Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, we are the Scottish Affairs Select Committee from the House of Commons. Can I say how delighted we are to be here this afternoon at the behest of the local Member of Parliament, John Lyons, who insisted that we come here and see the good work that was being done. Can I thank British Waterways for the organising they have done of this tour and for making the presentation this morning. Special thanks to the East Dunbartonshire District Council, particularly the chief executive Dr Vicky Nash, for the provision of a meeting room. I would also like to thank Falkirk and Edinburgh for their hospitality and helping to make all this possible. We have had a very good morning and I think we have all been very impressed with what we have seen so far. We hope the rest of our journey over the next 24 hours continues the way it started off this morning. Perhaps for the purposes of the record you could introduce yourselves.
  (Mr Christie) My name is Campbell Christie. I am a member of the British Waterways main board. I am also the Chairperson of the British Waterways Scotland Group, which provides advice to the main board and to the appropriate ministers on British Waterways matters.
  (Mr Bell) Good afternoon. I am Nigel Bell, property and development manager for British Waterways Scotland.
  (Mr Stirling) My name is Jim Stirling, Director of British Waterways Scotland.
  (Mr Ballinger) My name is George Ballinger, I am Engineering Manager for British Waterways Scotland.

  2. Thank you very much. Can I start by asking British Waterways Scotland briefly to outline the genesis of the Millennium Link Project?
  (Mr Stirling) I think it is fair to say that the project we know as the Millennium Link is probably the culmination of about 25 years of work from a number of people over that length of time. The Forth and Clyde and Union Canal was closed at the end of 1962 to allow the A80 to be built at Castlecary without the need of an opening bridge. It was not long after its closure that people started to campaign for something to be done about the dereliction that followed its closure. As early as 1976, less than 14 years after it was closed, the Forth and Clyde Canal was recognised as having regional significance by Strathclyde Regional Council for leisure and recreation. Various groups were put together at that time, very much pushed, it has to be said, by the voluntary sector, by bodies like the Forth and Clyde Canal Society, and such like. By November 1988 an unusual document was produced called the called the Forth and Clyde Local Plan, unusual in that being a statutory local plan it crossed council boundaries and it was a linear plan, it was a very unusual occurrence. That enshrined no further blockages to navigation and restoration should be sought whenever finance allowed. Not an awful lot happened after that until the onset of the National Lottery. Some small lengths have been restored, there was the West Lothian Canal Project at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, and the Glasgow Canal Project, successful projects in their own right. They really showed that doing a short length of canal which is not connected to anything else can bring environmental and very local economic benefit but does not have any knock-on effect. The onset of the National Lottery gave us the opportunity to look at it as a once in a lifetime chance, if you like, to reopen both canals. British Waterways started talking to the partners in the late spring, early summer of 1994 about whether this was something that we should consider putting forward for Lottery funding.

  3. Has the project fulfilled expectations in terms of job creation and time scale for job creation?
  (Mr Stirling) As far as is possible at this stage I think the answer is yes. Most of the jobs would be indirectly created as a result of what happens following the physical canal restoration. There were direct job predictions to do with construction and to date the project has exceeded those as far as construction jobs are concerned. It has not, I have to say, met all of the training targets that were predicted, probably for two reasons, one, the delay in starting the project due to the long drawn out time it took to get the funding together, but the finishing date was more or less immovable because of the Lottery rules and the European rules. It has been harder to use training schemes to fit in the time scale and a lot of the work that was involved was unsuitable for bringing in trainees. There have been a number of apprentices employed throughout the project. Having said that, the number of construction jobs is well in excess of that that was predicted.

  4. Which part of the exercise has created most difficulty so far?
  (Mr Stirling) I think all construction jobs are fraught with difficulties, whether they are ground conditions, whether they have physical constraints due to geometry or whether it is getting the correct permissions because of all of the different difficulties in an area. In many ways construction is the easy bit. The project has been delivered as it was designed from a construction point of view. The purpose of the project right from the outset in 1994 was to be a stimulant for other activities that would take place beside it. I think in many ways that is probably the hardest job—remembering, and then driving it on—that's the reason that we are doing this because of the knock-on effect. It is clear from the strong partnership that has been formed that to get this far, there is an enormous likelihood of success. The partnership has proven itself on a number of occasions. As we got to the funding, and the funding was a fairly complicated exercise which was not completed until spring of 1998, it took us nearly four years to get funding together and the partnership proved its worth throughout that period by campaigning together and eventually making sure that there was sufficient money there to do the job. That partnership will stand in good stead for the future as we move forward, because that will be how the on-going effects will be achieved.

