Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 28)

MONDAY 3 DECEMBER 2001

MR CAMPBELL CHRISTIE, MR JIM STIRLING, MR NIGEL BELL AND MR GEORGE BALLINGER

  20. Do you think there would be a need for people rangers on the whole length of the canal to enhance safety?
  (Mr Stirling) We see that as something that will happen in the future. We see tow path ranger or wardens as being a feature of the canal, as much from the tourism side, giving people information, being available and offering advice, and such like. They would then be able to fulfil other supervisory functions. In the Glasgow area Strathclyde Police have mounted cyclist patrols on the Forth and Clyde Canal tow path and the West Highland Way has linked up with it, I think it is about half a dozen. We supply the bikes.

  21. There has been a number of accidents with people crossing the canal as they come across main roads in different locations, is there anything done to tackle that issue? If I cycle from Balmaha to Strathclyde I will never be able to cycle for a long distance without being halted by a gate which makes me come off the bicycle and walk across the main road, have you done anything about that?
  (Mr Ballinger) What we have tried to do within the project as a whole is where we have created a new bridge we have actually carried a tow path underneath as well, so instead of coming up to a main road and having to cross the main road then back down on to the tow path the tow path is now continuous right across the country, apart from a few instances such as the opening bridges, where you cannot do that. We have created a linear corridor and we have improved the tow path on the Forth and Clyde to 2.5 metres wide and on the Union Canal to 1.8 metres wide. We have far more possibility of a higher usage and a safer usage. In areas like Linlithgow the tow path is now designated as a safe route to school for the kids. We hope to see that over the whole of the country.

Mr Sarwar

  22. The memorandum from British Waterways Scotland said that British Waterways Scotland can only guarantee the future of canals if other partners played a full part and realise the benefits of regeneration. Have all of the partners in the Millennium Link project played a full part to realise the benefits of regeneration?
  (Mr Stirling) Yes, I believe they have to date, yes.

  23. Do you think there is anything more they could have done?
  (Mr Stirling) Not yet.
  (Mr Christie) It is important to say, again, that we are now going into a new phase with the completion of the work on the canal and it is now very much going to be about partners cooperating in order to realise the real economic possibilities and, therefore, the partnership has been established to carry through the work in restoring the canal and we now have to test that partnership to the limit to make sure that we can take forward the real activity in the regeneration and in employment creation. It is going to create a new dynamic because where we could very much give leadership in what we were doing on the engineering side now very much requires all of the partners to, as it were, recognise that our role is slightly different in the period ahead than it has been up to now. We want to play an important role but other players have statutory responsibilities as well.

  24. I can understand that, Campbell, but the future of any project depends on the cooperation and support from the partners. You have put a lot of emphasis on that, the future of this project depends on the cooperation from other partners, that is why I am asking you have you received so far full cooperation from your partners to make this project successful?
  (Mr Stirling) Yes. We opened the Forth and Clyde Canal on time from one side of the country to the other, which involved the five local authorities along the Forth and Clyde, all of whom had to play a difficult role in being a partner in project but also having to remain the planning authority and giving permission for the various things that were required to be done. All of that was achieved in time and the project was opened in time. The bulk of the Union is open. We only have the connection in Falkirk to do now and a bit of final dredging next April. Again that was achieved on target.

Mr Robertson

  25. There were complaints about work being done, for example a lot of people complained that their personal lives were being looked into as people crossed over the bridge, things like that, also vandalism, have you got anything set up where you can deal with people who have individual complaints about privacy and also vandalism. Is there a help line which people can phone, other than 999? I am not talking about police, I am talking about what you can do to lay the problem of vandalism, which has been very prevalent in some areas, and work with the police and the council to solve it?
  (Mr Stirling) On the vandalism one the concept of a help line is quite interesting because we actually do have one, it is called Free Phone Canals. At any time you can telephone the number Free Phone Canals and you will automatically be put through to the person on duty nearest the incident. Having said that, now that you have raised the question I would have to wonder how many of the general public have heard of Free Phone Canals and it may well be that is something we should look at quite quickly as to how we could deal with that. We had an incident near Blairdardie where vandals opened up some sluices on the lock-gate and water escaped and the police did not phone British Waterways and we were not alerted to it until the following day, I think. There is still work to be done. I mentioned a department earlier on called the Partnership Department, it is a relatively new venture for us in Scotland, it is possibly unique within British Waterways in Britain, and the function of the Partnership Department is very much to deal with the communities beside the canals rather than the operational issues of the canals. Yes, that is an interesting point, should we have a more widely known help line.

