Memorandum by Harbour of Rye Advisory
Committee (IW 14)
This memorandum is produced in response to the
invitation for submissions, contained in the Press Notice issued
by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee,
notifying an intention to hold an Inquiry into the Potential of
Inland Waterways. It is unclear whether the Inquiry will include
ports in its deliberations. The Port of Rye in East Sussex is
situated in the tidal sections of three rivers, the Rother, Tillingham
and Brede, and is administered by a Competent Harbour Authority,
so may well come into the purview of the Inquiry. Many of the
issues to be investigated are relevant to the Port of Rye, and
the views expressed later about those issues, are made by a statutory
advisory committee, the Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee, which
advises the Competent Harbour Authority, the Environment Agency.
Rye Harbour is a designated Fishing Port, and
serves a balanced maritime community of pleasure boating, commercial
and recreational fishing, and a commercial freight trade. The
three rivers, the tidal sections of which form the harbour, act
as drainage channels for adjacent low lying land. A crucial aspect
of management of the area is the control by locks of water levels
in the non tidal sections of the rivers, and the maintenance of
sea defences in the tidal sections. The floodable areas draining
to the harbour and to the Royal Military Canal include 27,000
hectares of floodable land, which was conservatively valued at
£79 million during a review of the harbour some years ago.
An estimated 37,000 people live in the floodable areas. The replacement
cost of land drainage, sea defence and navigation infrastructure
in the catchment is considered to be in excess of £200 million.
It was because of the importance of the river outfall to the exceptional
flood defence and land drainage interests in the area that the
harbour responsibility transferred to the Environment Agency predecessor
following its insolvency in 1932.
3. THE ISSUES
3.1 Urban and rural regeneration
Rye is an isolated town where peripherality
has historically resulted in an under performing economy, measurable
social division, lack of access to jobs, education, health opportunities
and available public resources.
The Rye Partnership, created in 1996 and supported
by the local MP, has developed a strategy and development programme
which is now being implemented. The Environment Agency as Harbour
Authority, environment regulator and landowner is a key player
in the partnership and pivotal to the element of the strategy
which will deliver a £1.6 million Fishmarket improvement
scheme. A commitment has been secured as part of an overall £1.6
million Single Regeneration Bid by the Partnership for a comprehensive
regeneration scheme for the Rye Bay area which will cost £12.6
The Rye Harbour road area to the west of the
harbour abutting the waterside is an under utilised industrial
area with potential for regeneration which could enhance land
based and waterborne trade. The site comprising 26 different landowners
has a complex history of previous uses, which have resulted in
groundwater contamination. The Environment Agency has been successful
in securing an £809,000 grant under the DETR Contaminated
Land Funding Scheme to fund studies and site investigations. South
East England Development Agency have had early exploratory discussions
with the Environment Agency about the future potential for development
of this area.
Future opportunities are being explored by the
Environment Agency External Funding Officer and include those
which will be afforded by the ERDF Interreg IIIA programme which
will support economic development in East Sussex and Kent between
2000 and 2006. Members of the Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee,
in support of the Environment Agency are assisting in developing
a partnership with the Baie de Somme area of the Picardy coast.
3.2 Leisure, recreation, tourism and industrial
Waterborne activity includes pleasure yachting,
sailing dinghies, charter fishing and water skiing in a segregated
area of the River Rother. Tourism is the mainstay of the area.
Rye is the only Cinque Port with its original Harbour surviving.
The medieval town has a long maritime tradition and harbour frontages
within the town are particularly attractive.
The historic legacy of land drainage is a point
of pride and a feature of the local heritage. Romney Marsh had
the first Charter in the country and is known as the Cradle of
The Environment Agency has a general duty towards
waterside and waterborne recreation in support of its role as
The Agency is conscious of its responsibilities
to facilitate public access to the navigation and flood defence
landholdings. A continuous waterside path is a feature of the
Rye Partnership proposals which is facilitated by the integration
of flood defence and navigation landholdings.
Public rights of navigation exist on the Rivers
Brede, where the Environment Agency is the Navigation Authority,
and on the Rother upstream of the harbour limit where there is
no navigation authority. The Agency sets and regulates speed limits
under Land Drainage By-law. The Agency also permits and controls
non-power boating on the Royal Military Canal. This is an Ancient
Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, rather than
a navigation. The canal is also managed to capture upland water
from the hills, as a pumped irrigation reservoir in summer, and
as a flood storage and relief channel in winter.
3.3 The environment and enhancement of wild
The Rother estuary is extensively covered with
three Sites of Special Scientific Interest (two designated as
Special Protection Areas and one as a Special Area of Conservation.
A significant area of the Rye Local Nature Reserve was purchased
by the Environment Agency under the flood defence purchasing powers.
