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


Supplementary memorandum by the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council (IW 42A)

INQUIRY INTO THE POTENTIAL OF THE INLAND WATERWAYS

  The Council is appreciative of the opportunity last Wednesday morning to give oral evidence to the Select Committee.

  There are four matters on which I hope a follow-up letter will help to clarify the Council's position and assist your future deliberations and report.

1.  THE COUNCIL

  Our budget, currently £131,000 per annum, is agreed each year with the Department and BW and stipulated in the letter which the Department sends to BW setting out the level of Grant in Aid. Making the Council directly funded by Government would therefore make no difference to the origin of funds but, as I explained to the Committee, perception is important. The Council believes it would be helpful to its work if it were clearly seen to be independent of any individual navigation authority.

  Our 1968 statutory remit confines us not only to BW but to the amenity aspects of non-commercial BW waterways. This is now wholly obsolete. Successive Ministers have asked us to look more widely at non-BW waterways and at issues such as regeneration, investment, innovation, social inclusion and development. All this is now endorsed in Waterways for Tomorrow. I would strongly argue for the Council to be renamed the "Inland Waterways Advisory Council" and formally given a pan-waterways remit.

  There is a further point I would like to make Council Members give generously of their time for meetings, visits and participation in our working groups (there are currently four running) adding up to about 20 days a year on average. There is no payment for this other than, of course, for expenses incurred and compensation for any loss of earnings (almost never claimed). In the light of the value placed by Ministers, British Waterways (BW) and others on our work, it is my personal view that the situation should be reviewed and that some form for payment should be considered in the future.

2.  THE BOAT SAFETY SCHEME (BSS)

  I confirm that the BSS Review team expects to report by the end of the year.

3.  THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY NAVIGATIONS

  This is a long-standing and you may find it helpful if I outlined how the Council's thinking on this issue has been consistent throughout. The Council took the view in 1996 in Britain's Inland Waterways: An Undervalued Asset that there is indeed a conflict of interest between the Agency's roles in promoting both conversation and recreation in inland waters, and that the promotion of boating and allied developments were inappropriate activities for the statutory authority responsible for monitoring, regulation and flood control. We were also concerned then, and remain concerned, at the lack of resources devoted to the Agency's navigation/recreation responsibilities within its over-arching environmental duties, perhaps as a consequence of the above conflict within the organisation.

  Our views were confirmed in 1998 when the then Minister asked us to look at the Agency's Nene and Ouse Rivers in Anglia Religion and advise whether navigation responsibilities should remain with the Agency. The lack of investment in these waterways and the very limited development of their potential were both striking. We have always fully accepted the importance of the Agency's integrated management of river basins overall but noted that BW was already managing navigational activities on the Rivers Severn, Trent, Yorkshire Ouse and Weaver with no loss of the Agency's effectiveness in flood control and environmental regulation.

  Moreover, in recent years, we have noted the undoubted success of British Waterways in securing funding for its navigations from Government, from the Lottery bodies, and from partnerships with public agencies, local authorities and the private sector. We have applauded its innovatory flair in establishing The Waterways Trust and massively expanding third party funding of all kinds. BW is focused, committed and skilled in these fields. The Agency has not been so to date and we see little prospect of the radical change that is needed.

  This is the basis of our view that the integration of our two largest navigation authorities would materially assist the development, promotion and marketing of our waterways as national business asset and better harmonise services to users. It would also have the advantage of freeing the Agency to concentrate single-mindedly on its monitoring, regulatory and flood control roles.

  As you will be aware, such a change need not, of itself, require legislation. Navigation responsibilities can be transferred by Ministerial order. The environment regulatory role of Agency will remain as it is now.

  An alternative, which may merit further investigation, is for the Agency to contract or license navigational activity on all its rivers to a separate manager/developer such as BW, with agreed environmental regulatory conditions. Licensing already occurs with other river uses, such as abstraction and hydro-electric power generation. The difficulty, however, may well be that BW would not then be in a position to deploy the full range of powers it enjoys over its existing waterways.

  If integration can be achieved, the Council would see the smaller navigation authorities, some of which are certainly struggling, either joining up with the new integrated authority in due course (as some have already done with BW) or perhaps contracting-out their navigation duties to it. We would exempt only the Broads and the Lake District lakes which are both very special landscapes, separate from the rest of the navigation system, and best planned and managed on the unified basis appropriate to their national park status.

4.  THE 1968 TRANSPORT ACT

  The Committee asked about specific changes to this Act the Council would like to see.

  The 1968 Act was predicated on minimising public liabilities. Waterways were perceived as drains on public funds. It is true that BW management has worked with Government to perform miracles in getting round its restraints but we do not believe that this can continue for another 30 years. The waterways need to be equipped with a pro-active set of powers to promote long-term conservation and to develop leisure, waterside businesses and property for the benefit of everyone.

  This is a complex area and one which the Council has not considered in detail but we would certainly wish to see new legislation deal with the following:

    —  ancient rights and liabilities (which BW inherited from the old canal companies);

    —  abolition of the obsolete categories of commercial/cruising/remainder waterways, and a new set of powers/duties to manage/regulate waterways for current and future uses;

    —  the transfer of public road bridges to local highway authorities;

    —  integrated and consistent services to users;

    —  statutory protection of waterways under restoration from new road projects; and

    —  the Council's role and remit (if not previously recast as set out above).

  I hope this is helpful to the Committee's work. The Council would be pleased to assist the Committee further if it so wishes.

The Viscountess Knollys DL
Chairman


 
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