Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540
WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000
540. This is my last question, I promise, Chairman.
Evidence is emerging, is it not, that if we are to create investment
in our transport infrastructure in the railways in particular
then there has to be substantial public funding to lever in the
sort of thing you are talking about. It does bother many of us,
I think, that there is nothing specifically identified to do that.
Indeed, according to the information we have, over the ten years
there is £2.2 billion for other transport, that is block,
and yet I understand that block contains ports, shipping, road
safety, cleaner vehicles, aviation, strategic transport and transport
security. Of the money that has been identified as "other
transport", which is a small amount of the total, it is difficult
to see how much of that £2.2 billion is going to be left
for the objective of freight on our waterways when there are so
many other competing causes.
(Lord Whitty) In terms of the Ten Year Plan, you are
certainly correct to say that public money for the waterways is
included in that other transport figure. What I am saying is the
other intention would be that levered in a fair amount of commercial
income which British Waterways would identify. In the immediate
period over the next three years, the Freight Facilities Grant
of itself is £14 million.
541. But you are not able to indicate to the
Committee what proportion of that £2.2 billion will be earmarked
for this water freight activity?
(Lord Whitty) Beyond the first three years I am not
in a position to do that, no.
542. Minister, you said that most of the increase
of freight will relate to coastal shipping. Why was coastal shipping
excluded from Waterways for Tomorrow?
(Lord Whitty) Because Waterways for Tomorrow
is about inland waterways. We have just in the last few days issued
a different White Paper relating to ports, and there are other
policy developments relating to shipping. So we separate it out
543. Forgive my naivety but would it not have
made sense to link the two together? The evidence we have heard
from a number of parties is that it is the link between the waterways
and the coastal shipping that needs to be developed, it is that
infrastructure which the Government should actually be supporting.
(Lord Whitty) That is partly true but it is also,
of course, true that much of the policy on ports, for example,
is in relation to cross-sea shipping, and coastal shipping has
to be also seen in the context of cross-Channel shipping, so there
are linkages all the way across here. The inland waterways are
primarily not a transport facility. Inland waterways' prime business,
if you can put it that way, is in recreation and conservation
and regeneration. Transport is a relatively small part of the
inland waterways portfolio. We believe it can be a larger part
but it is pretty small in relation to the modal balance, and even
the optimum modal balance, of carrying freight in general. So
we looked at inland waterways in all those contexts, not necessarily
as part of transport policy.
544. Could I turn to regeneration? You said
in paragraph 11 of the submission from the Department, "The
inland waterways provide a catalyst for regeneration and are increasingly
forming an integral part of urban regeneration ....". Could
you tell the Committee how and what level of funds you intend
to allocate through the various bodies? I notice in paragraph
12 you do refer to the funding bodiesthe Lottery bodies,
the Regional Development Agencies and other funding agenciesare
you saying there will be no new Government money, you just expect
the partners to suddenly cough up new money for regeneration?
(Lord Whitty) We would expect British Waterways' engagement
in regeneration projects to give them a return, but it is a return
on assets which hitherto are not operational. Waterways go to
the centre of so many of our cities and until very recently have
been regarded as, if you like, the backside, if you will excuse
the expression, Madam Chairman, of many of our urban landscapes,
and the cities have turned their backs on canals. What we are
finding now is that they can be the focus for regeneration, and
warehouses and land by the canals can be a major asset to be brought
by British Waterways, or whoever owns the land beside the canal,
to regenerate our city centres, and we have seen some fantastic
examples of thatGloucester, for example
Chairman: I do not think we want to go through
every regeneration scheme, my Lord. I think you are being asked
something more pointed.
Miss McIntosh: Can I be more blunt, Madam Chairman?
Chairman: Yes, that might help.
545. If this was trailed by the Government as
a regeneration programme, would that be incorrect?
(Lord Whitty) If what was trailed?
546. The Waterways for Tomorrow document.
(Lord Whitty) A significant part of Waterways for
Tomorrow is the contribution that waterways and their assets
can bring to the regeneration of our cities and in some cases
rural centres as well.
547. What is the Government's contribution to
(Lord Whitty) The assets of British Waterways, and
in some cases other public bodies such as RDAs.
548. So you are not adding anything new?
(Lord Whitty) The RDAs are new. The regeneration funds
have been greatly enhanced but it would be a public/private partnership
in most cases with the local authority strongly involved as well.
It is therefore bringing assets which were not operational, were
not earning a return for British Waterways, to provide something
which is essential if you are looking to regenerate that part
of the city.
Chairman: What we are looking at as a Committee,
my Lord, is some indication of the strategic thinking of the Department.
The freight facilities grants, for example, are entirely reactive.
What we want to know is what strategic thinking is there within
the Department about the ways we can carry these things forward?
If you are producing a new drawn-together document which says,
"These are all the bits which are available but we do not
actually intend to do a very great deal other than say that",
then it would be helpful for us to know that. That is my idea
of being blunt.
549. Thank you. I will take my lead from you,
(Lord Whitty) I thought this was slightly more than
a nice drawing-together document, I thought it did actually reflect
a strategy. One part of the strategy which is certainly a major
pre-occupation of those who manage our waterways must be their
contribution towards regeneration projects, and regeneration is
a key element of the Department's broader strategy. In many situations,
British Waterways' assets can be a catalyst which delivers regeneration
and provides the starter for regeneration. It would not happen
were we not to bring those assets to the attention of developers
and local authorities and others, and British Waterways management
is very much apprised of that and regards it as one of their top
Chairman: We might want to come back to British
550. Freight facilities grants. In paragraph
26 it says, "The Government proposes to encourage greater
use of inland waterways for freight by promoting their use through
the revised PPG 13." How?