Mr Robertson

  5. I have to say I was also very impressed with what I have seen today. It is well known there were many other canals in Lowland Scotland, have you thought about opening up a whole network of canals and, if so, what kind of benefit do you see to the community at large?
  (Mr Stirling) The only other canal in Lowland Scotland that exists is the Monkland Canal. There was a canal to Paisley and Johnstone which is long gone. The Monkland canal exists at the moment in open channel through Coatbridge, from Drumpellier Park towards Coatbridge town centre, and a little bit further out to the east. At the moment it is a hugely important part for us because it is the water course that delivers water supply to top of the Forth and Clyde Canal, so the Monkland Canal is very important from that point of view as a conduit. It probably does have long term possibilities to make more use of it. No studies have been done as to how the Monkland Canal might, if it is remotely feasible, be reconnected to the others. It would certainly seem at this time it is likely to remain an isolated stretch of water which more use could be made of. What the Millennium Link aimed to achieve was the joining of the Forth with the Clyde and the joining of the Union Canal to the Forth and Clyde.

  6. Would you see that as a feasible project?
  (Mr Stirling) You could certainly open up further stretches of it, but there has not been any work done to see if it is remotely feasible to connect it with the Forth and Clyde. It would be extremely difficult because the M8 motorway to Edinburgh was known as the Monkland motorway because it used the line of the canal for its construction, there would be enormous difficulties.

Mr Sarwar

  7. This project runs through a number of SIPS areas, is any special provision made to recruit people in terms of training from the SIP[2] areas?

  (Mr Stirling) There were a number of measures taken during construction, possibly the greatest opportunities are post construction. All construction vacancies were advertised in local job centres with every effort to employ local people. As the project moves ahead one of the focuses for a department which we have in British Waterways, the Partnership Department, will work with the councils and with the other agencies with that very point in mind, how do we get the employment and wealth creation opportunities, if you like, into those particular deprived areas? The canals do run through quite a number of social inclusion partnership areas. It is something which is more likely to accrue benefit in the future. In British Waterways it is an issue that we are beginning to approach. I do not think we would claim that we are as expert in that field as we might claim to be in say the general heritage or the operation of canals. It is an area that we have seen as being important and we are putting effort into it.

Mr Lyons

  8. Mr Stirling, can I turn to the question of sustainability and find out from you what assessment of sustainability was made by British Waterways Scotland at that period?
  (Mr Stirling) We see sustainability as being the combination of three elements, of economic activity, built and natural environment and social equity, particularly the linkages of the economic activities to the localities where you know jobs and employment are most needed. The project had to be approved at a European level from an environmental assessment point of view, so the project was assessed and signed off by Scottish Natural Heritage when it was up for European approval. All jobs that take place on the canal are subject to an environmental assessment, it is the normal practice within British Waterways anyway, we employ our own environmental scientist. All canals in Scotland are scheduled monuments in their entirety, so everything we do has to be approved and take cognisance of the requirements of historic Scotland. The built environment is well safeguarded. The area, if you like, that we are deeming as more important and learning is the social equity side of sustainability. The reports that were done in the beginning by DTZ Pieda and others showed that there were linkages to the deprived areas, unemployment was particularly high in wards along the canal and, therefore, the opportunity to bring economic activity into those areas was obviously there. The other side of sustainability for the canal is its long term revenue funding. British Waterways are the long term operators of the lowland canals. It was, perhaps, a good project from that point of view, in that it had a revenue funding behind it, so that once the capital works are complete there is a body charged to looking after it, namely British Waterways.

  9. Can I deal with the levels of economic sustainability? Are the levels of investment working out so far?
  (Mr Stirling) I would say they are. Do you mean on the landward side, the on-going developments?

  10. Particularly, yes.
  (Mr Stirling) There are signs that that is moving. The major private sectors moves have been in housing. Housing does not create the economic outputs that are measured in European Regional Development Fund terms but nevertheless they indicate a confidence, if you like, with the private sector. We have our own 50/50 partnership with Miller Developments in Edinburgh and other developers are now showing a reasonable degree of interest in sites beside the canal. It was never expected that development would take place beside the canals in a short time scale, all of the projections and reports always indicated there is a long time scale involved in the benefits that will flow from the project. Early indicators would be the number of people using the tow path, which has grown considerably, and in some locations by hundreds of per cent. The canals are quite obviously more heavily used than they were before on the tow path and the amount of water borne traffic projected is, more or less, as we would have expected it to be.

