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


Memorandum by The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (IW 23)

THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS

SUMMARY

  The key findings presented in this evidence are:

    —  the diversity of uses of inland waterways should be maintained and encouraged;

    —  in general, a balanced approach to waterways management should prevail whereby no single issue is afforded universal priority;

    —  the legal framework for waterways management should be reviewed;

    —  with clear vision, the waterways network can be enhanced with multiple benefits for leisure, recreational, environmental and commercial uses;

    —  the Regional Development Agencies should take greater account of inland waterways;

    —  innovative schemes which realise funding for re-investment in the waterways should be encouraged, subject to satisfactory environmental appraisals or impact assessments;

    —  Government funding for inland waterways is inadequate and should be increased substantially.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) was created in 1996, with strong encouragement from Government to represent the inland navigation authorities of the United Kingdom. The broad purpose of AINA is to facilitate the management, maintenance and development of the inland waterways for navigation as an economic, environmental, recreational and social resource. Between them, AINA's members own, operate and manage some 5,000 km of waterway; representing almost a complete UK coverage.

  2.  In its short existence, AINA has established a high degree of credibility by providing, for the first time ever, a single voice on waterway management issues. This credibility has been underlined by the endorsement given to the Association by Government in the policy paper Waterways for Tomorrow.

  3.  The objectives of AINA are to:

    —  provide a forum for best practice, advice and expertise;

    —  secure adequate investment in inland waterways;

    —  promote public awareness of the value and potential of inland waterways for their development and conservation;

    —  enhance the amenity value and quality of inland waterways;

    —  represent the Association's views to Government, the European Union, statutory agencies and other bodies; and

    —  co-ordinate aspirations and plan in the context of a national strategy for exploiting the potential of inland waterways.

THE ROLE OF INLAND WATERWAYS

  4.  Opportunities and potential for use are as diverse and vary as widely as the nature and history of the inland waterways themselves. The inland waterways are as relevant today in people's lives as they have ever been; seamlessly combining traditional and twenty first century uses.

  5.  In addition to a wide range of recreation and amenity uses, inland waterways are vital for nature conservation and they serve important water resource, flood channel and land drainage functions. Moreover, people place a value on the continued existence of inland waterways, whether or not they actually visit them. They are valued for their environmental and landscape attributes, as part of our cultural heritage, for their historic infrastructure, and as a focus for community activities and development.

Urban and rural regeneration

  6.  It is now widely appreciated that a run down environment not only adversely affects people's quality of life but also diminishes prospects for inward investment. AINA believes that the argument that environmental quality, economic advancement and social well being are linked is a very strong one.

  7.  Waterways can provide the focus for imaginative new development proposals, and a stimulus to turn otherwise uneconomic sites into viable propositions, assisting both urban and rural regeneration. Where development opportunities do exist, a balance needs to be struck between what may sometimes be competing interests and priorities, to ensure that any change is to the overall benefit of the waterways system and the local community. This includes the formulation and design of planning policies which must recognise the diversity of use which sustains the waterways value.

  8.  For optimum benefit from urban or rural regeneration based upon waterways, four principal conditions that should be met are access, conservation, navigation and sustainability (both environmental and economic). AINA members work closely with all parties which have a stake in the success of these schemes including local authorities, private developers, local communities and other funders. AINA, like the Government, believes that the Regional Development Agencies in particular can play a bigger part by taking more account of waterways in their strategies and action plans.

Leisure, recreation, tourism and industrial heritage

  9.  The uses of inland waterways today are much more diverse than ever before. The greatest change has been their emergence as a prime leisure and recreational resource. Boating, a variety of casual and formal water-based sports such as canoeing, rowing and angling, and use of towpaths for walking and cycling all come with potential economic benefits for the waterway corridor and potential stresses on the system.

