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


Memorandum by The Waterways Trust (IW 55)

THE POTENTIAL OF THE INLAND WATERWAYS

1.  THE WATERWAYS TRUST

  1.1  The Waterways Trust is an independent registered charity (No. 1074541). It was formed in 1999 to promote the waterways. Waterways for Tomorrow welcomed the setting up of the Trust and noted that it would be able to form partnerships which would "lead to increased support for and investment in the waterways so helping to secure their future".

  1.2  The Trust's charitable purposes place a strong emphasis on realising social economic and environmental benefits from conservation of the built and natural waterway environment, waterway regeneration and educational activity including the provision of museums.

  1.3  The Waterways Trust has a remit to cover all waterways in the United Kingdom, although we are aware that the Committee's inquiry is concerned only with England and Wales.

  1.4  The Trust is a partnership organisation. We are very much aware of the longstanding pioneering work which organisations such as the Inland Waterways Association and the Association of Waterway Cruising Clubs, as well as many others, have undertaken over many years to save the waterways for this present generation. We now look to work with them, and new waterway partners, as we seek to widen the public involvement in waterways.

  1.5  As part of our work to promote waterways and provide the widest possible access to the waterways for community benefit in the sustainable long term, The Waterways Trust has the ability to acquire a long term interest in a waterway or associated structure. Thus we own the Rochdale Canal and are long term lessees of the Anderton Boat Lift (see paragraphs 1.5 and 3.14 below).

  1.6  The Waterways Trust supports projects that restore waterway heritage and habitats, provide access and bring real benefits to communities. Our current partnerships include:

Rochdale Canal—Manchester to Halifax

  A corridor of regeneration, conservation and environmental improvement, vital for the revitalisation of many urban and rural communities.

  Partners include Rochdale, Oldham and Calderdale Borough Councils, Manchester City Council, Millennium Commission, English Partnerships, British Waterways, Rochdale Canal Trust.

Anderton Boat Lift—Northwich

  Conserving a historic waterway structure connecting the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal, key to vitalising the River Weaver and a focus for regeneration of leisure and tourism for Northwich.

  Partners include Cheshire County Council, Vale Royal Borough Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, British Waterways Inland Waterways Association, Anderton Boat Lift Trust, Friends of Anderton Boat Lift.

Forth & Clyde and Union Canals—Scotland

  Linking the east and west coasts, regenerating and conserving the environment for communities.

  Partners include the riparian local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, The Local Enterprise Companies, Millennium Commission, European Commission, British Waterways, local canal societies.

Ribble Link—Lancashire

  A new navigation joining the isolated Lancaster Canal to the waterway network via the Ribble Estuary and opening up regeneration along the Lancaster Canal to Kendal.

  Partners include Lancashire County Council, The Ribble Link Trust, Millennium Commission, Local Businesses.

  1.7  The Waterways Trust manages waterway museums at Gloucester, Ellesmere Port and Stoke Bruerne (Northamptonshire). The importance of the collections we care for has been recognised by the granting of the status of "national designation". The displays at the museum in Gloucester have been significantly upgraded with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Fund has also contributed to our project to increase access to waterway archives by creating a "virtual archive".

  1.8  We also give small grants to facilitate local waterway projects. Examples include a grant to the Wildlife Trusts to support their water policy team, a grant to Waterway Recovery Group, a waterway volunteering organisation, for safety training, and a grant for waterway improvements for the benefit of the local community at Stewponey on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

2.  SUMMARY OF ANSWERS TO THE COMMITTEE'S ISSUES

  2.1  General: The following summarises the Trust's responses to the issues raised by the committee. We believe however that the single most important issue is issue 4 dealing with funding for the maintenance backlog. We urge the committee to give due priority to this issue.

  2.2  We also urge a "joined up" approach to implementation of Government policy across all five issues. This is particularly important at regional level, and essential if the considerable opportunities and challenges presented by the government's new policy for the inland waterways, are to be delivered.

  2.3  Committee Issue 1: We believe that there is significant potential in all the areas listed by the Committee and we wish to play our part in relevant partnerships to ensure that the potential is realised.