The Harbour Authority, as the Environment Agency,
shares the general duty to promote conservation and a specific
duty to further conservation in respect of its water management
Whilst development is constrained by the extensive
conservation designations for which English Nature is the Statutory
Body, the cohesiveness of the conservation area within the harbour
is a significant contribution to quality of life, and is a particular
attraction for leisure boaters, ramblers, cyclists and bird watchers.
The nature conservation aspects and the role of the Environment
Agency will be important for birds for Intereg funding.
3.4 Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications
The Bewl-Darwell link between Medway and Rother
catchments has been an important development in meeting demand
for water in Kent. With major population growth predicted for
the South East and 150,000 further homes predicted for Kent, future
development of this link is likely to be a high priority in the
future. Seamless water management is essential to balance the
needs of the Medway Navigation with the needs of the community
and to maintain sufficient flow in the Rother to meet the needs
of the agricultural community, the navigators on the Rother, and
freshening and scouring flows to the harbour of Rye. The environmental
considerations of catchment transfer and managed flow regimes
are of fundamental importance and must be balanced with aspirations
and needs of the community.
3.5 Waterborne freight transport
Two commercial wharves are in private ownership.
After a period of recession the general cargo wharf has a growing
trade and is winning contracts. Pilotage is compulsory and the
Environment Agency employs two Master Mariners as Harbour Masters
and Pilots, and a further Master Mariner as contract pilot in
support of commercial activity. The ability to handle modern vessels
has increased cargo tonnage per visit. In three years, trade has
revived to more than 100 ships per annum, carrying aggregated
for road and railway construction. Regeneration of the Harbour
Road Industrial Estate will be an important catalyst for increased
coastal freight from Rye.
3.6 Complementary or conflicting objectives
and principle use
The harbour itself, or its environs are subject
to the dictacts of European and Domestic Legislation, eg Habitats
Directive, Environment Act, Water Resources Act, Land Drainage
Act, Harbour Docks Piers and Clauses Act, Harbours Act 1964, Pilotage
Act. Generally conflicts can be resolved by reference to statute,
but many local acts for navigation and local orders are no longer
appropriate to modern demands on resources and facilities. Integrated
operation, close working partnerships, consensus building, and
arbitration are essential to resolve conflicts. Local examples
include management of levels on the non-tidal Rother for flood
defence and navigation, regulation where no navigation authority
exists, arbitration in angling and boating conflicts. The involvement
of the Environment Council by the Harbour Authority, to develop
the latest Harbour Management Plan is innovative, and yielding
significant dividends. The Harbour of Rye and associated water
courses have benefited from the administration of all water functions
by a single agency in all these respects. However, for management
of the rivers Rother, Brede and Tillingham, it is imperative that
flood defence and protection of lives should take absolute priority.
The Environment Agency has successfully managed
its estate of Flood defence and Navigation landholdings in and
around the Harbour and this is now the mainstay of Harbour income.
In less than 10 years this has grown from 32 per cent to 67 per
cent of annual income. In respect of capital investment the Harbour
of Rye Advisory Committee considers it entirely appropriate that
public sector assets should be maintained by income from users
and the public purse. The Committee notes that in February the
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions increased
public investment in British Waterways to help care for and develop
its assets, and believes that other public sector assets should
be similarly treated.
However, financial management is sometimes constrained
by requirements to do work within the financial year and by an
inability to borrow.
Funding is also required to attract the significant
gearing which needs to be achieved in bids for European, Lottery
and other granting Bodies for which Rye is well placed.
3.8 Ownership, roles and responsibilities
These have been reviewed during the last decade
with the following conclusions:
Review of options for management
(a) privatisation, (b) retention by the Environment Agency predecessor
and (c) Local Trust.
47 of 53 external responses supported
retention by the then National Rivers Authority.
Department of the Environment consultation
on options for navigation. The Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee
supported preference for the Environment Agency to retain responsibility,
although some outside opinion favours private management. Ministers
concluded that as circumstances on waterways vary so greatly,
the practical implications of transferring navigation responsibilities
on individual waterways need to be examined case by case.
The Environment Agency requested
the Royal Yachting Association to review its management of the
Harbour of Rye. The Review concluded:
"Although other management options have
been mooted, it is highly unlikely that a satisfactory alternative
body can be found."
This memorandum has given a brief outline of
how the issues of concern to the Inquiry affect the management
of waterways in the vicinity of Rye Harbour. Examples are given
showing how some of the issues which have been met, have been
The Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee welcomes
the Government's support for an integrated and sustainable approach
and the commitment to protection and conservation of the heritage.
The Committee commends the Governments intention to improve planning
The Committee continues to support the concept
of an integrated approach by one Agency for all aspects of water
management including flood defence, drainage, conservation, water
transfer and navigation.
K G Steele
26 September 2000