  10.  AINA believes that the diversity of uses should be maintained and encouraged. However, a number of issues are critical to achieve this. AINA would like to see a review of the legal framework for waterways management which is currently too complex. Waterways run through a number of planning authorities and there are strategic issues which need to be properly addressed in structure plans and regional guidance. Multiple uses of the waterways bring potential conflicts between different forms of recreation, and between navigation and conservation. Therefore, there is a need for a range of good practice guidance and codes of practice for the major recreation and leisure uses. AINA is working on providing these. "Corridor Studies" and economic benefit analyses, to give a broader context to recreational use are invaluable. Also, funding schemes for recreational uses can be developed based on the "user pays" principle.

  11.  AINA sees the inland waterways network as offering enormous, as yet untapped potential for the future. To this end, AINA is developing a vision for the strategic enhancement of the network for completion in the Spring of 2001. Through this work, AINA will collaborate with IWAAC in its review of priorities for waterway restoration and with The Waterways Trust which also has much to contribute. AINA's vision is based on a recognition that the existing network is inherited from a previous age and was designed for the requirements of that age. On this basis it is AINA's firm belief that the true potential of the network as a national asset for this century will be realised only by further restorations and enhancements and the construction of some new navigations with strategic benefit.

  12.  Tourism has become a vital ingredient for waterways' economic sustainability. The tourist market is, however, fragmented: some elements such as passenger boats, hire boats and hotel boats are directly related to the navigation, whilst others such as bankside accommodation, pubs and retail outlets serve a wider range of customers. It is clear that without tourists, many navigations would not survive economically.

  13.  It is essential that the tourist sector remains strong. However, recent years have seen a decline in business for much of the hire boat industry. The number of holiday hire boat licences issued by British Waterways fell from 1,760 in 1979 to 1,643 in 1999; although this takes account of a significant growth in the market for new timeshare hire boats. On the tidal Thames, 1,000 craft were licensed in the heyday of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1999 the Environment Agency issued only 350.

  14.  In order to reverse this trend, it is necessary to raise the level of appreciation by public authorities and commercial organisations of the opportunities that waterways offer for tourism. AINA intends to facilitate this understanding through building appropriate partnerships. There is potential for a variety of specialist holidays linked to the waterways and commercial opportunities in catering for them.

  15.  However, realising this potential will depend upon strong communication and support for collaboration between navigation authorities, local authorities and commercial businesses. This is necessary to address issues such as access to waterways (which needs to be improved to create a more customer orientated product); appropriate facility signing; the adoption of common waterway standards and levels of service including the vital issue of safety; the adequacy of moorings and associated facilities including the need for more off-line basins; and marketing of waterways holidays. All this needs to be achieved with due regard to the diverse and unique nature of individual waterways.

  16.  The key to managing the industrial heritage of the inland waterways is to view them as a rich archaeological and educational resource which is ultimately fragile and irreplaceable. Whilst acknowledging that each site, building or feature is different, a common policy is required for their preservation. Underpinning any such policy is a need for a complete assessment of the historic features of inland waterways, so that the importance and heritage value of any given feature can be measured and the amount of resources needed for their preservation determined. Elements which need to be assessed include training in restoration and craft skills, developing a common approach to risk assessment for all waterway uses and promotion of the visual and historic value of the waterways. Appropriate funding from the National Heritage Lottery Commission is essential for navigation authorities to deliver these benefits.

The environment and the enhancement of wildlife

  17.  Inland waterways are subject to increasing potential conflicts between nature conservation needs and recreational needs. Achieving a proper balance between navigation and the environment is possibly the single most important element here. The wider environmental contribution of waterways in both urban and rural settings is enormous and water quality for aesthetic pleasure and the enhancement of wildlife is as important as water quantity to sustain navigation. AINA is concerned about the use of herbicides, surface water discharges and foul or highway drainage that might pollute waterways. The impact of nitrates on the aquatic environment is a particular issue of growing concern. Scientific assessment and proper design and management of drainage infrastructure can secure good water quality and widen the potential for recreational use.

  18.  There is a need for environmental appraisals of all development projects and full environmental impact assessments for major projects. For nature conservation, the impact of waterways stretches beyond the immediate limits of water, creating a wide variety of habitats in "green corridors" often designated as SSSIs and many of which provide a vital resource for environmental education.

