Memorandum by the Chairman of the Environment
Agency, Thames Region, Fisheries, Ecology and Recreation Advisory
Committee (IW 62)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
1.1 This memorandum is in response to the
issues raised by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs
Committee in its Press Notice (20 July 2000) regarding the Inquiry
following the DETR Document The Potential of Inland Waterways
1.2 I write as Chairman (appointed by MAFF)
of the Statutory RFERAC of the Environment Agency, Thames Region.
The Committee is composed of members (and chairman) who in that
role are independent of the Agency and of any affiliations they
1.3 Due to the timing of the ETRAC notice
and the required date of submission, it has been impossible to
have full consultation within the RFERAC to formally agree a text.
However, I am submitting views and comments which I believe to
be broadly supported by the members.
1.4 We would be pleased to give oral evidence
to the Select Committee.
2. GENERAL REMARKS
2.1 The Government's real interest, as evidenced
by the DETR document, in the future of inland waterways is greatly
welcomed. However, it is felt that the DETR document poorly recognises
the role of the Environment Agency (and other river navigation
authorities) as regards rivers. There is undue emphasis on canals
and British Waterwaysso some issues do not get sufficient
2.2 There are major differences between
rivers and canals in terms of their physical structure, ecology,
ownership, uses and potentialhence management needs may
"Waterways", which clearly
must include both rivers and canals, have many uses, benefits
and environmental featuresdischarges, abstraction, fisheries,
habitats, recreation and flood defence etcmuch wider than
navigation per se. These diverse aspects are generally
of more relevance in the river systems and need to be co-ordinated
there in a holistic fashion. This "integrated river basin
management" is a vital feature of river control, investment,
operation, use and ecology.
Riparian rights and ownership of
rivers are in many hands. This creates issues for the ability
to affect use and development which are not prominent on the canal
network where considerable ownership lies with the canal authority.
2.3 Funding is of enormous importance for
successful and sustainable management of waterways. The Agency's
resources for its fisheries, ecology and recreational responsibilities
are inadequate and uncertainand have been declining. In
some areas and for some topics there are shortfalls in service,
serious deterioration of assets and a loss of scarce skills.
2.4 The benefits from waterways are widespread
amongst a broad range of people, communities and aspects of the
total environment. There is a need to accept and promote the proper
role for central and other sources for funding; yet grants are
being reduced with the outcomes that particular users (anglers
and boaters) are carrying an unfair burden of the costs, and total
budgets are insufficient.
2.5 The Environment Agency is hindered in
the performance of its roles by the imposition of inflexible budget
heads (ring fencing) which do not easily permit sensible "cross
spending" between functions and the establishment of overall
priorities. Even minor shifts in expenditure or emphasis could
have significant benefits.
2.6 The Agency and the other bodies concerned
should welcome the many positive messages in the DETR report.
Progress should be made to achieve the aims of the recently signed
collaborative agreement between the Agency and British Waterways.
A task of the Regional Committees should be to examine progress
on that agreement.
2.7 AINA and IWAAC have important unifying
roles; especially for navigation. Their presence, and hoped-for
success, should ensure that the main agencies and private bodies
can sensibly work together while carrying out their wider roles.
3. THE SELECT
(The headings in this section broadly follow
the content of the Press Notice of 20 July 2000.)
3.1 Urban and rural regeneration
3.1.1 Environmental enhancements and suitable
facilities can be a powerful force in revitalisation. Conversely,
care must be taken that regeneration is carried out with sensible
recognition of protecting and enhancing the environment and of
the needs of leisure and recreation.
3.1.2 The Agency has a unique role for the
rivers, but does not always have the leverage to properly influence
sensitive development along the riverit needs to adopt
a more strategic and important role within the planning system.
It is felt that British Waterways has done more in this respect
aided, in particular, by its ownership of canalside land and a
much greater level of funding.
3.1.3 Property development and riverside
properties often have greater value because of a clean, active
or quiet river environment. The potential of specific financial
contribution to the river and canal agencies needs further exploration.
3.2 Leisure, recreation etc
3.2.1 The impact of the river for social,
recreational, economic and environmental reasons is much greater
than the particular benefits to those who make specific financial
contributionsmainly anglers and boaters. This means that
the grant in aid to the Agency (and, in particular, the Thames
Region), which has been reducing rapidly, should be a significantly
greater proportion of the total budgets and needs to be substantially
increased. It is believed that the price of boating and fishing
licences are already at a level where an increase would lead to
declining total revenues.
3.2.2 Thames Region of the Agency is making
good progress with its "Thames Ahead" initiative which
is examining major options for improving finances, developing
commercial opportunities and partnerships for improving the infra-structure
and services whilst, of course, respecting the environment. This
activity is requiring a change of emphasis and the introduction
of new skills.
3.2.3 The Thames recreation and navigation
functions have an urgent need for capital of around £10-15
million to remedy serious asset defects and for an additional
annual expenditure of some £1 million to maintain the current
agreed levels of service. These amountssay the equivalent
of a shortfall of £2 million per annumare in the context
of an annual spend (capital and revenue) of around £4.5 millionthe
deficit is huge.
