Memorandum by the Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions (IW 57)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
1. The Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions (DETR) welcomes the Committee's decision to hold
an inquiry into the potential of the inland waterways following
the publication of the Government's policy paper Waterways
2. The inland waterways are a devolved matter.
DETR is generally responsible for those in England and Wales,
acting together with National Assembly for Wales in the case of
Welsh waterways. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
is responsible for heritage, tourism and sports aspects of these
waterways, and the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food
(MAFF) for flood defence (including land drainage) and fisheries.
3. DETR sponsors British Waterways (in England
and Wales), and the Environment Agency (with MAFF), providing
grant-in-aid towards their activities. DETR satisfies itself that
the organisations perform efficiently and meet their waterway
responsibilities in the most cost-effective way.
4. DETR appoints members of the Inland Waterways
Amenity Advisory Council (IWAAC), a statutory body set up to advise
the Government and British Waterways about the use and development
of the latter's waterways for recreation and amenity purposes.
IWAAC is now increasingly providing advice on waterways generally.
5. The inland waterways are extremely diverse,
comprising a wide variety of natural and artificial watercourses,
and other waters. Most of the system is non-tidal and consists
mainly of canals, and rivers which have been made navigable. But,
there are also some tidal waterways, largely comprising naturally
navigable rivers and their estuaries. At present, there are approximately
5,100 kms of fully navigable inland waterways in England and Wales,
about 450 kms of which are tidal. There are also about 3,000 kms
of unnavigable or abandoned waterways, many of which are being
6. About half (2,615 km) of the navigable
inland waterways system is managed by British Waterways, and a
further quarter by the Environment Agency (875 km) or the Broads
Authority (160 km). The remainder is the responsibility of about
30 other navigation authorities drawn from the public, private
and voluntary sectors. Some navigation authorities are also harbour
7. The inland waterways were once used mainly
for freight transport. This remains an important function for
some tidal waterways although the amount carried in national terms
is relatively small (about 4 per cent of that moved in the UK).
However, the role of most non-tidal waterways has changed radically
over the last 30 years. These waterways are now used chiefly for
leisure and amenity. They also serve a number of other important
purposes ranging from land drainage to regeneration. They are
an important part of the country's heritage and make a valuable
contribution to the environment.
8. The Government's aim is to promote the
inland waterways, encouraging a modern, integrated and sustainable
approach to their use. It wants to protect and conserve the waterways,
while at the same time maximising the opportunities they offer
for leisure and recreation; as a catalyst for urban and rural
regeneration; for freight transport, and for innovative uses.
9. The Government plans to pursue this aim
by encouraging all navigation authorities to unlock the full potential
of their waterways and to work together in the interests of consistent
management. It will also integrate the waterways more effectively
with other areas of Government policy. The Government's specific
objectives are to:
encourage people to make use of the
inland waterways for leisure and recreation, tourism and sport;
support the protection, conservation
and enhancement of the waterways' heritage and their built and
natural environment, and the use of the waterways as an educational
increase the economic and social
benefits offered by the waterways by encouraging their improvement,
development and restoration, wherever possible in partnership
with the public, private and voluntary sectors;
promote the waterways as a catalyst
for urban and rural regeneration;
support the provision of passenger
boat services on the inland waterways, wherever practicable and
encourage the transfer of freight
from roads to water-borne transport where this is practical, economic
and environmentally desirable;
support the development of the inland
waterways through the planning system; and
foster partnership among navigation
authorities to help harmonise management of the waterways.
10. The Committee has said that it wishes
to inquire particularly into the following issues.
Urban and rural regeneration
11. The inland waterways provide a catalyst
for regeneration and are increasingly forming an integral part
of urban regeneration initiatives creating jobs and generating
income from tourists and other visitors. New housing development
finds waterfront locations attractive and exploits the opportunities
they provide. The waterways also contribute to rural regeneration
by offering opportunities for sensitive development involving
small enterprises, tourism and recreation, particularly in market
towns and at focal points along waterway corridors.
12. Restoring disused waterways to full
navigation also contributes to regeneration. Major projects are
currently being carried out by partnerships of navigation authorities,
local authorities and voluntary bodies including the Waterways
Trust, helped by funding from Lottery bodies, Regional Development
Agencies (RDAs), and other funding agencies. IWAAC's report Waterway
Restoration Priorities provides a comprehensive account of
current activity to help funding agencies assess the merits of
individual restoration schemes.
13. The Deputy Prime Minister has asked
Chairmen of the RDAs to take account of waterways in their strategies
and actions plans, and to support worthwhile proposals for the
improvement, development and restoration of the waterways exploiting
the opportunities they offer for wider regeneration initiatives.
Leisure, recreation, tourism and the industrial
14. Most inland waterways are now predominantly
used for leisure and recreation. This includes boating of all
kinds, angling, sport and informal activities such as walking,
cycling and exploring the waterways' built and natural environment.
