Memorandum by the Royal Yachting Association
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has many
thousands of members who use the inland waterways for recreational
boating, whether it be by narrow boat, motor cruiser, dinghy or
The RYA Inland Waters Panel represents and protects
the interest of cruising boat owners on all inland waters. The
pricing and provision of facilities on inland waters are monitored
and the Panel also provides a channel of communication between
the RYA Council, the inland navigation authorities and the major
cruising interests on inland waters.
The launch of the DETR policy report Waterways
for Tomorrow is a welcome addition to the underpinning support
given to inland waterways by successive Governments in recent
The document covers a broad range of issues.
However, our submission to the Committee will concentrate on those
matters detailed in Press Notice 49, issued on 20 July.
3. THE ROLE
3.1 Urban and rural regeneration
The value of a waterfront in the regeneration
of urban areas is now widely recognisedfrom Docklands to
Dudley. The value of waterway development in rural areas is on
occasion more difficult to promote, despite the economic contribution
that waterway restoration and the servicing of the associated
activity can bring to the rural economy.
3.2 Leisure, recreation, tourism and the industrial
The concern of the RYA is with the waterway
user afloat. Boaters of all ages and incomes should be able to
find ways of using the inland waterways. Unfortunately, recent
trends have tended towards the encouragement of boaters from the
middle: middle class, middle age and middle income.
The waterway industry needs to respond to the
huge growth in alternative leisure and recreational activities
and the move away from a life-time commitment to a particular
sport or interest: The age profile of boaters is increasingly
skewed and new ways should be found of encouraging the participation
of a broader age range:
With few exceptions, the hire boat industry
is suffering from reduced financial returns, which has a knock-on
effect on the funds available for investment in new and improved
boats. Such craft are necessary to attract the discerning "casual"
user who decides to take a short holiday afloat as a second or
third holiday (after the summer beach visit and the skiing trip).
Shared Ownership is also a way of overcoming the new, less committed
approach to the use of leisure time.
Boat builders and navigation authorities should
co-operate in establishing a range of small, sound but less sophisticated
(and hence cheaper) craft of the right price and specification
to encourage new first-time boaters. The Environment Agency have
already carried out some work here with the River Boat 2000 design
A policy of running a series of "Go Boating"
events throughout the country has been introduced by the British
Marine Industries Federationbut with limited support from
the inland waterways sector. This lack of interest must change.
The cost of boating
Licence fees for smaller boats using inland
waterways need to be brought into balance. The current fees for
smaller craft are generally out of proportion. Short term licences
should be adapted to include a "rover" facility which
will enable the casual visitor to trail their boat to the river
or canal of their choice, at the time of choice. Such a policy
will require the improvement and publicity of existing slipway
facilities, and the building of new slipways in partnership with
local authorities where necessary.
Another major consideration is the cost of maintaining
your boat, subject to the costly vagaries of the Boat Safety Scheme.
The scheme is growing in both cost and complexity and is understood
to be responsible for driving people off the water and deterring
new boaters from taking up the sport. The RYA, working closely
with other national user groups, has now persuaded the owners
of the schemeBritish Waterways and the Environment Agencyto
carry out a root and branch review.
3.3 The environment and the enhancement of
A visit to a random selection of rural waterside
locations will give a clear picture of the major contribution
made by impounded water to the general environment. The artificial
introduction of a wetland habitat via the man-made canal system
provides a broad range of flora and fauna in many areas where
these would not normally be found. Unfortunately, there are a
small number of locations in England and Wales where there is
conflict between those who have restored/are involved in restoring
formerly derelict navigations and nature conservation interests.
Examples include sections of the Basingstoke, Montgomery and Pocklington
The irony is that, without the efforts of the
navigators/restorers, these waterwayswhich had decayed
over many decadeswould have continued their inexorable
decline and their nature conservation interest eventually nullified.
3.4 Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications
3.4.1 Water transfer
The inland waterways of this country play a
small but important part in the chain of water transfer facilities.
Indeed, in the late 1950s the one factor that saved the now extremely
popular Llangollen Canal from the lowering and piping of highway
bridges was the fact that it was a conduit for the transfer of
water from Horseshoe Falls on the Dee to the Hurlestone water
supply reservoirs in Cheshire.
Whatever schemes that may be proposed can only
be seen as tinkering at the edges in the distribution of drinking
water in the UK. In the 1940s an engineer, Mr Pownall, proposed
the construction of a major barge waterway at the 300 ft contour,
linking all the major cities and industrial centres. This massive
new project (in comparative terms, on a scale with the Yangtze
dams) would have provided sound commercial transport routes and,
with an artificially induced flow, provided a useful water distribution
system. Given our current distrust of major projects (Dome permitting?)
this is not seen as a likely contender in the near futurebut
who knows . . .?
Regardless of Mr Pownall's visionary scheme,
any new transfers that further underpin the continued existence
of the waterway system are to be welcomed. However, the waterways
should not be remodelled in such a way that they become mere water
transfer channels with concrete banks and a fast flow. The principal
function of navigation must be pre-eminent.