Anne McKechin

  11. What forecasts have been made concerning the possible growth of both leisure and commercial traffic following on from the Millennium Project?
  (Mr Stirling) The predictions from the Commission studies by Coopers and Lybrand and the Scottish Tourist Board were that after five years there would be 500 transits per annum from east to west, or vice versa and this year there have been well over 100 already. I think that is a reasonable progression. Another number that was predicted would be again after about five years there would be 600 boats kept on the canal, (600 privately owned boats), certainly that is a target which has yet to materialise. In fact we are conducting a review of our pricing regime and our licensing regime so that we can encourage development of that. The other major prediction was 40 to 60 hire boats. Again, the hire boat industry is showing interest but has yet to commit itself. There is a hotel boat coming next year to operate between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Mr Robertson

  12. You concentrated on leisure, what about commercial? Do you see any?
  (Mr Stirling) There certainly have been no predictions of commercial traffic. It is quite difficult to see. We have received some enquiries from people looking at the possibility of using the Union Canal to move coal. We would certainly encourage traffic on the canal, but at the moment we cannot see any traffic like that. Scotland is only 40 miles wide at the central belt so if you have to put something on a lorry, take it to a canal, take it off again and put it on the canal and then put it back on the lorry you might as well drive it across the country. We see the potential for moving waste or refuse along the canal from the cities out to landfill sites and such like, there is interest being shown in that kind of commercial use and we do get that elsewhere in British Waterways. That is material that is not in a hurry.

Mr Lazarowicz

  13. Can you tell us how you are going about evaluating the activity round the canals as the activity takes off and how far to date has the activity matched up to expectations at this point in the process?
  (Mr Stirling) We are putting in place, to use jargon, a monitoring and evaluation framework, building very much on the work that we have had to do and are still doing to meet the requirements of the various funders in the project. We produce a very extensive report every month to the Millennium Commission, which is then circulated to all of the other partners in the project, which reports progress on the project and progress on the economic and other activities taking place beside the canal. We are very conscious that we are legally obliged under our European Regional Fund grants to measure and report. We are very much dependent on our partners for helping us gather that information. There are certain activities which local authorities are better suited to measure than we are and there are other activities that Scottish Enterprise and the Local Enterprise Company Network are better suited to measure than we are. Because of the close working relationship over the physical construction there are regular meetings and contacts where we are gathering that information. The early indications would be, as I said earlier, the number of people using the tow path and, the number of enquiries that are taking place for sites beside the canal or potentials for business. I would say that at this stage within the first year of the Forth and Clyde being open and the Union yet to open entirely it is very encouraging.

  14. That reference to the partners leads me into a point I was going to raise later, which is, one of the things that you pick up from the paperwork and from the discussions that we have had today is that the canal represents a potential for future development. Some work has been done by the partners and the emphasis, again, has been what happens in the future. I was intrigued by the comment in your own submission where you say, "We wish to see ourselves transformed from the lead partner on a project to being a lead partner".[3] I am not entirely clear, who is going to make sure the benefits of the project are taken forward in five or 10 or 15 years? What is the structure that is envisaged?

  (Mr Stirling) What has been set up to date to allow the Scottish Enterprise Network, the local authorities and ourselves to work together is there have been local canal development groups set up in each council area now, where the local authority, through its planning, its economic development, et cetera, meets with ourselves, with the local enterprise company and often with the Tourist Board. Various methods are being used, sometimes action plans, sometimes other methods, and it may be a different route in a different area. For example in the Falkirk area we are working with Falkirk Council and Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley to establish a concept very similar to the Stirling Initiative, where partners will get together and employ dedicated staff and the staff will be charged not with creating strategies or action plans but in picking up all of the work that has been done to date and driving it to physical work on the ground, whether it is tourism related, whether it is economic related or whatever it is that is being challenged in the area. Again, that is a model which has been tried before in Stirling and was very successful and it is a method that we are using in Forth Valley and Falkirk. In Glasgow there is a Canal Strategy Group set up by the council which obviously Scottish Enterprise Glasgow and British Waterways are involved in. That is about putting the potential activities round the canal within the strategic framework of local planning, and such like, to remove barriers to development in the future and, where possible, to actually work in partnership to deliver the physical outputs. There are different things happening in different places, but it is very much based on local authority areas.

  15. Perhaps Mr Christie may want to respond to this, is there not a danger that emphasis is on discrete chunks of the canal in different local authorities, as it were, and there are areas where the full potential will only be maximised by a central Scotland-wide approach? There does seem to be something missing which needs to be provided or certainly something of the potential will be lost.
  (Mr Christie) I think the other main player—Jim Stirling has talked about local enterprise companies—in economic development terms would be Scottish Enterprise nationally. It does seem to me that the difficult bit lies ahead, how are we going to realise the best value out of the investments we made in the canal? How are we going to do that? It seems to me that it is important that we now talk about working with partners. British Waterways was taking the lead in the development along the canal, it now requires the lead to be very much a partnership thing. It does seem to me in that context it is important that there is a strategy for the whole of the Millennium Link, and that means that Scottish Enterprise nationally have an important role to play in the strategic development on the full length of the canal.

