Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000
280. I see, thank you. Did you want to add to
(Mr Gowling) When the Council prepared its `Undervalued
report in 1996 it did look at ways of splitting the cost of maintaining
waterways between central government and local government, because
this was a way of recognising the local service to communities,
which Dr Eaton has talked about. This got us into a mine-field
about local government finance, and, as the Chairman has already
said, we think, therefore, the way forward is to exploit the funding
possibilities from property, from telecommunications, water, sails,
and so on. I do not think there is any way we are going to get
direct payment from local communities to maintain the waterways.
281. Lady Knollys, can I refer you to your evidence
submitted to the Committee and look at the priority objectives,
where you were saying waterways for all, that is the policy, and
then you go on to say there is also vast potential for restoring
further waterways. The question is, who pays; and, in view of
the comments that we have just heard, that there is little possibility
of receiving Government money for that, who will pay for the restoration?
(Viscountess Knollys) I think, to be fair, IWAAC has
been looking at the 80 plus restorations that are, if you like,
under way at this present moment in time, and up to date the vast
majority have been paid for by the local group, whoever is supporting
them and advocating their restoration, and they will then key
in funding from outside, like either the Regional Development
Agencies, from any form of local authority help they get, encouraged
by the feeling locally, and there is very little chance of funding
elsewhere. The new Waterways Trust is something which I think
we are all welcoming, because this is going to access, hopefully,
more funds from a wider area.
282. You heard previously, from AINA, that they
are looking at the question of, or supporting restoration, supporting
new development, actually, so there must be some money coming
from somewhere then, if there is that kind of view from AINA.
Where does IWAAC fit into the view that was expressed earlier?
(Viscountess Knollys) IWAAC would cautiously support
the new navigations; obviously, there are so many issues, each
one requires, there are enormous environmental impacts, which
have to be assessed, but we would cautiously welcome the idea,
particularly if it improves the network and provides something
on the Government agenda, like, for instance, water transfer,
but rather cautiously. I know others would like to comment on
the funding issue.
(Mr Gowling) Just to say, Madam Chairman, there is
no more inventive group in the world than the local voluntary
sector at putting together packages to support waterway restoration.
We have just gone through what you might call a `big bang' period,
Millennium Commission money, Heritage, Lottery Fund money, and
so on; now we are in the period when we will have to put together
inventive packages with RDAs, with local authorities, and so on.
Now we are trying, in our assessment of restoration work, to give
helpful advice to these local voluntary groups in putting together
these kinds of packages.
283. Can I just change that subject now. A couple
of years ago, BWB, British Waterways Board, introduced their Boat
Safety Scheme, and IWAAC are critical of that because of the effect
that it is having on some of the members and supporters of IWAAC.
Can you give us a little bit more information as to what you would
like to see with the Boat Safety Scheme?
(Viscountess Knollys) I would rather not go into exact
detail, because it is an absolute mine-field, but I would like
just to say that, at this moment in time, it is being examined
very closely by a working group, and IWAAC has two observers on
that, there are four of them involved. And, I think, from what
I hear, that, at the end of the day, the issues that are very
contentious and have been debated over the last couple of years
will be resolved, and the rebirth of the Boat Safety Scheme, in
its slightly changed format, I think will satisfy people. But
none of us actually knows the detail, it is the two colleagues
who are not here who are sitting in on that, and, hopefully, will
provide some new scheme by after Christmas.
284. There are two points that have been raised
by IWAAC, and one was the burden on boat-owners, and the second
one was training for safety. Can you comment on those two points?
(Viscountess Knollys) There is a financial burden,
but I think IWAAC would say that if it is a fair scheme which
applies across to all boaters, if the requirements are genuinely
for safety, then we would obviously support it. I think the training
issue is to make sure that the inspectors and people who are certifying
the boats are doing it fairly and administering it fairly. And,
again, that is something which is being looked at, and I hope
will satisfy the boaters who do have a problem with it. It is
onerous, in financial terms, but if it is found that those requirements
are for the safety of boats I think IWAAC would support it.
285. Finally, can I just say that, obviously,
if we are going to encourage people to use the waterways then
these burdens that you refer to and the training of people who
would use the waterways is very important. When would this working
group that your members are a part of expect to report?
