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


Memorandum by The British Marine Industries Federation (IW 72)

THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS

THE BMIF AND THE INDUSTRY THAT WE REPRESENT

  The British Marine Industries Federation (BMIF) is the national trade association for the boating and watersports industry. Our 1,500 members provide the boats, equipment, facilities and services that enable a great many people to enjoy boating and watersports on the coastal and inland waterways of our country. The UK boating industry is a significant contributor to the UK economy and provides employment to 24,000 people.

  A high proportion of BMIF member companies have interests in inland waterways market deriving their business from the country's canals, rivers and the Norfolk & Suffolk Broads. BMIF members build narrowboats, operate hire fleets and provide moorings and other services. These businesses are central to the recreational use of inland waterways and attracting tourism from international visitors. BMIF's 1,500 members are predominantly small and medium sized enterprises. The inland marine sector is almost wholly comprised of small, lifestyle, family owned businesses.

  The BMIF is a national federation of constituent marine industry associations. We have a national structure of group associations which provide a focus for sectoral issues (for example, the British Marine Electronics Association representing electronics manufacturers, dealers and service engineers) and a network of regional associations that provide local marine business forums around the country. The following BMIF associations have specific interests in inland waterways issues:

    —  The Anglian Marine Industries Association—have members operating a variety of marine businesses on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

    —  Association of Pleasure Craft Operators—representing inland waterways businesses predominantly operating hire fleets, passenger boats and hotel boats on the canal network.

    —  British Hire Cruiser Federation—national forum for BMIF associations representing inland hire boat holiday companies.

    —  Canal Boatbuilders Association—represents narrowboat builders and related businesses.

    —  BMIF East—represents companies operating businesses on the Fenland waterways operated by the Environment Agency.

    —  Kent & Sussex Marine Industries Association—representing members operating marine businesses on the River Medway.

    —  Thames Boating Trades Association—regional association representing all types of marine businesses operating on the River Thames.

    —  Thames Hire Cruiser Association—group association representing hire boat companies operating on the Thames.

    —  The Yacht Harbour Association—represents companies operating marinas and mooring on the inland waterways.

  The BMIF can offer a wealth of knowledge, expertise and experience to the Select Committee on all issues related to inland waterways.

OVERVIEW

  The BMIF welcomes the publication by Government of Waterways for Tomorrow as a daughter document to the Integrated Transport White Paper. It is a forward looking document that sets out a positive framework for the future management of this national asset that should encourage greater use and interest. However, the document highlights again the urgent need to properly address the systematic neglect by previous Governments of their waterways maintenance responsibilities as set out by Parliament in 1960s, 70s and 80s legislation. The principle recommendation arising out of the last Select Committee Inquiry into inland waterways 10 years ago was that the backlog of maintenance should be tackled immediately. It is encouraging that the current Government has responded to the continued lobbying on this issue by navigation body management and waterways users by allocating additional funding in British Waterways and Environment Agency budgets to specifically address the maintenance backlog. The vision set out in Waterways for Tomorrow sets out a clear and positive way forward for the waterways into the 21st Century. To turn this vision into reality will require funding and clearance of the maintenance backlog on our rivers and canals needs to remain a priority.

  The BMIF is pleased to endorse the general principles of the Waterways for Tomorrow document. It is the clear intention of this document to be comprehensive, supportive and constructive in its treatment of inland waterways. The BMIF has always endeavoured to work constructively with Government and senior management within navigation bodies who are responsible for the management of our inland waterways. Over recent years, we have placed significant effort into building new cultural relationships with both British Waterways and the Environment Agency and have achieved success in making progress on long standing issues of contention related to the waterways management. The BMIF will continue to take a partnership approach and would wish to play a part in helping to deliver the vision set out in Waterways for Tomorrow.

THE ROLE OF INLAND WATERWAYS

  The BMIF considers leisure, recreation and tourism as being the principal use that attracts the widest utilisation of the country's inland waterways. As will be seen from the general tenor of this evidence it is boating that is the core activity and interest that attracts people to our waterways. It is our view that navigation is the principal use that should be given priority.