Mr Carmichael

  16. I am interested to hear you talking about partnership with Scottish Enterprise nationally, that is an encouraging thing to be hearing from you. It seems to me an awful lot of what you are talking about at the moment really is the work of an economic development agency, which I would guess takes you fairly well away from your own remit as a Lottery raised board. Is this a new departure for you and do you have any observations that you would want to make on your experiences in this field, on the assumption that it is? Is this the sort of role that you see developing for yourself in the future?
  (Mr Stirling) We do have experience elsewhere in the United Kingdom of being involved in regeneration projects, through obviously canal restoration and canals tidy ups. There are two ways we can become involved, one is directly where we have our own land holdings or acquire land holdings. We have a commercial function, we are charged to operate commercially. We are, indeed, a public corporation rather than an agency. One of the ways we operate in that commercial sphere is through our property portfolio work, therefore we can invest, Edinburgh Quay is a prime example where we are actually in a 50/50 joint venture with the private sector. That is the first time in the United Kingdom British Waterways have gone into a 50/50 partnership in development. We would normally have been the ground leaseholder and the developer would be somebody else. We are increasingly moving in the direction of being partners in the development process rather than simply the landowner who leases the land to somebody else. The government produced a framework document for British Waterways in 1999. If I can remember what it says, "The government looks to British Waterways to carry out [its] Statutory responsibilities within a wider context whereby, subject to economic and environmental appraisal, its aim to promote and accommodate conservation and regeneration. In order to secure and conserve the waterway's heritage and environment for the future of British Waterways should work in partnership with local authorities and other public sector organisations, including the Regional Development Agencies; the water industry and other private sector bodies; and the voluntary sector including local groups . . .; to secure additional investment; and to advance the management and operation of the waterways." Everything we do in British Waterways is designed, if it is commercial, to generate income which is reinvested back into the waterways. We are taking a more active role. We have been part of the regeneration process for a long time now. Some of the regeneration schemes in England have been 10 plus years. We still have that role. We also have the secondary role where we are actively engaged in promoting the development of the waterways.

Mr Joyce

  17. You have a commitment, as I understand it, to maintain the canal for 25 years after the completion, the building is completed, can you pass comment on the level of employment that you see that generating and, maybe, speculate or observe what employment might be generated by partners to maintain things that are not yours to maintain?
  (Mr Stirling) The number of people directly employed by British Waterways in operating and maintaining the canals is not high, you are talking in the order of 40, possibly rising towards 50, because it is a fairly narrow activity that we look after. The main job creation will be on the land based development. Our job, if you like, is to make the water come alive, facilitate the movement of boats, make the water become colourful, facilitate the use of the tow path. There are literally millions of visits to the tow paths in a year. We facilitate that colour and that flow of people which then makes land sites attractive to development. The reports that were commissioned at the time we were going to Brussels for the overall ERDF approval predicted somewhere in the region of 4,000 full time jobs, but that is over a long period of time once the land development takes place, whether they are business, commercial, tourism or whatever field. It is a long process.

  18. In terms of maintenance, 40 for 50 is very modest, what about partners? I am thinking in particular of as you walk up the canal and you look into the canal, it is your responsibility to maintain it, but the site of it, where there may not be development, where there might be areas of gas, it might be unattractive and there might be some maintenance jobs, do you see that as being significant, or is that not yours to speculate?
  (Mr Stirling) That is not something that we have tried to calculate, to be fair. We would obviously encourage, and I have no reason to suggest that it will not happen, our partners to maintain the land beside the canal that might come into their remit, just as we try to maintain the land that comes into ours.

Mr Lyons

  19. On the question of the tow paths, who has overall responsibility for assessing the safety of the tow paths, the link between usage and the perception of whether they are safe or not, who does all of that?
  (Mr Stirling) British Waterways does that. We are responsible for the tow paths, we have occupiers liability. We produce codes of practice for our users, whether they are walkers, cyclists, anglers or people on the water. We carry out risk assessments on everything that we do. We carry out risk assessments as to whether the work we are doing requires the tow path to be closed while we are doing it. We ask people who run events to talk to us ahead of the events so that we can check that the risk assessments have been done and sensible thought has been put into the impact of the event on the tow path and the waterway.

2   Social Inclusion Partnership. Back

3   See Ev. p 3. Back

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