(Viscountess Knollys) I think the last I heard it
was going to be after Christmas, but we can advise you on that.
286. Thank you.
(Viscountess Knollys) Madam Chairman, I think, on
the training issue, perhaps I misunderstood the question. I was
thinking you meant the training of the inspectors who are administering
the scheme. Training for people who are, for instance, hiring
boats, I think IWAAC would agree that that is something which
we would hope all hire boat companies would aspire to, and I think
the British Marine Industries Federation are also looking into
this, and hopefully the situation will improve; it is patchy.
287. How should current guidance on planning
(Viscountess Knollys) We have asked, at IWAAC, in
our final recommendations, that there should be a special planning
waterways PPG, and in `Waterways for Tomorrow' this was not one
of the things that came through, and I think we are disappointed.
We feel that, the way planning is administered, it is becoming
more and more locally focused, I think, happily, in that it is
totally reliant now on local plans and development plans and transport
plans and structure plans, and they all have a different timescale,
they begin and end at different stages. And some waterways go
through several local authority areas, and this does give rise
to confusion, and it does mean that a local waterway manager,
or trust, has to be in touch with all those planning authorities,
and it is onerous for them to be in touch with everything that
is going on locally, in every stage of every local plan, every
inspector's inquiry. We felt that a PPG would perhaps remove some
of that problem. We have been asked by the Minister in `Waterways
for Tomorrow' to do a planning good practice guidance, and I think
this is something which hopefully will make local authorities
more aware of the waterways in their areas, and how they should
be developed. But I think we would like to see more planning consideration
given to waterways, because they are delivering so much of what
the Government actually is asking for at this point in time.
288. What are your links with the regional Chambers,
regional Assemblies and the Regional Development Agencies?
(Viscountess Knollys) IWAAC's links; we do not have
direct links. Our position is that we advise British Waterways
and advise Ministers. Obviously, we keep in touch with all the
programmes that are put out by the different Development Agencies,
and I have to say that I support what was said earlier, that the
response has been patchy to waterways and the need for restoration
and for encouraging development. But I think Mr Prescott has actually
written to all the Chairmen of the RDAs, asking that they should
take waterways into consideration favourably, and I hope that
that will perhaps shift the emphasis more in favour of the regeneration
issue and development of waterways.
289. But do you have any connections with the
regional Chambers and regional Assemblies, where planning issues
of the sort you are talking about are actually discussed?
(Viscountess Knollys) The answer, Madam, is no, we
do not directly, but, because we are producing this planning good
practice guidance note, we have a working group formed which has
involvement from everybody.
(Dr Eaton) May I add, Madam Chairman, that on the
Council we do see waterways as being the centrepiece, in many
cases, of corridors of high environmental quality. What I mean
by that is, it is not just the channel and the banksides alone,
the landholdings of the navigation authorities are often quite
small, it is not just that limited strip of water and land, but
it is all the surrounding areas, the waterside properties, and
maybe even a little further away, because it is the total of those
which is the source of enjoyment of the waterway user. And, in
fact, to spend a lot of money on restoring a canal and then leave
it running past scrap-yards and derelict sites is really not to
spend money very wisely.
290. Dr Eaton, I do not think anybody would
disagree with that. Mrs Ellman was actually asking you something
else: where do you have an input into the people who take the
(Dr Eaton) Our suggestion is that the area of particular
need is for greater co-operation between the navigation authorities,
the channel-owners and the local authorities, so that there is
greater awareness at all levels of the central importance of the
waterway in taking planning decisions and in arranging funding
in the corridor.
291. But, you see, it is at a regional level
that all these different aspects are now being put together, recreational,
transport, employment issues are being looked at in terms of environmental
plans, and that is why I raised that. You do, in your evidence,
also criticise the current position of the navigation authorities;
what changes would you like to see there?