Indeed, every care is needed to ensure that
the growing demand for water does not affect the navigation and
environmental value of rivers and canals. For example, increased
abstraction from the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation by the
local water company and the consequent reduction in the discharge
from the River Chelmer is having a knock-on effect on the deposition
of silt in the upper tidal reaches of the River Blackwater. Rather
than seeking to accommodate the constant growth in demand for
drinking water, more effort should be applied to water-conservation
measuresfrom the macro ground water level to the micro
3.4.2 Water abstraction licensing and land drainage
Every square metre of newly paved area and new
housing in "upland" areas adds to the level of run-off.
Increases in agricultural efficiency over the past 50 years with
the clearance of woodland, the change to arable production and
improvements to field drainage also contribute to the "flashiness"
of rivers. This, combined with the demands for improvements to
agriculture on the lower reaches have a major impact on river
regimes, with impacts on water quality, silt deposition, and bank
erosion. This has a knock on effect for many uses, including nature
conservation, species diversity and recreational boating. The
Environment Agency promotes the creation of bunded washland areas
and absorption ponds to absorb flood pressure and reduce the need
for a more engineered approach to the river banks in centres of
riparian population. Any new building proposals should show how
the run-off generated will be handled and the water conserved.
Paragraph 6.34 of the Waterways for Tomorrow
document refers to Government plans for the publication of
a draft bill to alter the existing water abstraction licensing
system. The RYA is of the view that adequate arrangements already
exist between the Environment Agency and the navigation authorities
(in particular British Waterways who manage the greater part of
the canal system). The necessity of introducing additional controls
for what appears to be mere administrative tidiness is unnecessaryunless
the Agency is minded to apply both controls and charges at some
future date once these powers are in place. The majority of our
canals and navigable inland waters have been in existence/operation
for over 200 years and in that time they have become an integral
part of the local water regime. They do not form a sealed system
but are a fundamental part of local water dynamicsreceiving
and discharging water in equal measure. Indeed, the water put
into the system is not "lost" to the water cycle but
returns via leakage, seepage, evapo-transpiration and the operation
of locks, weirs and sluices. If anything, the water impounded
by the reservoirs, canal banks, locks, weirs and sluices helps
arrest the flow of water to the sea.
In contrast, much of the land drainage and flood
defence works of recent decades have sought to speed water on
its journey. The problems of environmental impact and the disbursement
of available water resources would be better addressed by tackling
the rationale behind much of the flood defence works of recent
years and the issues of urban development where the water table
is already under pressuresuch as the chalk downlands of
the Hampshire Basin. The RYA welcomes the possibility of restrictions
being placed on profligate uses of water, this most precious resource.
However, we see no clear and justifiable reason
for the introduction of a licensing system (other than that of
administrative tidiness) for navigations which are generally well
managed and which put the resource to good and practical use.
Current arrangements between the managers of navigations and the
operational staff of the Environment Agency are more than adequate
for the purpose and, if anything, the management of water on the
canal system contributes to the objectives of the Agency.
In our view, the energy being applied to this
small and well managed sector should be better applied to addressing
the much larger and complex issues of increasing demands for water
in areas of deficit, the impact of urban development and run-off
and ground water absorption and the associated necessity for improvements
in the supply efficiency of the water companies.
It is ironic that the proposals outlined by
the Government exclude land drainagewhich has a major impact
on the water regime. The arguments used for leaving land drainage
out of the picture are equally valid for inland navigation. A
mechanism that encourages land drainage authorities to reassess
the impact of their activities on the wider water environment
would be useful.
The arguments for the promotion of freight transport
on water have been well rehearsed over many yearsfrom the
£4 million Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation improvement
scheme in the 1970's to the current proposals for the transport
of waste on the River Lee.
The primary issue is one of planning and land
use. For example, the tidal Thames is capable of accommodating
1,000 tonne tankers right through London (past the Houses of Parliament)
to depots to the West. In the 1980's, the casual observer on Westminster
Bridge at tide time would witness a regular flow of oil tankers,
sand dredgers, bulk cement vessels and trains of refuse and general
cargo lighters. Today, that flow has reduced to the occasional
sand barge and the remaining hugely efficient lighterage contractswith
a single powerful tug pulling up to 60 container loads of refuse
aboard three lighters. The latter, despite its obvious efficiency
is bound to disappear with Government policy moving towards the
introduction of local refuse incinerators.
The river is still as deep and the power of
the flood tide is as strong (and free), so what has changed? The
essence is that industrial regeneration has tended to move to
Greenfield sites, with easy access to the developing motorway
system. Waterfront property has also proved a magnetic attraction
for the development of trendy new apartments at a premium priceand
the choice isn't difficult to make if you have an aging waterfront
factory and a developer appears with a fat cheque.
We are not suggesting that an Eastern block
style of planning direction should be introduced. We merely point
out the consequences of the free-market process which, unfortunately,
does not take account of the environmental consequences of the
growth in transport by road.