Mr Joyce

  26. I am just thinking of the job creation on the Falkirk Wheel site, is there anything about the configuration of the road access, the planning permission that might be required in the future that you might know about now, anything that could be improved? What appears to currently to be the case?
  (Mr Stirling) We are keen to see the Park and Ride take place on the other side of the canal, giving direct access for vehicles off the A803. Although it is on the other side of the canal the scheme does bring the cars close enough for people to go up on to the tow path, walk along the tow path, come across the bridge into the Wheel site, there is a swing bring to connect the Wheel site. The direct road into the Wheel site does have some limitations as to what is a sensible volume of traffic it can carry. The Park and Ride scheme across on the privately owned land on the other side of the canal is quite important to us.

Mr Carmichael

  27. I am wondering whether there is a slight contradiction in your position between having a commitment to 25 years maintenance for canals and then your statement which Mr Sarwar has asked you about, British Waterways Scotland can only guarantee the future of the canals if other partners play their full part to realise the regeneration. Is your ability to meet your commitment dependent on your partners performance and commitment?
  (Mr Stirling) There is a regulatory regime, if you like, covering British Waterways. There is a strange terminology which comes from the Transport Acts of the 1960s, where canals were classified. They were classified in three ways, commercial waterways, cruising waterways and the remainder. The lowland canals are classified in the latter category, the remainder. There are some limitations in what British Waterways can and cannot do as far as expenditure on remainder Waterways. One of the crucial parts of the analysis of the Millennium Link was to work out, if you like, predicting the step maintenance costs involved in the running of the canals when they are fully functioning could be met from step income. The answer is they can once the traffic has built up. If you like there is an extra expenditure from BW as the traffic builds up, but that is quite okay within the statutes that we operate. Essentially there is a limit to what we are allowed to spend. We can maintain the canals for navigation, for public safety and public amenity but if we are really going to develop them to the full then what we are looking for is for things to happen beside the canal, for adjacent facilities to be developed that are beyond our remit to make them fully work. There is absolutely no doubt we will meet the statutory obligations we have to maintain the canals. We did agree with our partners we might seek re-classification of the canals once the canals were open, and that does not automatically unlock any other money from any other source and it could, in fact, mean that there are certain external funding sources that we would not be eligible for. In reality in the classification there is no real restriction, it is quite simply that we can develop and make the waterways work as a waterway but we want to it to work more than just a waterway, we want it to work as part of a wider corridor.
  (Mr Christie) I think what we are saying is there has been huge investment, £78 million or over, if that investment only reopens the canals for use of the waterways then it will not necessarily have been a good investment, however if that unlocks economic activity along the full length of the canals and generates jobs, activity, social inclusion and environmental improvement, all of these things, then it will have been an excellent investment. What we are saying is that if British Waterways will play their role in relation to maintaining the canals, therefore not a real issue, but if we want to get real value for money it requires all of the partnerships working together to produce what we see elsewhere. We do not have to gaze into a crystal ball, we just need to look elsewhere in the United Kingdom and see how canals have been a honey pot magnet for economic activity. What we need to do is to make sure that we realise that same development opportunity in Scotland and in our canals. As I say, if we look elsewhere we can find what works for them and we need to make sure we get best practice imported into Scotland.

Chairman

  28. Thank you very much, gentlemen. We have exhausted our questions to you. If there is anything else you wish to add please feel free to do so. Thank you very much once more for your evidence, which will be very helpful to us when we come to write our report.





 
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