  19.  There remain major gaps in our knowledge of the natural environment of waterways. Therefore, more and better co-ordinated research is needed to understand the direct and indirect effects of the variety of waterway uses. Each navigation needs a management plan that takes proper account of all uses of the waterway and their complex impacts upon the environment. Biodiversity plans for each waterway should be prepared to safeguard the rich diversity of wildlife. AINA advocates the retention of traditional waterway features, hedgerow, walls towpath edge and aquatic vegetation as significant ecological resources accessible to the public.

Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications

  20.  Waterways and their towpaths can provide conduits for pipelines, telecommunications and the transfer of water from one region to another. There is further scope for these network links to be extended and developed.

  21.  The network is being put forward as a basis for a potential national water grid, This is not a new idea but, in the context of current issues facing water supply companies, may yet be shown to be the best practical environmental option for transferring water from areas of surplus resource to areas of depleted resource hence weakening the argument for major new, environmentally disruptive developments such as reservoirs.

  22.  At present, parts of the waterways network are used for local transfers of up to 20 km, principally as a cost effective way of augmenting industrial water supplies. Domestic supplies in major population centres also benefit eg up to 40 per cent of Bristol's water comes via the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. With a large amount of investment which could be raised through private/public partnerships, and subject to appropriate environmental impact assessments, the network has the potential to be used more extensively for water transfer. This would yield income for navigation authorities, augment industrial and domestic water supplies, increase flow in canals and bring benefits in water quality and draught for canal users. In association with private sector industry, AINA can identify waterways suitable for water transfer and explore potential funding opportunities to create desirable transfer schemes.

  23.  The Fibreway partnership between British Waterways and Marconi has shown what can be achieved by using the towpath network as a conduit for telecommunications. AINA believes that innovative schemes of this sort should be promoted as means for those navigation authorities with extensive towpaths to generate income for investment in their waterways. The range of services, in addition to telecommunication, which may provide further opportunities for use of the towpath includes gas, water, electricity, chemicals and fuels.

  24.  Certain AINA members have drainage as their primary function. However, to most AINA members, the drainage function is one amongst several important aspects of waterway management which must not be overlooked. Drainage channels provide an important habitat for wildlife and optimum water level control can safeguard these in addition to providing adequate draught for navigation.

COMMERCIAL FREIGHT

  25.  AINA has recently undertaken a strategic analysis of the way in which Britain's inland waterways may be developed for carrying more commercial freight. This was done in the light of interest generated by the Government's integrated transport white paper A new deal for transport: better for everyone. The principal conclusion of this study is that the physical constraints of the narrow and broad beam inland waterway network make it no longer suitable for significant transfer of goods between the major population centres of the country. In quantified terms, the study concluded that for the sake of carrying 12 million tonnes a year on the narrow and broad beam network (0.33 per cent of total UK freight), all leisure and recreational use would necessarily stop, water supplies would run out and maintenance costs for the network would increase dramatically. It would not be worth the loss of all that is currently valued about inland waterways to achieve such a small shift in freight transport from road to water.

  26.  However, the inland waterways are eminently suitable for short-hauls, the transport of solid waste and other high volume/low value products and also for addressing niche markets where it can provide a cost effective alternative to the local road network. In particular, with significant investment made in developing short sea links, the large commercial waterways, ship canals and tidal navigations, if maintained within current demands, could be used to lift approximately 20 million tonnes a year representing a 1 per cent shift from road to water.

  27.  AINA supports the development of niche market transport of freight on the inland waterways provided careful consideration is given to the effects of such operations on navigational structures and the waterway environment. In addition, AINA would support any proposal that recognises the benefits of coastal/short sea shipping which can provide a significant carrying capacity around the UK coast. AINA believes that only by the use of such facilities will the Government's estimated potential for a 3.5 per cent shift from road traffic to water be realised.