Navigation authorities and other waterway bodies are encouraging
more people to enjoy the waterways and to improve access for the
young and people with disabilities. The waterways are important
for tourism. They attract people to both urban and rural areas,
and the holiday boat business contributes to local economies.
15. The waterways form an important part
of the country's heritage. The system has many historic buildings
and structures and lengths have been given conservation area status
in recognition of their historic quality and local distinctiveness.
The Waterways Trust is helping to conserve and promote the waterways.
The Trust operates the waterway museums at Ellesmere Port, Gloucester
Docks and Stoke Bruerne.
16. Two years ago it was proposed that a
significant part of the inland waterways system should be given
World Heritage status in view of its contribution to the Industrial
Revolution. The Government did not accept this suggestion because
it considered the proposal would not meet UNESCO's criteria. However,
a number of specific waterway sites have been included in the
list of Tentative Sites. IWAAC is considering whether there is
a case for making a further bid.
The environment and the enhancement of wildlife
17. The inland waterways make a valuable
contribution to the quality of the landscape and provide a rich
and diverse environmental resource. They provide a sanctuary for
a wide variety of plants and animals, some of which have become
rare elsewhere. Waterway corridors form an important linear wildlife
habitat in urban areas and intensively-farmed countryside. Some
stretches of waterways have been designated as SSSIs or SPA/SACs
in recognition of their nature conservation interest.
18. Navigation authorities are seeking to
manage their waterways so as to conserve and, if possible, enhance
their environmental value. Their aim is to protect the natural
environment while at the same time maintaining navigation. British
Waterways has produced a framework for waterway wildlife strategies
aimed at integrating biodiversity management into its business
activities and helping local management teams prepare biodiversity
plans for each waterway. The Environment Agency's recently published
document Navigation Restoration and Environmental Appraisal:
a Guidance Note contains much useful advice for promoters
of restoration projects.
19. It is important to ensure that nature
conservation and navigation interests are reconciled, especially
when disused waterways are being restored. The Government considers
that the different parties should work together constructively
and welcomes the co-operation shown in the case of the Rochdale
Water transfer, drainage and telecommunication
20. It is a natural role of rivers to supply
water but some canals are also used for this purpose. British
Waterways' canal network offers the potential for a means of transferring
water to meet shortages. Studies and pilot schemes have shown
that water transfer is technically feasible although alterations
to the infrastructure would be necessary, as would careful evaluation
of the environmental impact. British Waterways is currently developing
proposals for a public/private partnership to exploit its waterways
for water transfer.
21. Land drainage is also a natural function
of rivers, but canals also play an important land drainage role.
They have now become an integral part of the land drainage system,
some taking storm water discharges from roads.
22. Telecommunications is one innovative
way in which the waterways are increasingly being used. Fibreway,
a joint venture between British Waterways and GEC (now Marconi)
has laid fibre optic cables in canal towpaths to provide a network
service for data, pictures and voice communications.
23. Most of the freight carried on the inland
waterways is now found on the tidal waterways falling within the
jurisdiction of harbour authorities such as the Thames and Humber,
and consists of foreign, coastal and "one-port" traffic.
Internal traffic (that which is not sea-going) accounts for less
than 1 per cent of freight moved
and is confined to only a few waterways, mainly river navigations
managed by British Waterways; and the Manchester Ship Canal (which
is classed as a harbour).
24. The Transport White Paper referred to
research which suggested there might be potential to divert about
3.5 per cent of the UK's road freight traffic to water, split
between ships re-routing to ports nearer the origin and destination
of their loads, and the potential for loads to shift to coastal
traffic. This figure took no account of the non-tidal inland waterways,
but they are able to contribute to the aim of getting traffic
off the roads.
25. The Government is keen to encourage
greater use of inland waterways for carrying freight, where practical
and economic. The greatest scope exists with the tidal waterways
administered by harbour authorities but the larger inland river
navigations and canals could take more freight traffic, particularly
bulk cargoes whose origins and destinations are directly accessible
by water: the historic canals are suitable only for niche markets.
British Waterways aims to increase the amount of freight carried
on its waterways.
26. The Government proposes to encourage
greater use of the waterways for freight by promoting their use
through the revised PPG13; setting up a freight study group; and
by enhancing the Freight Facilities Grants (FFG) scheme to encourage
more applications for inland waterways projects.
27. FFG is currently available for inland
waterways schemes where freight would otherwise have gone by road.
The Government has accepted an amendment to the Transport Bill
which, as well as extending the scheme to coastal and short sea
shipping, will enhance the inland waterways FFG scheme. This will
allow the payment of grant for non-capital as well as capital
costs, and will enable grant to be paid to shipping companies,
ports, consignors, consignees and navigation authorities.
