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


Memorandum by the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council (IWAAC) (IW 42)

THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS

SUMMARY

  The key needs identified in this memorandum are:

    —  Regional Development Agencies' support is needed for waterway restoration led regeneration projects in both urban and rural areas (paragraph 6). Local authorities must adopt proactive planning policies (paragraph 5).

    —  Improved services to users should be secured via integrated management plans for each waterway covering all types of waterway use, with their diverse demands kept in balance (paragraph 22).

    —  Safeguarding and developing the potential of the inland waterways through the planning system should be pursued by means of the proposed good practice planning document; and an early start on the long-delayed highway guidelines to protect lines of waterways which are not yet restored (paragraph 24).

    —  Continuing resources are necessary for maintaining the grant-aided waterways (paragraph 25).

    —  Continued capital funding is needed for worthwhile and beneficial waterway restoration projects and revenue funding for future maintenance of completed schemes (paragraph 26), together with the necessary resources to allow The Waterways Trust to flourish (paragraph 27).

    —  New legislation is needed to reflect the changed nature of BW. A new national body should be considered for BW's inland waterways and any others which with advantage could be transferred to it, together with a new remit and Government funding for IWAAC (paragraph 30). Transfer of the Environment Agency's waterways to BW or a new successor body would enable the Agency to concentrate on its primary functions of environmental monitoring and regulation (paragraph 31).

INTRODUCTION

IWAAC's remit and membership

  1.  The Council welcomes the Select Committee's decision to inquire into the potential of inland waterways and is pleased to be invited to give evidence.

  2.  IWAAC is the statutory body (set up under the Transport Act 1968) to advise British Waterways (BW) and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (and in Scotland the Scottish Executive) on matters affecting the use of the Board's 3,200 km national network for amenity and recreation. The composition of the present council is shown at Annex A. Council Members are appointed by the Secretary of State for their individual experience and expertise rather than as representatives of particular bodies or interests. BW is responsible for funding the Council's work from its annual grant in aid.

  3.  In recent years the Council's scope has been widened by Ministerial request to include issues affecting non-BW waterways. The Council's work is now focused on the development of strategic policy for the waterways, with emphasis on leisure and tourism, widening the customer base, heritage and environment, and the waterways in their wider context.

  4.  IWAAC has good working relationships with the Environment Agency as a navigation authority and as guardian of the water environment (with a national duty to promote waterway recreation and access). The Council also works with the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA), the umbrella body for waterway authorities set up with the support of the Government and IWAAC as one outcome of the Government's 1995-96 Navigation Review.

COMMENTARY ON COMMITTEE'S SPECIFIC ISSUES

Role of inland waterways

Urban and rural regeneration

  5.  The role of waterway restoration in urban regeneration is well documented and understood (cf report on waterway Restoration Priorities, June 1998). A waterway restored to full navigation brings economic, environmental, social and other benefits which can justify regeneration funding for its restoration work. This applies equally in urban and rural areas provided constructive planning policies apply.

  6.  It is vital that regeneration funding continues to be available for beneficial waterway restoration projects. The Deputy Prime Minister has recently written to Chairmen of the Regional Development Agencies to impress on them the need to take account of the benefits of waterways projects in their strategies and action plans.

Leisure, recreation, tourism and the industrial heritage

  7.  Leisure and recreation are unquestionably the predominant uses of our waterways today. Waterways are valued for their landscape and environmental qualities. They offer an escape into tranquillity as well as a resource for formal and informal recreation, tourism and education. All these factors generate a wide range of waterway-related tourism activity from the local to the international. IWAAC sees great potential for further development and where possible restoration of the BW network and other waterways. AINA is studying the strategic enhancement of the system and IWAAC looks forward to commenting on the Association's proposals when ready.

  8.  It is important to ensure that all members of society have access to waterways. The Council has set up a Working Group to study extending access to the disadvantaged. It is due to report later this year.

  9.  Inland waterways are a key element in the nation's transport history and the history of civil engineering. Thousands of structures and waterside buildings of architectural and historic importance survive on the BW network alone. The Council would like the system to be given UNESCO World Heritage Status since the creation of the canals underpinned the world's first industrial revolution. The Government did not accept the suggestion when made two years ago, although a number of specific waterway locations was included in the list of tentative sites. However, in response to a request from the Waterways Minister an IWAAC World Heritage Working Group has been set up to consider the desirability of pursuing a further bid for such status.