With regard to our tidal rivers, the concentration
of our port facilities in such major centres as Southampton, Felixstowe
and Tilbury/Lower Thames/Medway has a knock on effect on the continued
existence of our smaller ports.
For example, plans were recently put forward
for the development of offices and housing on one of the last
major waterfront sites in Maldon which had previously handled
The loss of this important waterfront site in
Maldon and the associated closure of the Port of Colchester would
have a consequent impact on recreational boating in the associated
tidal river estuaries.
Regardless of the aesthetic fascination and
romance engendered by commercial shipping, the maintenance of
the small ports also has a practical and mutually beneficial impact
on recreational users, with the maintenance of buoys, lights and
other navigational aids, as well as dredging. The sterilisation
of waterfront locations by the introduction of inappropriate "non
freight" developments goes against Government policy which
seeks to encourage coastal shippinga policy which can only
be achieved if there is sufficient space for wharfage and transhipment.
The waterways are a fascinating mix of all that
is best about this country
from town and country, from stone
and thatch villages to the thrusting developments in the centre
from marvellous routes for walking
and nature study, to fishing and cycling, the transfer of water,
and the provision of cable routes for telecommunications.
Despite all, the litmus test of the waterways
system is the ability to navigate without undue let or hindrance.
Navigation must be viewed as first among equalsthe primary
reason for the continued existence of the system.
6. POLICIES AND
Despite the continuing pressure on the public
finances, £59 million grant in aid is currently given to
British Waterways towards the cost of meeting its navigation responsibilities.
This is a welcome recognition by the Government of the major contribution
made by the waterways to the economic and social fabric of the
country. However, this funding is in stark contrast to the paucity
of the £3 million given to the Environment Agency. Of this
sum, £1 million goes towards the cost of maintaining navigation
on the River Thameswhich has a boating population in the
20,000s. Indeed, it is understood that navigation receives less
than 1 per cent of the annual Agency budget. Without the continuance
of navigation on the Thames who would be able to visit the waterfront
of Henley and watch the annual Regatta? This location is the cradle
of rowing in the UK and the home club of world record holder Steve
Redgrave is at Henley. Without the maintenance of a navigation
level, punting in the backwaters of Oxford would also disappear.
The social, economic and environmental impact of the disappearance
of navigation on this and the many other navigable rivers administered
by the Environment Agency is unfathomable.
The Agency is, perhaps, more modest in its appeals
to the Government for funding compared with other navigation bodies.
Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of Government to take the
broader view. We encourage the Government to revise their assessment
of the funding needs of the Environment Agency navigationsand
to ensure that more money is directed to the Agency specifically
for navigation purposes.
The establishment of the Association of Inland
Navigation Authorities (AINA) as a "trade body" for
inland navigation authorities is a tremendous encouragement for
navigations large and small. The exchange of advice, information
and mutual support is to be welcomed.
The underlying theme of recent years (and the
major sub-plot within the Waterways for Tomorrow document)
is the decision to revisit yet again the question as to whether
Environment Agency navigation responsibilities should be transferred
to British Waterways. The RYA Inland Waters Panel, whose members
include representatives from many Environment Agency navigations
has previously been of the general view that the healthy co-operation
between British Waterways and the Agency on navigation issues
was adequate. However, it cannot be helpful to those responsible
for navigation in the Agency at both policy and operational levels
for this issue to be raised yet againso soon after the
Government decided to maintain the status quo.
The primary issue is that of funding. Whoever
manages the navigation function is possibly immaterial, providing
that those who are responsible have a clear commitment, and are
given the resources to do the job.
It is important in considering the future management
of these waterways that the views of those using these river navigationsand
those based on comparable navigations managed by British Waterwaysshould
8. OTHER ISSUES
8.1 International waterways
The Committee is to be congratulated in considering
the important issue of inland waterways and their future. However,
they are also reminded of the part that the UK can play in the
encouragement of waterways developments worldwide. We were the
first to witness the industrial revolution and the post-industrial
process has impacted on our waterways earlier than most. As a
result, we have particular experience in the regeneration of waterways
that are no longer valid for commercial purposes. For example,
Euro Waterways (a British Waterways based consultancy) is active
in advising local authorities and others in mainland Europe on
the repair and regeneration of derelict waterways. British Waterways
is also active in running waterway restoration projects in the
Indian sub-continent and plays a major part in the running of
Vois Navigables d'Europe, which represents the European navigation
bodies. The RYA is active in the administration of the European
In October the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme
(AIT), European Boating Association (EBA) and Vois Navigables
d'Europe (VNE) will be submitting a proposal to the UN Economic
Commission for Europe for the establishment of a European Agreement
on a Network of Inland Pleasure Navigations.
The Government should offer every support to
these international developments which will not only lead to the
export of ideals and standards, but will also have a commercial
impact in the form of consultancy and practical projects. The
RYA also sees the establishment of a Europe-wide network as a
major benefit to its members who will wish to navigate the furthermost
reaches of the continent, using the canals and rivers, many of
which are currently in need of repair and regeneration.
Secretary RYA Inland Waters Panel