  2.4  Committee Issue 2: We are supportive of the carriage of freight on inland waterways, wherever this is sustainable, because we believe it brings environmental benefits to communities and that it is compatible (when expertly managed) with all the other uses of the waterways set out above.

  2.5  Committee Issue 3: We believe that the objectives listed by the Committee are complementary. We believe that the key to success lies in a management philosophy that sets out to balance complementary interests. Such an approach allows local balances and resolutions that meet local priorities in the context of a national policy of appropriate multiple use.

  2.6  Committee Issue 4: We believe that Waterways for Tomorrow contains good policies which have correctly assessed the potential of the inland waterways. We call on the Government to provide planned funding to eliminate the arrears of maintenance of both British Waterways and the Environment Agency within an acceptable timescale.

  2.7  Committee Issue 5: Fragmentation of management of the waterway network is a disincentive to public participation, fundraising, and regeneration. Consolidation and clarification of roles is required based on separation of operational and regulatory roles. We believe that the kind of management framework that specialised operators and managers like British Waterways can provide is best suited to realising the potential of the waterways. We also support strong and focused regulation of such navigation authorities. The Environment Agency is well placed to provide this, although they currently combine both roles on some navigations.

3.  ISSUES OF INQUIRY BY THE COMMITTEE

  The role of Inland Waterways in respect of:

    —  urban and rural regeneration;

    —  leisure, recreation, tourism and the industrial heritage;

    —  the environment and enhancement of wildlife; and

    —  water transfer, drainage and telecommunications.

  3.1  Navigable waterways were first used for commercial purposes. After a period of decline, they were rescued by the enthusiasm of volunteers and became increasingly appreciated for the leisure, tourism and recreation opportunities they could provide. This status was confirmed by the 1968 Transport Act.

  3.2  Now, at the start of a new millennium, they are increasingly appreciated for the whole range of benefits listed in the Committee's question above.

  3.3  The Waterways Trust welcomes the increasing recognition by a very diverse variety of organisations and people that the waterways have a wide ranging and valuable contribution to make to society.

  3.4  Waterways are a uniquely flexible resource as the transformation from a transport function to a multiple use network supporting recreation and leisure, as well as modern needs for transport of information and water clearly demonstrates.

  3.5  We believe that the Government's policy paper Waterways for Tomorrow was inspired by recognition of the potential contribution the waterways could make to the enhancement of the lives of millions.

  3.6  The Waterways Trust believes that waterways act as a focus for regeneration, bringing major benefits to the communities they connect, providing a rich environment for leisure and recreation, an unrivalled recreational and educational resource and a haven for wildlife.

  3.7  The Waterways Trust is working to ensure that the waterways are accessible to all, and supported, valued and enjoyed by all sections of the community.

  3.8  We therefore believe that there is significant potential in all the areas listed by the Committee and we wish to play our part in partnership with others to ensure that the potential is realised.

  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

  3.9  Although the promotion of freight transport by water is not a primary purpose of The Waterway Trust, we support the positive stance taken by the government in Waterways for Tomorrow.

  3.10  We understand that the Government has acted to facilitate improved methods of payment of Freight Facilities Grant. A government sponsored Freight Study Group is also being set up. We welcome this.

  3.11  We understand that British Waterways believes that freight traffic on its waterways can be doubled in the next five years. We believe the expansion of freight requires a focused and integrated effort across all river navigations and broad waterways.

  3.12  We are supportive of the carriage of freight on inland waterways, wherever this is sustainable, because we believe it brings environmental benefits to communities and that it is compatible (when expertly managed) with all the other uses of the waterways set out above.

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

  3.13  We have already stated our support for wide ranging uses of the waterways above.

  3.14  It follows that we believe that the objectives listed are complementary. We believe that the key to success lies in a management philosophy that sets out to balance complementary interests. Such an approach allows local balances and resolutions that meet local priorities in the context of a national policy of appropriate multiple use.

  3.15  We believe that this balanced approach is strengthened and made secure by effective regulation.

  3.16  We are carrying out this balanced approach in practice in the restoration of the Rochdale Canal in partnership with English Nature. The Rochdale Canal is an SSSI and potential Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive as it supports substantial populations of the water plant, the floating leafed water plantain. We have contracted British Waterways to manage the restoration and subsequent maintenance of the canal. All the partners involved subscribe to the philosophy of the balanced approach leading to sustainable development. The result is a plan for restoration which commands broad support from experts and public alike.