  10.  The Council's Waterway Restoration Priorities report (June 1998) was prepared in response to the Government's request for an overview of restoration activity. It contained the Council's assessment of some 80 projects and included an independent assessment of the existing historical and wildlife conservation interest in the waterways concerned. IWAAC expects to publish an update of its report at the end of 2000.

  11.  The tried and tested way of pursuing waterway restoration projects is through partnerships between a navigation authority or other promoter, local authorities, and private and voluntary sectors. Such consortia have attracted lottery and other funding for several major projects now underway or nearing completion (eg Kennet & Avon Canal, Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Rochdale Canal, Scottish Millennium Link) as well as numerous smaller projects.

Environmental and enhancement of wildlife

  12.  Waterways provide a compact range of linear habitats both in the water channel and along the banks. They provide "green corridors" in otherwise habitat-poor urban and rural areas. Many lengths are of national importance to wildlife conservation and some are of European significance.

  13.  Sustainable biodiversity is becoming an important objective in waterway restoration and management. A Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) framework for each waterway and improved relations with the bodies caring for the natural environment is the way forward.

  14.  Wildlife conservation has often been seen to be in conflict with waterway restoration. However, with modern ecological restoration techniques and the previously largely unrealised potential for including wildlife gain in projects, the area of conflict may be much smaller than has hitherto been imagined. In many cases balanced management, which includes wildlife conservation as one of the "uses" of the waterway, may resolve residual problems. In this context, IWAAC is pleased to note that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) proposes to issue guidance on the notification and management of SSSIs. The Environment Agency's Navigation and environmental appraisal: a guidance note (June 2000) sets out its Navigation restoration policy and should be a useful aid to communication between project promoters and the Agency.

  15.  Climate change means that there may be changes in the availability of water within Britain. While advocating the need to conserve and manage water resources the Council has expressed concerns about the impact of the Government's proposal to bring navigation authorities within the licensing regime for the first time. The Council hopes that the views of the navigation authorities will be fully reflected in the draft Bill for consultation which is promised to Autumn 2000. In responding to the Environment Agency's Managing Water: Towards a Shared Strategy, consultation document for Catchment Abstraction Management (CAM) Strategies April 2000, the Council noted that navigation authorities are mainly regulators and transporters of water rather than consumers or polluters and should be not cast simply as abstractors.

Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications

  16.  Water transfer was one of the areas for exploring public/private partnership identified in the Government's policy package for BW Unlocking the Potential (February 1999). The option of water transfer is well worth exploring for income generation, as long as careful evaluation of environmental impacts is carried out, and it does not damage existing uses or amenity values of the waterways.

  17.  Waterways play a key land drainage role in some areas. BW's canals perform a valuable land drainage function for the community. Where this service is provided by BW, it is met via the annual grant settlement and this is an example of services to the community provided by BW for which direct charging is impracticable and which are supported by Exchequer grant.

  18.  The Council welcomes the fact that BW is able to take advantage of its ownership of a coherent network of canals to pursue a lucrative telecommunications joint venture, but notes that it is not practicable to extend this to all waterways, especially rivers with multiple riparian land owners.

Whether the potential for increasing commercial freight transport can be clearly identified; and the role of commercial freight in meeting the objectives of the Government's Integrated Transport White Paper

  19.  Freight transport is not within IWAAC's remit.

The extent to which the above objectives are complementary, and whether a principal use should be given priority

  20.  IWAAC sees Britain's inland waterway system as a national treasure, an asset of great historic value and a resource for a whole variety of uses. The system having survived for two hundred years, national policy must ensure that it is sustained not as a museum piece but as a working heritage giving pleasure and value to future generations.

  21.  Waterways today are multi-functional. Conflicts can occur between different uses and users, but careful planning and management can minimise this by optimising the balance between the various activities. It is the navigation authority's task to achieve a balance appropriate to local circumstances on each length of waterway.

  22.  The Council believes that the future of each waterway should be secured by the development of a long term, comprehensive and integrated management plan for it, in open consultation, and with special regard for its historical and ecological character, the wider corridor and measures to balance user demands. IWAAC now looks to AINA to promote this concept amongst its members.

