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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 520)

WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000

DR GEOFF MANCE, MISS EILEEN MCKEEVER AND MR ROBERT RUNCIE

Mr O'Brien

  500. On the planning aspect, what is the Agency doing? You have accepted that the planning aspect is important. If we are going to develop freight then we need these facilities.
  (Dr Mance) If Waterways for Tomorrow is to succeed then the guidance given in the relevant PPG, which I believe is 11, which deals with regional planning, needs to make clear that in the regional plans provision is made for things like maintaining the clearance over the lines of waterways, that when new road systems are actually built or rebuilt adequate clearance under bridges is given. That is an existing vehicle that just needs amendment and hardening to achieve that outcome.

  Mr O'Brien: We have a situation now, do we not, where some of the rivers are unused that could be used more for carrying bulk, like timber and other kinds of freight? What is the Agency doing to promote that now?

Chairman

  501. And have you made these points to the Department about PPG 11?
  (Dr Mance) Yes.
  (Miss McKeever) I just wanted to add specifically on what we are doing as part of the Thames Ahead project that we have already referred to, for example. One of the strands of that is in close collaboration with the local authorities we want to influence their local transport plans so that they actually think about the waterway that runs through their district.

  Chairman: Fine, you are saying PPG 11 should be changed and what you want the local authority to do but my question to you is what are you doing?

Mr O'Brien

  502. There are other rivers than the Thames that could be used that are under-used now. What I am asking is under the planning regime that is available to you, what are you doing to improve the facilities so that freight can use those rivers?
  (Dr Mance) Where we have major need through our flood defence works to actually shift materials, and sensibly could do so by river, we are trying to encourage that to happen but we are not funded to invest in the creation of wharfage, for instance, for a particular scheme and we would not get Government approval unless it was cost beneficial compared with the alternatives. We have been pulling this out as part of how do we get to a more sustainable balance. We are constrained to operate within present rules, we are flagging the constraints we bump into, we keep raising the options where it is credible and sensible to move substantial quantities that, therefore, might trigger the necessary investment from, say, a commercial firm to create that infrastructure.

  503. Would it be fair to say, Dr Mance, when you talk of freight movement being limited, it is not because of the fact that there is not the demand there, the limit is because we do not have the infrastructure to encourage people to use it for freight, is that correct?
  (Dr Mance) That was precisely the point of my initial comment.

  504. What are you doing about it?
  (Dr Mance) We are trying to make as many opportunities available as possible to attract in commercial money to actually see there is an opportunity there. So every time we undertake a major flood defence work, we look at it as an option that we explore with the markets. We are trying to create the awareness of that. We do not have the land holdings to create wharfage ourselves. Often when we are doing a flood defence scheme we do not acquire the land we build on, we leave it with the landowner because that keeps the cost to the public purse down. We cannot create the wharfage as part of that scheme. The difficulty is if the Government is serious about increasing freight on waterways there needs to be a way of jump starting the system to create the infrastructure.

Mr Benn

  505. Is there a conflict between the development of the use of the rivers for freight and for leisure purposes? Is that another constraint?
  (Miss McKeever) I think in the longer term there would be, yes. If freight was to develop to a significant level there would be difficulties at busy times. Obviously freight would want to run all year round but in the summer holiday period, which is the period when rivers are busiest, that would be a difficulty. That is if freight was to develop to a significant level. There is plenty of scope before that level for freight and leisure traffic, I think, to happen quite happily together.
  (Mr Runcie) If I may just add to that as a contrast. Tourism regeneration based on the waterways has been easier to attract funding to. We have managed to attract economic regeneration part funded under the European 5b Objective and subsequently under Objective 2 in the Transitional Funds in a collaboration known as Fens Tourism with the local authorities of Fenland DC, South Holland DC, West Norfolk BC, Boston BC and others. On the River Ouse we have generated a new lock at Denver and 17 kilometres of new waterway, waterside facilities, including moorings through the Fens in that part of the system, and also footpaths and car parking so that others can get to the waterway system. This has been a very attractive and a very successful venture.

  506. On that very point of footpaths and access to waterways. In the very centre of Leeds there is a crucial part of the River Aire between Leeds Bridge and Crown Point Bridge where the key to its development is to allow the public to walk along the riverside. I understand that the proposal has been put forward to create a pontoon walkway which the Environment Agency is currently opposing. You may not know about that particular case. What are the issues there that create difficulties for you in agreeing something like that?
  (Dr Mance) My instinct, without knowing the detail, would be the security of the pontoon should we get into the floodplain.

  Chairman: Dr Mance, if you do not know you must give us a little note. Much as I am enamoured of pontoons I do not think we want to spend a lot of time on them now.

Mr Olner

  507. Given the size of the Environment Agency, what percentage of the total of the Environment Agency is dedicated to navigational waters? Given the whole of the remit of the Environment Agency, what percentage applies to navigational waters?
  (Miss McKeever) The percentage of the budget?

