give us a supplementary note about that, Dr Fletcher?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes, Chairman.

Mr Bennett

  265. Mr Holroyde, you talked about new canals; can you give us a `for instance', an example of where there might be a new canal?
  (Mr Holroyde) British Waterways is already talking about connecting the Ouse into the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes, which would create a huge new possibility of interaction across the network. We ourselves are very keen to extend navigation on the Avon from Stratford up to Warwick or Leamington, with a junction with the Grand Union Canal, which would provide, for the first ever time, a broad link from the Severn to the Thames. And, indeed, then, if the southern section of the Leicester arm of the Grand Union Canal could be widened, as originally was planned, it is just that the locks are narrow, the bridges are already wide, you would have a broad waterway link from the Severn to the Trent, and Mr Stevenson would then be able to see a much greater possibility for the increase of freight movement, as well as leisure movement. And this is what my working party is looking at; look at the network, which bits are missing.

  266. So there is more scope for new canals than there is for continuing restoration, is that right?
  (Mr Holroyde) I think it is both, there is both, Chairman, both restoration and new canals alongside each other, and thank heavens we have a body like IWAAC, whom you are meeting later, who can give independent advice on the relative priorities of these things.

  267. Dr Fletcher, you have given me the impression, as an organisation, that you are perhaps enthusiastically complacent; is that a fair assessment, or could you convince us that there really is something that you want done dynamically?
  (Dr Fletcher) I think it will be for you to judge, not me. I do not feel members are complacent. We have produced a dynamic strategy which we are in the process of implementing, and you can see that action on the ground; and I think you can only judge by action on the ground, rather than by rhetoric or presentations.

  268. The Government's `Waterways for Tomorrow', have they got it right?
  (Dr Fletcher) The Association think it is an excellent paper. I think the only reservation we have got is, I hope the funding is there to support the vision. We think it is an important vision, which we are delighted to be a part of and to be referenced as a specific part of, and we will do all we can to get it implemented.

  269. Have you any idea how much money is needed?
  (Dr Fletcher) No. I think you should talk to the individual navigation authorities. Our members have explained, certainly the publicly-funded navigation authorities, that they are asking for more money than they are actually receiving, and they could do with more. And we have already addressed the issue of the smaller navigation authorities, who are grossly underfunded.


  270. Before I let you escape, Dr Fletcher, can I ask you a specific thing about British Waterways. If, in fact, the argument about your status, as to whether or not you are a public body, affects directly the development of large numbers of facilities, what would be your view of it; do you think that there is a clear definition of your status?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes. I should not be answering this as AINA, but I will answer as British Waterways. British Waterways are a public corporation, the status is quite clear, and my specific legal advice, checked just two weeks after the Deputy Prime Minister asked us to check it, when we met him in Newark, when we met with the RDAs, the legal advice is that we are in a position to receive those funds. We are a clear public corporation; there is no problem under European legislation.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. You have been very helpful, gentlemen, thank you.

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