Whether the Waterways for Tomorrow policy document contains adequate policies and mechanisms to ensure its goals are achieved, and, in particular, whether funding for the stabilisation and development of inland waterways, including revenue from licensing and regeneration and other monies, is adequate

  23.  Waterways for Tomorrow is the first document of its kind since the White Paper which preceded the 1968 Transport Act. The Council considers it a comprehensive and forward-looking expression of Government commitment to the inland waterways. The Council is gratified to see the comprehensive response by Government to its advice in its 1996 Consultative report/Final Recommendations 1997 and 1998 report on Waterway Restoration Priorities, and is pleased that so many of its recommendations have been supported and indeed implemented.

  24.  While it is disappointed that the Government has not accepted the argument for dedicated waterways Planning Policy Guidance, the Council welcomes the clear commitment to developing the potential of the inland waterways through the planning system. It also welcomes the decision to commission, jointly with the Council, a good practice planning document, on which work has already begun. IWAAC hopes that DETR will also make an early start on the long-delayed highway guidelines to protect lines of waterways not yet restored and stands ready to assist on this issue.

  25.  Adequate funding for maintenance is essential for increasing beneficial use and encouraging private investment in development of the system. The Council welcomed the increase in BW's annual grant over three years from 1999 to tackle the most urgent safety-related part of the historic waterway maintenance backlog. There is a continuing need for further investment in the system, especially to further reduce the maintenance backlog on BW and Environment Agency waterways. The case is reinforced by the contribution which waterways make to the life of the nation and the fulfilment of Government policies described in Waterways for Tomorrow. The Council hopes that the outcome of the 2000 Spending Review will reflect this fully.

  26.  The Council believes that money invested in worthwhile waterway restoration is money well spent, by virtue of the many benefits offered (revitalising our transport and industrial heritage, generating jobs and development, and increased the opportunities for leisure, recreation and tourism). Capital funding is available principally from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Regional Development Agencies (paragraph 6 above) and through the landfill tax credit scheme overseen by ENTRUST. However, Millennium Lottery funding which has been an important source for large-scale restoration is no longer available, and it is not yet clear how useful the New Opportunities Fund will be as a replacement. There is also a need for long term revenue funding for future maintenance of completed schemes which is not at present addressed by the funding agencies or all local authorities for the areas where restoration projects are located.

  27.  The Council sees The Waterways Trust as a potentially significant development for the restoration and conservation of the waterways heritage. It notes from the Trust's restoration policy document that it will take IWAAC's Waterway Restoration Priorities report into account in reaching decisions. The Trust's intervention has already assisted the progress of several important schemes (Anderton Lift, Forth & Clyde and Union Canals, Ribble Link, Rochdale Canal). The Trust is bidding to become an award partner in respect of the New Opportunities Fund's green spaces and sustainable communities scheme. The Council hopes that the necessary resources will become available from this and other sources to enable the new Trust to flourish.

The structure of ownership of waterways and the roles and responsibilities of those agencies involved in their protection and maintenance, and any conflicts of interests

  28.  BW's primary legislation is already more than thirty years old and does not reflect modern requirements. A radical recasting cannot be postponed forever and will have to be addressed well before another thirty years elapse.

  29.  The present fragmented pattern of navigation authority management is unsatisfactory. Management is split between a few large statutory authorities and a multiplicity of small public and private bodies. Nothwithstanding that AINA is fostering increased co-operation and collaboration amongst its members, the lack of unified management is a constraint on promotion and development of the system and results in an unjustifiably low profile. The need to deal with a multiplicity of authorities on regulatory matters such as licensing also causes confusion and frustration for users.

  30.  A review of BW legislation would provide the opportunity to consider the case for establishing a new national body which would assume responsibility for BW waterways and any others which, with advantage, could be transferred to it. (The Council does not see the Lake District and the Broads Authority's system as falling into this category because navigation there is the function of the management of a protected area by a statutory authority.) New legislation would provide a revised remit for IWAAC relating to all waterways, funded directly from Government.

  31.  The Council questions the appropriateness of the Environment Agency retaining management and promotion of recreational boating amongst its functions, as these activities may be in conflict with its main role as an environmental monitor and regulator. IWAAC therefore welcomes the inclusion of the Environment Agency's navigation responsibilities in the forthcoming DETR quinquennial review and looks forward to contributing to the outcome.

OTHER MATTERS

  32.  IWAAC will be pleased to assist the Committee further and hopes to have the opportunity to elaborate on this evidence at an oral hearing.

IWAAC

September 2000


 
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