3.2.4 Canal restoration and provision of
river/canal linkages and improved access agreements could play
an important part in increasing the utility of the total waterways
3.3 The environment and enhancement of wildlife
3.3.1 The Agency has a huge range of expertise.
It is contributing well to the protection and improvement of the
water environment and is delivering major parts of the national
bio-diversity plan. Given the other pressures and needs of the
river, this is a vital part of the integrated approach and of
having a sustainable environment.
3.3.2 Apart from its own direct responsibilities
the Agency is a valuable source of advice and information for
other bodies involved in environmental matters-ecology, habitats,
3.4 Water transfer, drainage etc
3.4.1 The Agency, together with utilities,
is successfully involved in the movement and management of water
via rivers for resource and supply purposes. The Thames is a major
example. The present cost recovery basis of abstraction charges
should be examined with a view to including a wider range of financial
and other costs (possibly reflecting environmental pressure) into
more "incentive" based charges. Additional income could
be, in whole or part, hypothecated to river-associated budgets
(and similarly for abstraction).
3.4.2 Land drainage/flood defence schemes
often involve care over environmental impactsuch as the
implication of piling on flows. Further, they often give opportunities
for environmental enhancements such as creation of specialised
habitats and mudbanks. On the Thames there are operating synergies
between lock keeping (mainly summer), weir operation (mainly winter)
and minor works effort on the river and bank. And flood defence
policy is concerned with development planning, especially as regards
building on flood plains. Flows in rivers may be effected by abstraction;
so abstraction licensing has to take account of the flow regime
and the ecology.
3.4.3 Attention is drawn to other matters
which should be addressed:
water transfer and abstraction require
canal transfer schemes can be expensive.
Even where waterways are in existence they are likely to require
new infrastructure for backpumping etc;
water quality in canals is generally
not as good as for rivers, so treatment costs can rise;
transfers between catchments can
involve the introduction of different nature (chemical or biological)
of water which may harm the native flora and fauna. Disease transfer
can become more frequent;
water quality/natural characteristics
need very careful consideration;
leakage rates from canals can be
high rates of flow in canals are
generally not possible.
3.5 Increasing commercial freight transport
3.5.1 There is a need for continued study.
In the Thames Region and elsewhere potential uses and issues include:
river transfer of waste;
bulk haulage of aggregates;
passenger traffic near urban areas
(eg Park and Boat?). Subsidies might be needed;
local transport plans should include
consideration of river use potential;
wharves are being lost; and
improvements in infrastructure would
3.6.1 Structure of ownership of waterways
3.6.2 The Agency, which for example manages
the major part of the River Thames, owns very little of the river
or the riparian land. This affects its ability to act or influence
river use or bankside development. The Thames Ahead initiative
is actively examining the use of Public/Private Partnerships and
the Agency's role as a co-ordinating agent.
3.7.1 The Agency Board's recent confirmation
of its commitment to its navigation responsibilities and the appointment
of a Board Member with special responsibility for navigation matters
are much welcomed. The Agency Board should build on this by more
overtly supporting Navigation and Recreation in terms of direction,
manpower, materials and finances.
3.7.2 The collaborative agreements between
the Agency and British Waterways, the Agency's membership of AINA
and its involvement with IWAAC should help to ensure partnerships
between bodies and the adoption of sensible overall complementary
policies for navigation and recreation.
3.8.1 The Regional Fisheries, Ecology and
Recreation Advisory Committee members consulted considered that
the Committee should not have a vested interest in maintaining
the status quo of waterways organisation and responsibilities.
The Committee's concern is in improving the use and environment
of the river. The organisational structure should be driven by
the issues, funding and desirable forms of control, including
integrated river basin management. This is not a criticism of
the Agencyit is clear that the Agency, even given all the
financial and organisational constraints, generally provides a
good service. This stems, in large part, from its structure and
range of associated functional responsibilities which permit the
3.9 Other matters which might be considered
3.9.1 These include:
respective roles of the Agency alongside
other Government and voluntary organisations;
role of Maritime and Coastal Guard
Agency, Police etc;
access onto waterincluding
the provision of slipways and moorings;
community benefit from river and
the overall social, economic and environmental benefitsa
balance is vital.
3.10.1 We would wish to highlight:
the low level and limited sources
of funding for the Agency's recreation, ecology and fisheries
responsibilitiesthe shortfalls are huge and the costs may
rivers and canals differ in many
waystherefore they may need different organisational and
the Agency's Vision and Frameworks
for Change give an opportunity to clarify and give more emphasis
to its work in these vital areas;
integrated River Basin Management,
as developed and practised in the UK by the Agency and its predecessors,
has proved successful. It is a model copied and envied worldwide.
The River Thames, and its tributaries, have
a proud heritage. Much has been done by successive organisations
and individuals to ensure its present quality, ecology and utility.
It is a very valuable asset for direct and indirect reasons for
a wide range of people, communities and businesseswater
supply, leisure, tourism, trade, ambience etc.
We hope the Select Committee will seek to consolidate
the position and encourage improvements to the River and all other
waterways, and their uses, for the benefit of future generations.
28 September 2000