  The BMIF offers the following comments in the areas on which the Select Committee has specifically sought views:

Leisure, recreation, tourism and heritage

  The prime interests of our members lie in the leisure, recreation and tourism usage of inland waterways. Britains system of inland waterways is used by and is important to millions of British people, often with widely different interests. Boating is key to the leisure, recreation and tourism function of our inland waterways and boats are an integral part of the scenery of our canals, rivers and Broads. In addition to the great many people who take their recreation afloat, there are many to whom watching boating activity is the key attraction of the inland waterways experience. We believe that the presence of boats bring waterways alive. We consider boating to be the prime leisure and recreation use of our inland waterways alongside angling, walking, cycling, bird watching and other environmental and heritage interests. We believe that our inland waterways can accommodate this diverse range of interests without conflict and that, in the main, these interests are compatible with the incidence of conflict being very low.

  The holiday hire boat sector is strategically important to new participation in boating and introducing people to the heritage of our inland waterways. It is known that many people gain their first experience of boating by taking a hire boat holiday and that many progress to become boating enthusiasts who purchase their own boats. Boating tourism contributes to the local economy, with holidaymakers spending in shops, pubs and restaurants adjacent to the waterways. Those who progress to boat ownership create business for the inland marine industry who provide the boats, equipment, moorings and services to support inland waterway boating. Canal and river cruising has in the past attracted many international visitors to our country's inland waterways. This international tourism has been adversely affected by the strength of the pound in recent years.

  There has been a steady decline in hire boat bookings over recent years and there is genuine concern about the current state of the hire cruiser industry in the United Kingdom. The industry (including navigation bodies) has endeavoured to analyse and take action on the issues facing the industry. The BMIF has led a number of initiatives aimed at improving the competitiveness of UK hire boat companies, including the development of a national boat grading scheme, boat handover procedures and marketing programmes. The industry welcomes the specific reference in Waterways for Tomorrow encouraging navigation, tourist and local authorities to work in partnership with the inland waterways industry to encourage hire boat tourism. The BMIF and its constituent association the British Hire Cruiser Federation has already established a dialogue with the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities to explore the scope for increased co-operation and support.

URBAN AND RURAL REGENERATION

  There is no doubt that inland waterways provide an important catalyst for urban and rural regeneration that brings economic and social benefit. There are many fine examples around the country where regeneration projects and new developments have exploited the added value offered by waterfront locations, often integrating waterways back into the community. It is notable that many new residential and commercial developments face onto and take advantage of the waterway rather than turning their blindside as historically waterside warehouses and mills previously did.

  Canals were built for boats to navigate. Boating and watersport activity is an established and attractive feature of the country's rivers, Broads and other inland waters. It follows that the boats based on our inland waterways requires the moorings, maintenance, provisions and services that is provided by the inland marine industry. These businesses require waterside premises and the opportunity to develop, modernise and refurbish them. We welcome the scope for mixed waterside developments that can incorporate marine businesses, both in urban and rural locations. The BMIF has extensive experience of the application of planning policies relevant to marine developments and has retained a Planning Consultant for over 25 years to liaise with relevant authorities on structure and local plans and advise members on their own developments. We are anxious for authorities to recognise the value of marine businesses and boating activity to the local economy. People enjoy their recreation through boating spend money in waterside shops, public houses, restaurants in addition to being customers of the marine industry. The BMIF is always concerned where any development leads to the loss of marine facilities or access to the water. For example, we remain concerned about the loss of traditional boatyards on the River Thames where many sites have been developed for residential and other non-marine uses. It is important to the continuation of boating on our inland waterways that we develop and modernise inland marinas, hire fleet bases, boatyards, etc. The BMIF has much planning expertise to contribute to urban and rural regeneration projects that incorporates the establishment, expansion or modernisation of marine businesses.