(Lord Whitty) PPG 13 is being revised so that planning
authorities would take a more positive view of proposed commercial
use of the canals in general, including the freight side. We have
broadened the scope, or will have done when the Transport Bill
is completea delicate issue today, sorryand the
freight facilities grant is being made more flexible in terms
of allowing revenue relating to capital expenditure to be supported
through the grants, it is also being made more flexible in relation
to short sea shipping. So we are providing the legislative backing
for more development on waterways in general.
Chairman: I think we will want to come back
to some aspects of that.
551. How did you become involved in the Wakefield
project on the River Calder?
(Lord Whitty) It was brought to my attention. This
is primarily a relatively small scheme which British Waterways
were getting involved in with the local authority and other developers
in the Wakefield area. It was drawn to my attention that things
were not progressing well and relationships were breaking down.
I therefore intervened, not in any executive role but in my role
as peace-maker or peace-keeper, and brought the various bodies
togetherWakefield Council and British Waterways. Although
there are a number of objectives which they still have to sort
out, I now understand that relationship is working better. It
was in that role rather than being directly responsible for it.
552. Who approached you as Minister?
(Lord Whitty) I think originally I got a letter from
an individual, we then checked with Wakefield Council, and Wakefield
Council then wrote to me. It came that way round. The MP wrote
to me as well.
553. Minister, perhaps I could press you a little
more because the Government seems to have put its finger right
on the button in its Waterways for Tomorrow document. In
that document you state, "This fragmented approach has created
difficulties for users and held back the development of the system
as a whole." I think the Chairman asked the question, what
you are going to do about that?
(Lord Whitty) We have encouraged and required both
the Environment Agency and British Waterways, who account for
the vast bulk of the navigation of the canal system, to work closely
together. That is now working. We have encouraged AINA, the Association
of Inland Navigation Authorities, which brings in all the smaller
authorities as well, to develop in terms of advice and oversight
of what is going on in navigation authorities in general, and,
as I said, it is possible a review of the Environment Agency's
functions will look at this again. My belief is that the decision
which was taken by ministers two years ago did lead to an increasing
collaboration and we ought to give time for that to work.
554. Yes, but if we are going to move forwardwe
are now in a new centurywe have surely got to have one
body which is going to reflect all the users of inland waterways
to support everything together?
(Lord Whitty) We are talking about very different
navigations in some senses; I know there is an overlap but we
are talking about very different navigations. The Broads, for
example, is the third largest navigation area, it has a very particular
function and it does not seem sensible to absorb that in a wider
555. It is, of course, the one which is always
quoted. One does wonder whether a rule which applies to only one
exception is a good rule.
(Lord Whitty) There are three big authoritiesBritish
Waterways, the Environment Agency and the Broadsafter that
we do have a lot of small navigation authorities, both public
and private, who are there for historic reasons, and it is important
they are brought together and the regulations which apply are
imposed without favour by the Environment Agency who have that
responsibility. So there is a lot of pulling together already.
Of course, overall it does come back to the Department which has
a responsibility for the totality of the network. To have another
intervening body between those who are responsible for the management
of the networks and the Government seems to me is not proven.
As I said at the beginning, if we were starting from scratch,
we would not be
Chairman: That is a Scottish interpretation
we do not use on this Committee actually, my Lord.
556. Given the historic reasons are now proving
to be historic accidents, surely the best way to move forward
is to rationalise what is there? It is all right saying to people,
"Talk to each other and you will be all right", but
we should be looking for a better legal framework on how we run
our inland waterways. Surely that is not too much of an ambition
for a Government to want to achieve?
(Lord Whitty) No, but it does require, however, a
pretty hefty piece of legislation but legislation is not the main
issue. It is operational. There are some problems about the legislation,
I would not deny that, particularly in terms of the classification
of the different sorts of canals and how we deal with them, there
are problems about the institutional structure but we think we
are overcoming that in informal ways. The main issue is, are we
managing them properly, not what the institutional arrangements
557. But surelyand I had it down as legislation
which was 30 years old, not 32 years olddo you not now
think it is opportune to revisit that?
(Lord Whitty) I think the main operational questions
can be dealt with without revisiting the legislative framework.
I would like, as no doubt every minister who appears before you
would like, to have a slot on legislation on waterways at some
point but that is out of my hands, I fear.
Chairman: You could always have another Transport
Bill, my Lord!
558. I would like to explore with you your commitment
to expanding the network, so let me start with the obvious question,
do you have a commitment to expand the waterways network?
(Lord Whitty) Yes, although our priority is ensuring
that the current navigable canals are kept on a restored and efficient
basis. We have a long programmeand there are a lot of things
still to be completedof major schemes in improving the
amount of the canal network which is navigable, and Rochdale is
an example, and the Kennet and Avon relatively recently, and there
are others coming up. There has to be a priority on which you
do first and, by and large, we believe British Waterways and the
Environment Agency are following a sensible priority in this respect.
Some of those canals, non-navigable canals, are in the hands of
other trusts and other bodies and we do have to look at whether
we can support some of those as well, and Rochdale is one of those.
559. But where there is a general agreement
that a particular waterway should be either regenerated or a new
waterway built, and there seems to be a good economic case behind
it, the Government would be supporting that?
(Lord Whitty) We would have to prioritise. We would
have to look at where the finances were coming from.