28. At one time, the principal role of the
inland waterways was to transport freight. However, with the virtual
disappearance on most waterways of freight traffic, it has been
increasingly recognised that the waterways provide a wide range
of other uses and opportunities. The Government does not think
that it would be appropriate to single out a principal use of
the waterways since they are now, in effect, a multi-functional
29. The challenge faced by navigation authorities
is to sustain their navigation activities which are fundamental
to the waterways while, at the same time, maximising all the opportunities
offered by other waterway uses, some of whom may present different
and potentially conflicting requirements. The challenge will not
always be the same because the emphasis will vary from one waterway
to another. But it is vital that all navigation authorities manage
their waterways effectively to achieve a balance between uses
to ensure that the waterways have a sustainable future and deliver
all the benefits of which they are capable.
30. Waterways for Tomorrow represents
the first comprehensive Government statement on the future of
inland waterways for more than 30 years. Its demonstration of
the Government's commitment to the waterways has been widely welcomed.
The Government believes that the policies set out in the document
form a sound basis for the future. But, to succeed they will need
the wholehearted co-operation not only of waterway bodies but
everyone else connected with, or with an interest in the waterways,
particularly local authorities, RDAs and funding agencies.
31. The Government is taking forward a number
of specific initiatives to promote the inland waterways. It will
hold a national inland waterways conference; issue guidance on
new road proposals which affect restoration projects; and, in
due course, issue guidance to RDAs following up the DPM's request
to Chairmen. IWAAC has started to prepare, at the Government's
invitation, a good practice document which will highlight examples
of good planning in explaining how the waterways can contribute
to regeneration and other projects.
32. Waterways for Tomorrow aims to
achieve its objectives principally by promoting better integration
of policies and partnerships so as to make more effective use
of existing resources. Income for the inland waterways comes from
a variety of sources. These might include craft licences, tolls,
harbour dues, mooring charges, drainage rates, angling charges
or rents, and water sales. The development of waterside land and
property brings in additional proceeds. Grants from Europe, Government,
regeneration agencies and lottery bodies are sometimes available
for specific projects. Local authorities and other bodies also
contribute to individual projects.
33. British Waterways augments its income
by exploiting its non-operational estate, feeding the proceeds
back into waterway upkeep, improved facilities and development
projects. It is currently working up public private partnerships
designed to maximise the development potential of its land holdings.
British Waterways' telecommunications initiative will also provide
34. British Waterways and the Environment
Agency both receive Government grant towards the cost of meeting
their navigation obligations, currently about £59 million
and £3 million per annum respectively. Grant has been increased
by £9 million and £1 million per annum respectively
in the 2000 Spending Review. The Broads Authority receives grant
aid from central and local government for its conservation work
and recreational management but finances its navigation responsibilities
entirely from tolls totalling about £1 million a year.
35. The inland waterways system has its
origins in local initiatives and has never formed an integrated
national network. The present pattern of ownership (ie responsibility
for navigation) is largely the result of historical accident.
36. About half of the waterways system comprising
a mixture of independent and railway company-owned waterways was
nationalised in 1948 but the remainder was left in the hands of
a wide variety of navigation authorities. Since then there have
been many changes. Some have resulted from action taken by navigation
authorities: for example, British Waterways has taken over a number
of waterways. In other cases changes have occurred as a consequence
of Government-sponsored reorganisation. In the latter case the
waterways currently managed by the Environment Agency have passed
successively from the control of river boards or conservancies,
to water authorities, to the National Rivers Authority, to the
37. Navigation authorities have historically
managed their waterways in different ways, depending on the nature
of the parent body and its wider interests or responsibilities.
Navigation is not always the prime function of some bodies. This
is illustrated by the three largest navigation authorities:
British Waterways is concerned solely
with its waterways. It runs its affairs on a commercial basis
consistent with its statutory responsibilities for navigation.
It is expected to promote the use of its waterways for leisure
and recreation, tourism, regeneration and transport while also
conserving their built and natural heritage.
The Environment Agency is primarily
an environmental regulatory body which manages its waterways as
an integral part of its other water management functions. It has
a duty generally to promote the recreational use of waterways
and an obligation to operate those for which it is responsible
in an efficient and business-like manner.
The Broads Authority manages its
waterspace together with surrounding land on national park lines,
combining its responsibility for navigation with conservation
and recreation. It has a duty to protect navigation interests
but this must be balanced with the need to conserve and enhance
the Broads' natural beauty and to promote their enjoyment by the
38. Navigation authorities are increasingly
working together to harmonise and rationalise their working practices.
The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) was formed
in 1996 to bring together navigation authorities to share common
experiences, to adopt best practice, and to provide a single voice
on waterway management issues. The Government supports AINA's
efforts to achieve greater consistency in administration.
39. British Waterways and the Environment
Agency have drawn up a Collaboration Agreement covering a wide
range of functions and responsibilities. The Government will review
the Agency's navigation responsibilities as part of the quinquennial
review of the Agency to be carried out later this year.
40. We would be pleased to assist the Committee's
inquiry further and to comment on any particular issues that it
may wish to pursue.
5 October 2000
39 Waterborne Freight in the United Kingdom 1998:
DETR 1999. Back
Waterborne Freight in the United Kingdom 1998: DETR 1999. Back