Environment and the enhancement of wildlife

  The inland waterways of our country accommodate a variety of flora and fauna. It is this quality of landscape and rich wildlife habitat that the many people who boat on our inland waterways wish to enjoy. The BMIF is committed to ensuring that the continued development of boating and water based leisure activity is achieved through a careful, beneficial and fundamental harmonious relationship with the environment. The BMIF has conducted an environmental action programme since 1991 to ensure that the industry plays an active part in safeguarding the marine environment. Our work has included an in-depth independent environmental review of the marine industry, development of an award winning environmental code of practice for marine companies and our Navigate with Nature education initiative designed to raise awareness of environmental issues among boat users. The BMIF has worked closely with navigation bodies on a number of initiatives within this industry action programme.

Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications

  The industry recognises that the navigation bodies have long experience and expertise in managing drainage and water transfer schemes. Recent projects utilising waterways as a conduit for telecommunications are welcomed as innovative additional uses of the national waterway network. The BMIF has always taken a positive view on the commercial activities of navigation bodies as being a means of contributing additional finance to the navigation function and on the understanding that any activity does not have an adverse impact on navigation or the historic fabric of the waterways.

FREIGHT TRANSPORT

  The BMIF is aware and supportive of the Governments stated intention to look to increase the percentage of freight traffic on inland waterways as part of its integrated transport policy. Given the limited dimensions of the majority of the canal network, it is likely that rivers and wider waterways offer the most potential to contribute to an increase in the carriage of freight by inland waterway. There is a need to be realistic about this potential and it is likely to be cargoes that have a source and destination adjacent to the waterways that offer the most potential. The BMIF would support the use of fiscal and other measures to provide an incentive to increase the carriage of freight by inland waterways.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN THE MANAGEMENT OF WATERWAYS

  BMIF members operate businesses that are located on waterways managed by British Waterways, the Broads Authority, the Environment Agency and a number of other smaller navigation bodies. Accordingly, there is a diverse range of views within the inland marine industry on the merits and deficiencies of the performance of each navigation body and the optimum approach to managing the navigation function on a national basis.

  There have been many studies carried out over a number of decades to try and find the best way to deal with the operation of Britain's inland navigations. It would appear that successive Governments have never pursued the concept of one national navigation authority on the grounds that there were too many differing views to warrant the parliamentary time that would be needed to achieve a satisfactory and acceptable legislative solution.

  The last review of navigation functions took place during 1995. At that time, the BMIF supported a recommendation for the existing navigation bodies to retain their functions but to work together under a newly created umbrella body. Since 1995, there have been a number of developments that have had an impact on the situation. These include:

    —  The navigation functions of the former National Rivers Authority being incorporated into the new Environment Agency.

    —  The formation of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities.

    —  Increased co-operation between British Waterways and the Environment Agency.

    —  New senior management within British Waterways.

  It is our view that it would be timely to formally respond to a further consultation from Government on this issue. The BMIF would need to fully consult within its association and membership prior to formulating a national view on this issue.

Other issues

  The BMIF welcomes the statement contained within Waterways for Tomorrow that "the Government wants to see new road and other development proposals take proper account of waterway restoration" and the stated intention to publish guidance for the local planning authorities. It is encouraging to see this approach adopted as Government policy after repeated statements that no more waterways with the potential for restoration will be handicapped by ill-considered road developments. However, there is a great danger that this undertaking has come too late to prevent the potential restoration of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals by the lack of appropriate crossings being built into the plans for the Birmingham Northern Relief Road. The BMIF urges the Select Committee to familiarise itself with this restoration project which would benefit a depressed area and open up many miles of canal to future opportunities. We would hope that the Committee can bring influence to bear upon the Government to take retrospective action to influence the builders of the BNRR to incorporate crossings at the design stage.

Conclusion

  The BMIF applauds the renewed interest in inland waterways that has been demonstrated by the current Government. We welcome the strategic vision set out in Waterways for Tomorrow but stress that increased public funding will be required to fulfil the potential that has been identified.

  The BMIF is grateful for the opportunity to contribute written evidence on behalf of the boating industry to the Select Committee and would very much like to assist the Committees deliberations by presenting oral evidence.

Howard Pridding

Executive Director


 
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