  3.17  We are keen to work with other navigation owners and managers to share experience and develop this approach. We are members of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities and will work with their members including the Environment Agency and Broads Authority to take this approach forward.

  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

  3.18  We believe that Waterways for Tomorrow contains good policies which have correctly assessed the potential of the inland waterways.

  3.19  Historically, the waterways have been underfunded. A backlog of maintenance arrears has built up on waterways managed by British Waterways and the Environment Agency. Waterways for Tomorrow recognises this. There has also been a historic lack of capital investment available to the waterways. Waterways for Tomorrow also recognises that organisations such as British Waterways have been starved of capital investment funds.

  3.20  A backlog of maintenance arrears causes concern about the long term viability of the waterway network which jeopardises potential partnerships. We therefore believe that it is essential to secure the basic maintenance of the waterways if the potential identified by Waterways for Tomorrow is to be realised sustainably.

  3.21  We note with satisfaction the government's support in Waterways for Tomorrow for British Waterways' aim to eliminate its backlog as quickly as possible. We also welcome the additional financial resources that the government has been able to make available to British Waterways to begin the reduction of the maintenance backlog.

  3.22  We note however, with great concern, that British Waterways has stated in its Plan for the Future 2000-04 that the funding available will not allow it to meet its statutory obligations within an acceptable timescale. It is a matter of further concern that, at the time this submission was made, there was still no announcement of forward government spending plans to tackle elimination of arrears for British Waterways or the Environment Agency.

  3.23  The Waterways Trust is proactive in seeking funds to assist with waterway causes which fit well into the policy framework of Waterways for Tomorrow. However, we ask the Committee to note that:

    —  the funding sources in the voluntary sector are inadequate in scale to tackle the elimination of arrears;

    —  in any case voluntary sector funding cannot legally substitute for government funding; and

    —  our market research shows that the public will not donate to the core maintenance function which they believe should properly be funded by Government.

  3.24  We call on the government to provide planned funding to eliminate the arrears of maintenance of both British Waterways and the Environment Agency within an acceptable timescale.

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

  3.25  It is widely acknowledged that the ownership of waterways in the United Kingdom is largely a result of historical accident. The question which the Committee should therefore address, in the opinion of The Waterways Trust, is the one of the best structure for achieving the aims of Waterways for Tomorrow.

  3.26  We are concerned that the fragmentation of management of the waterway network is a disincentive to public participation in the waterways, fundraising for the waterways, and the progress of regenerative projects. Projects sponsors and funders including the general public are confused by these arrangements. Consolidation and clarification of the roles of the various players involved in the waterway management, operation and regulation would facilitate project planning, partnership building, as well as fundraising from commercial and voluntary sources

  3.27  We believe that this consolidation should be based on a separation of operational and regulatory roles, so that the necessary specialisms associated with each are better developed and their implications clearly understood.

  3.28  Given The Waterways Trust's support for realising the full range of potential benefits set out in the Committee's first question, we support management structures which allow this to happen. We believe that the kind of management framework that specialised operators and managers like British Waterways can provide is best suited to realising the potential of the waterways to the full and in a sustainable manner.

  3.29  We also support strong and focused regulation of such navigation authorities. The Environment Agency is well placed to provide this, although they currently combine both roles on some navigations.

  3.30  The Environment Agency's navigation functions are the subject of review as part of the government's quinquennial review of the Agency. We will submit evidence to this review.

  3.31  We welcome the government's recognition of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities and the extension of the role of the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council. We believe that both bodies have an important role to play in the stimulation of ideas and the dissemination of best practice.

  3.32  Finally, there is a wide variety of legislation governing waterways, dating from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. Whilst, with ingenuity, it is often possible to work under this legislation in circumstances unforeseen by its drafters, The Waterways Trust believes that it would be helpful in the long term for government to review and rationalise the legislation, removing in the process outdated impediments, to the achievement of the potential of the waterways to improve the lives of millions of people in this country.

September 2000


 
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