(Viscountess Knollys) This is the issue, I have listened
to previous evidence, which is giving us all the most difficulty,
I think, and we feel quite strongly, and gave evidence previously
to Government, when we were asked to look at it, that we feel
the fragmentation that exists at the moment is not helpful, for
all the reasons that you have heard this morning. There are so
many smaller navigations that are struggling financially, the
issue of how they are managed is patchy, and we feel quite strongly
that if there was one, I have heard the word "overarching",
body, I have written down, "an integrated management of navigation"
as being a phrase that I think would work, I think it would be
helpful. Because at the moment there is this, no one way that
you can access the waterways, except on perhaps possibly British
Waterways, without changes in the legislation, there are different
licence fees, different ways of managing the dredging, the locks
are unsuccessfully managed. And the major purpose of waterways
now, I would suggest, is for leisure use; sadly, they are no longer
freight-carrying to any great degree. And the sort of integrated
management of leisure is so much better dealt with, and the development
for leisure, by an overarching, large body, rather than fragmented
bodies. I am sure colleagues can add to this; because we have
292. I am afraid I have five Members of Parliament
wanting to ask you questions, so unless you have anything different
to say, Dr Eaton?
(Dr Eaton) No.
293. In some ways, perhaps, it follows on from
that. You have also expressed reservations about the Environment
Agency being responsible for promoting recreation, and suggested
that that might conflict with their role as a monitor of the environmental
issues. Would you like to expand on that, and perhaps give us
some evidence as to why you think that might represent a problem?
(Viscountess Knollys) Yes. The navigation side is
a very small side of the Environment Agency's work and budget,
and the recreation remit is a small side. The regulatory side
is enormous; and a good example, I would say, is in the Broads
area, which is not in IWAAC's remit at all, but I know it well.
There is a very minor but difficult mercury problem on the River
Yare, and, as it happens, the Broads Authority is the navigation
manager for that river. The Environment Agency has to manage how
we deal with the mercury problem, whether we should dredge, if
we dredge where those dredgings should go and how they should
be contained, and the degree of danger and amount of difficulty
with the level of mercury. It has worked exceptionally well, I
would say, and we are dealing with the first dredging later on
this month to a contained site. But it has cost and will cost
a great deal more because of the requirements that the Environment
Agency, quite rightly, have put on the Broads Authority to manage
the mercury dredging. If they were managing both functions, I
would say that that was less easy, it is a matter of opinion;
but I feel that it has worked exceptionally well the way it does,
with a navigation body having to negotiate and decide how it manages
its budgets, because it is being told by the Environment Agency
what it must do.
294. But does not that argument conflict slightly
with your previous argument that we need overarching bodies to
look at issues; would not the Environment Agency, for example,
argue that the present arrangement creates economies of scale?
Would economies of scale be something that you would recognise
in the current arrangements?
(Viscountess Knollys) Absolutely, but my point was,
you cannot be poacher and gamekeeper; that was not to do with
scale, or cost, or anything, it was to do with what is appropriate.
And, yes, I agree with economies of scale.
295. And, given what was said earlier about
the need to manage not just the channel and the immediate paths
on either side but the land around, do you see that there are
additional complexities that might call for a more complex structure;
for example, do you see the needs of rivers and the areas around
rivers as being more complex to manage than perhaps canals and
the areas around canals?
(Dr Eaton) Yes.
296. Can I welcome Professor Mercer.
(Professor Mercer) I am sorry I am late, Madam Chairman.
297. That is quite alright. I understand that
it was the joys of the railway system, and you have great sympathy
from this Committee in that.
(Professor Mercer) A canal would be quicker.
298. Yes, perhaps you should come by boat next
time. Dr Eaton.
(Dr Eaton) Rivers are, in most respects, more complicated
to deal with, both ecologically and in terms of management, and
indeed in terms of their use as recreational resources. I would
totally agree with that.
299. And in the structure that you proposed,
or suggest that should be looked at, where the Environment Agency
should lose part of its promotion and management function, who
would look at issues like the speed at which boats may travel
and the damage that might be caused by boats, would that remain
an environmental concern, with the Environment Agency, or would
that go to whoever is supposed to be looking at the management
and promotion of the users?
(Viscountess Knollys) I would suggest that that remains
with the navigation authority, or the overarching management;
it will be the managing of the boating interests, and that would
be something which would have to be decided in conjunction with
the Environment Agency and nature conservation interests. But
that is to do with the management of the boating, I would suggest.
1 Britain's Inland Waterways: An Undervalued Asset. Back