  508. No, the percentage of the Agency's time and what have you?
  (Miss McKeever) I think I will try to break it down. In budgetary terms navigation and recreation accounts for about two per cent of the Agency's budget. That is directly, but part of the issue is because of the integrated way in which we manage we benefit from flood defence spend and even water resources, etc. It is quite complicated, the way in which navigation is funded. Just as a specific example, a lock and weir keeper on the Thames, for instance, only 35 per cent of their cost is paid for directly from the navigation budget, the rest is paid by flood defence and water resources because we provide a service for them in working to meet their needs.

  509. I can understand that and I do not think anybody would wish to move the flood works away from the Environment Agency. Given that it is only a small percentage on navigational stuff, do you think you would be well rid of it and it ought to go either to BWB or a new body that would oversee navigational waters?
  (Dr Mance) I think it is easy to look at it in those simplistic terms and come to that sort of conclusion.

  510. Could I say, Dr Mance, we have had evidence that most of the navigations come by historical accident and the various fiefdoms on navigational waters and various tolls have got to be paid to use this bit and not use that bit. All I am saying is given your small bit of it should we not just say "right, if we are going to be serious let us get it all together and have one Navigational Board"?
  (Dr Mance) I think that ignores all the other complications in managing a river where it is dominated by other considerations and there is a need to make sure that the issues are handled to a sensible degree.

  511. You have got your little bit and you are going to hang on to it no matter what.
  (Dr Mance) If you take the East Anglian rivers where they were largely created to drain what was tidal area and they are an artificial system for drainage purposes and flood defence control, where the locks for navigation purposes are so designed that they are actually the major flood sluices, so during a flood they are opened at both ends and deliberately designed not to impede the flow at all so that the water rushes through them at a dramatic rate of knots, the structures are actually there as part of the flood defence infrastructure and the navigation benefit from them is derived as a consequence of the flood defence. I do not think we would ever have created those waterways for navigation because of the scale of investment required purely for navigation, they exist because of the flood defence need. To separate out the management of the navigation bit, including the structure bit for navigation, I would say in those circumstances is close to impossible. You would actually do it with a complicated management arrangement, you would need all sorts of controls built into it, and it is an extra link in the chain in areas where the flood risk is substantial and you have two storey buildings which are below the level of the water in main dykes at normal times, let alone during the flood.

  512. But surely that expertise will follow through to the new Navigational Board or whatever it may be? What you are saying is very important but it is not going to be lost.
  (Dr Mance) It would be separated off and inevitably you then have to work hard and expend energy to keep the coherence and the dialogue tight and close so that it functions well during an emergency.

  513. Finally, to look at other water users, do you think there is a need for an over-arching body to ensure that the interests of all waterway users are looked at and protected and taken into account?
  (Dr Mance) I think it is reasonably clear that there is a need for a consistent and coherent approach to the whole recreational use of inland waters. It is very easy to focus on individual interest groups but with British Sport, for instance, focusing on excellence, the general issue about amenity/recreational use of inland waters is left somewhat separate.

  514. Do you think the most appropriate body to look at that would be to extend the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council's remit?
  (Miss McKeever) I think that is one way of doing it which would certainly help. Just to add to that, IWAAC have recently invited the Environment Agency to be an observer at their meetings, so—

Chairman

  515. Very tactful of them.
  (Miss McKeever) So they have taken that step. We will now be listening to IWAAC's advice. There are strong links between IWAAC and AINA, the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities, which could help.

Dr Ladyman

  516. Could the waterways be used for moving water?
  (Dr Mance) They already are in places. There may be scope elsewhere for that to be the case. If proposals come forward then clearly we will look at them on their merits and see if they are suitably justified and environmentally acceptable.

  517. You think it is a practical possibility to adapt the waterways without changing the character of the waterways?
  (Dr Mance) That would be part of looking at whether the proposal is rational, sensible and acceptable environmentally and in terms of whether there is a need for the water in the given place that it is proposed to move it to.

  518. And the ecological considerations, like alien species, can be overcome?
  (Dr Mance) That would have to be part of the Environmental Impact Assessment and there would have to be a clear provision for adequate safeguards to show that was possible.

  519. One final question. When you are considering the various issues that you have discussed today, how do you balance the relative priorities of the uses of the waterways being used for amenities and the ecological issue? Where does the priority lie in your decision making?
  (Dr Mance) It depends where you are because the locality often determines the balance for you. If you are in the centre of the town where the system is already heavily engineered then the balance is already pre-determined by the engineering. In places we have tried to soften it a bit and bring back, such as along the Thames Tideway, a bit of the biology to improve the appearance and get away from concrete canyons, if you like, when the opportunity arises. If you are in a far more natural circumstance and the conservation value is high you put a premium on it and seek to protect and balance the other way. It is not as simple as you always give priority to this or always give priority to that, it is determined by the balance of circumstance at each location.

  520. Ecology is more important if it is pretty, is that what you are saying?
  (Dr Mance) I did not say necessarily pretty but if it is the habitat of a rare species, such as the great raft spider in East Anglia, where there are only two colonies in the country, I have asked the economists who talk about valuing the environment, if you lose one does the other double in value or quadruple? If you liken it to old master paintings it is quite an interesting debate to have. It does depend very much on the circumstances.

  Chairman: Dr Mance, having set us such a marvellous conundrum we are going to let you escape. Thank you very much.





 
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