Memorandum by Kent Area Environment Group
My committee is representative of a wide cross
section of opinion from both the private and public sectors. I
convened a sub-committee to enable us to submit this memorandum
on Waterways for Tomorrow and in particular the ownership
of waterways and management issues.
Our starting point was how best to achieve the
objectives set out in the paper. We therefore focused on the users,
potential users, public understanding and support leading on to
optimum structure and management.
In the Kent Area the Environment Agency is the
navigation authority for the inland navigation on the River Medway
and is the Harbour Authority for the Harbour of Rye. There are
some tidal estuaries with rights of navigation but no Navigation
Authority. The Royal Military Canal is vested in the Agency by
virtue of a 999 year lease. There are no British Waterways navigations
in the area.
Local navigations historically developed to
meet local needs. This is reflected in the enabling legislation
and current ownership.
The Medway Navigation Authority has no legislation
to consider the flood defence implications of its actions and
navigation consent is required for flood defence work. It was
this concern which resulted in the navigation being taken over
by the predecessors of the Agency. A similar concern over the
ability to protect the extensive area of the Romney Marsh led
to the Jury's Gut Catchment Board (Agency predecessor) taking
over the Harbour of Rye to prevent siltation and the closing of
My committee considers that the present arrangement
gives the customers good value and ensures that consents and decisions
are based on a recognition of all the issues associated with flowing
The Royal Military Canal was built as a defence
structure against Napoleonic invasion and rescued from dereliction
by the Agency's predecessor as an integral part of the area's
land drainage network. Principally managed as part of a water
regulation system the Environment Agency allows angling and navigation
by non-powered craft to protect the heritage and conservation
status. This demonstrates a professional approach to the management
of waterways which is in the public interest and would be much
more difficult if responsibilities were separated.
In contrast the management of "canals"
is through ownership of the "track" whereas on river
navigations ownership largely lies with the riparian owner. This
latter situation requires a more consultative and open approach
to management which the Environment Agency already has in place
through its committee structure. The committee felt strongly that
the risk to the public was greater on rivers than canals and that
flood protection was of prime importance. We also considered that
the integration of flood defence with water quality, resource
management, recreation, navigation, fisheries and conservation
was best achieved with one organisation.
On river navigations clear single authority
accountability undoubtedly strengthens public confidence.
We are therefore quite clear that responsibility
for navigation in the Kent area is appropriately vested in the
This gives much greater public benefit than
if a separate navigation authority was created. We also believe
there are positive arguments for ensuring the Agency has the navigation
and drainage responsibility on all river navigations where its
land drainage role might be inhibited. Cross functional management
lowers cost and brings benefits.
The principle of increasing freight traffic
is fully supported. At Rye Harbour this is encouraged by the provision
of a full and flexible pilotage service but my sub-committee recognises
that there is little scope on a relatively short isolated navigation
such as the Medway.
However, there is support for urban and rural
regeneration linked to the provision of leisure, recreation, tourism
and industrial heritage balanced with the environment and wildlife
interest. The Environment Agency has been a leading partner in
the Medway River Project. In 12 years it has encouraged community
involvement in wildlife enhancement, recreation and many improvements
in the Medway Valley.
The Agency is involved with the Maidstone Millennium
Park project centred on the navigation and worth altogether £8.2
million and a single regeneration budget project in Rye. My advisory
group fully supports these initiatives.
In some respects the situation in the Kent area
is unique and I therefore hope you will recognise the value of
the Environment Agency retaining control of the existing river
18 September 2000