  28.  Notwithstanding the use of the waterways for niche market freight transport, the potential for increasing commercial freight would be enhanced by a fair capital and revenue grant regime either as an amendment of, or in addition to, the existing Freight Facilities Grant scheme. In addition, Planning Policy Guidance should reflect the opportunities for water-borne freight traffic which may include the development of inland ports and the development of intermodal techniques for container transfer between ships and barges. In short, there is a need for national and local transport policies which in both statutory planning and funding terms are wholly fair to, and properly protect navigation interests, both today and in the future.

COMPETING OBJECTIVES AND PRIORITIES

  29.  The future vitality of the waterway network is dependent upon managing successfully the diversity of uses outlined above and on integrated management of associated activities within long term conservation objectives. For the most part, navigation will be at the core of AINA members' business. However, their responsibility for the management of the inland waterways as a whole is acknowledged and understood.

  30.  Maintaining the waterways and maximising their potential is increasingly dependent upon new sources of income. The wide remit of navigation authorities implies a very wide range of customer relationships and potential for public/private partnerships. All opportunities for partnerships which realise funding should be explored. For this reason AINA believes that no single issue should have universal priority and that by adopting a balanced approach to waterways management, potential new funding will be maximised. Moreover, AINA believes that positive innovations or novel practices in waterways management should be encouraged and applied when appropriate. Such ideas form the basis of new partnership schemes and joint ventures which generate income for re-investment in the waterways and reduce dependence on the Exchequer.

WATERWAYS FOR TOMORROW

  31.  AINA welcomes the Government's policy paper Waterways for Tomorrow and looks forward to working with DETR officials in putting its proposals in place. It is particularly pleasing to see the endorsement given to AINA, its objectives and strategy Steering a Fresh Course which is accepted as providing the basis for a national policy framework for inland waterways. AINA accepts the challenge to achieve greater co-operation and consistency in the management of waterways and has begun to implement its strategy, through an agreed action plan, which includes the development of an environmental framework underpinning members' responsibilities and the production of good practice guidance across a variety of waterways issues.

  32.  The reconciliation of planning policy constraints and development opportunities is a pivotal issue facing navigation authorities. The joint IWAAC/DETR project to develop a good practice guidance document for inland waterways should be an invaluable tool assisting navigation authorities' understanding of the complex planning system leading to more effective use of it in development schemes and in promoting the value and potential of waterways. The wider role of IWAAC as an advisory resource for all waterways generally is also welcomed.

  33.  However, AINA is concerned at the current inadequate provision of funding for inland waterways and that little indication of intent to provide more funds for navigation authorities is given in the policy paper. This leads AINA members to question the seriousness of the Government's intent to back up its policy statements with the necessary resources. The smaller, non-publicly maintained navigation authorities in particular face real difficulties meeting their obligations. AINA will look to beneficial partnerships with The Waterways Trust in these cases.

  34.  AINA itself is currently being run at minimal cost. A welcome, but small, short-term research grant from the DETR is necessarily topped up by cash and in-kind support from the largest members of the Association and substantial in-kind support from the remaining members. If AINA is to achieve its potential and deliver its objectives, thereby providing significant assistance to Government in its implementation of policy, then continued funding from the Government is essential.

STRUCTURE OF OWNERSHIP, ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

  35.  Accidents of history have left Britain's inland waterways with a diversity of navigation authorities of different sizes and with varying levels of skills, powers and resources. There are some 30 navigation authorities in the form of statutory bodies such as the Environment Agency and British Waterways; Waterways Ireland which includes administration for Northern Ireland; Local Authorities; Drainage Boards; Independent companies; Trusts; and National Park Authorities. Individual navigation authorities have historically managed their waterways in different ways depending upon local circumstances, the nature of the authority and its wider responsibilities. The legal framework in which these authorities manage their waterways is fragmented and complex and is in urgent need of review.

  36.  AINA was set up to harmonise the different approaches to waterway management and through its action plan is already assisting its members by developing a range of good practice guidance to help them fulfil their roles and responsibilities. Navigation authorities also benefit from AINA's representations to Government on waterway issues including planning guidance issued by the DETR and the crucial subject of water abstraction for navigation. This demonstrates the importance of navigation authorities combining their expertise to give advice in a timely and effective way.

Association of Inland Navigation Authorities

September 2000


 
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