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


Memorandum by The National Trust (IW 58)

THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS

  The National Trust welcomes this inquiry into the future of inland waterways in England and Wales.

1.  BACKGROUND

  The National Trust's specific interests in inland waterways are focused in the following areas:

    —  as owner and navigation authority of the River Wey and Godalming Navigations—20 mile navigation dating from 1651 from the Thames to Guildford and later, in 1760, onto Godalming;

    —  the proximity of many National Trust properties to canals and navigable rivers and the opportunities for improving and developing access links between navigations and nearby properties; and

    —  the Trust restored the Stratford Canal in the 1960s. This is now in the hands of British Waterways.

2.  THE ROLE OF INLAND WATERWAYS IN RESPECT OF URBAN AND RURAL REGENERATION; LEISURE, RECREATION, TOURISM AND THE INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE; THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE ENHANCEMENT OF WILDLIFE; WATER TRANSFER, DRAINAGE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS

  The Trust recognises:

    —  the historic importance of the canal network and the need to retain its historic character and the historic character of all associated features for future generations;

    —  the contribution canals and rivers make to a high quality environment;

    —  the value of canals and rivers for water borne and land based recreational and leisure use; and

    —  the opportunities to be derived from making canals a key focus as part of urban and rural regeneration programmes.

  These opportunities represent significant challenges for British Waterways and the Environment Agency. Planning for increased expectations and a greater level and variety of use in the future will be critical and local Environment Action Plans should be the principle local planning framework for ensuring the sustainable management and use of water resources. There are at times conflicts between the needs of Navigation Authorities to keep navigations open while ensuring that the local water environment does not suffer. The abstraction of water to keep navigations open can have a serious effect on the sustainability of the whole water environment and guidance on the management of sustainable navigations would therefore be beneficial.

3.  THE POTENTIAL FOR INCREASING COMMERCIAL FREIGHT TRANSPORT AND MEETING THE OBJECTIVES OF THE GOVERNMENT'S INTEGRATED TRANSPORT WHITE PAPER

  While the Trust believes that every opportunity to develop opportunities for more freight to be carried by rail should be pursued, it believes that the use of the canal and river network may prove to be more problematic. Canals with existing freight use may be able to sustain an expansion of this use, subject to appropriate environmental appraisal. However, the decision to reintroduce freight traffic onto canals would have to be considered in the light of existing leisure use, the carrying capacity of the canal and the wider environmental impact as part of the transport infrastructure. The type of freight traffic that would be compatible with existing use would be traffic that serves local needs and where the transfer of goods from one mode of transport to another has minimal environmental impact, Although canals were built to improve the transport of goods around the country their current value of bringing historic, wildlife and recreational benefits would now have to form part of the bigger picture where commercial freight traffic is being considered.

4.  THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE ABOVE OBJECTIVES ARE COMPLEMENTARY AND WHETHER A PRINCIPAL USE SHOULD BE GIVEN PRIORITY

  Increasing expectations are now being invested in inland waterways, as the multiple uses outlined above demonstrate. The Trust believes that this variety of uses can be complementary and does not necessarily lead to conflict. However, careful planning is required on behalf of the appropriate agencies.

  The management of the water resource is critical. The transfer of water coupled with the need to meet drainage needs must not compromise the environmental quality of water bodies. The Trust is opposed to water transfer across water catchments as this has the potential to seriously compromise biodiversity interests. We do not see a difficulty with transfers within catchments, however.

  Regulations governing leisure and commercial freight use must ensure that the environmental quality of the water resource is sustained and the impact of facilities to support these uses does not compromise the character of the urban and rural landscapes through which the navigation passes. Any planned expansion of use in a navigation should be considered within the context of a wider transport and environmental appraisal.

  The precautionary principle should be invoked if there is a serious conflict between the environment and commerce; with the environment taking precedence.

5.  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

  The National Trust is broadly supportive of the Waterways for Tomorrow policy document. We have concerns about calls for extending navigation rights into new areas. In particular we would wish to ensure that the restoration of abandoned waterways would be undertaken in such a way as not to wholly destroy habitats and species which have colonised the waterway since its closure. The guidance from the Environment Agency "Navigation Restoration and Environmental Appraisal: a guidance note" provides helpful guidance for restoration projects.

  There is an increasing recognition of the historic importance of the canal system. The Trust would be keen to see that the need to protect the historic environment and integrity of canals was taken into full account when restoring and maintaining canals. Modern uses are not always compatible with an historic infrastructure and there should be some tempering of modern use so that the historic fabric of canals is not placed under undue stress or subjected works which erode the historic character and integrity of the system. We are not convinced that these issues have been given adequate attention in the policy document.

  There is a need to ensure that the capacity of navigations is assessed so that demands for new uses or expansion of existing uses can be properly measured. The policy document is in danger of loading too much expectation on navigations without adequate checks and balances being in place.

  The planning system, as much as transport strategies and Local Transport Plans, has a key role to play in securing the future of inland waterways. Guidance through PPGs is a helpful way to ensure that the full environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts of inland waterways, both positive and negative, are fully considered. The section on inland waterways in PPG 13 (Transport) gives scant recognition of the commercial uses of waterways and the fuller role waterways can play in providing access links between rural and urban areas.

  British Waterways' recent Rural Regeneration Strategy gives an indication as to how canals can contribute to the economic, social, cultural and environmental well being of rural areas. Canals have been used as a key catalyst and focal point for a number of urban regeneration schemes.

  The National Trust has relevant experience in the management of the River Wey and Godalming Navigations where an environmental strategy has been produced which has not only informed the Trust's future management objectives, but also influenced the local authorities landscape policies for the catchment. The Trust has strengthened its liaison and partnership with interest groups, such as anglers and boat users, with a series of regular meetings.

  The National Trust has good links with the Environment Agency and is developing links with British Waterways. For example, we are developing a partnership with British Waterways which looks at the links between National Trust properties and the canal system. This will provide opportunities to promote access to National Trust properties from canals for boat users, walkers and cyclists. This is seen by British Waterways as part of their rural regeneration strategy. There is still more potential for promoting navigations and access along towpaths.

6.  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

  The existing roles and responsibilities appear to be satisfactory. There does seem to be an improved working relationship between the Environment Agency and British Waterways. The joint management/ regulatory functions are useful if undertaken openly and in the best interests of the integrated management of the navigations. The Trust is a member of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to that forum.

  Thank you for the invitation to provide evidence to the inquiry. The Trust looks forward to the Committee's deliberations and report.

September 2000


 
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