Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000
300. I want to refer, if I can, just back to
your proposals, or suggestions, with regard to the fragmented
structure of the situation we have at the moment. You were actually
suggesting, I think, in your evidence, that a new national body
should be established, based on your own organisation, I think.
Why your own organisation and not somebody else's?
(Viscountess Knollys) I think, Madam Chairman, it
was not actually suggested by IWAAC that it should be IWAAC's
organisation, this has been floated, I have heard, in evidence
to you. It was actually not suggested. IWAAC, as you know, is
tied to the 1968 Act and has its own remit, whether that has changed
is up to Government, and your recommendation possibly, but, from
the point of view of this body which would manage the navigation
or function of waterways, I just feel that, rather than having
several, there must be a way of managing the whole waterways system,
which would mean a new body, because that body does not exist
301. But, nevertheless, I understand your organisation
has called for a review of British Waterways legislation, to provide
a case for establishing a new national body which would assume
responsibility for British Waterways, and so on. So you are actually
talking about removing British Waterways and setting up a new
national structure; it is that profound?
(Viscountess Knollys) I do not think that is exactly
what we asked for. The logic of it is that the biggest navigation
body that exists at present is British Waterways, and it may be
that that would be a place to start, and you would have smaller
navigations as and when, if it was appropriate for them, join
in, and it would become a bigger and bigger body. But I am not
suggesting that British Waterways automatically takes over all
navigations, it is not like that, they are all independent, small
302. Nevertheless, you do argue, in your evidence,
that the legislation covering British Waterways is long overdue
(Viscountess Knollys) Yes. Madam Chairman, it is the
1968 Transport Act.
303. And that would be the sort of reform, in
general terms, that you have just described to the Committee that
IWAAC would want to see?
(Viscountess Knollys) This is what our evidence has
suggested. I do not know if other colleagues would like to expand
304. Professor Mercer, are you going to earn
(Professor Mercer) Indeed, Ma'am. We simply see that
there is a complication among the bigger navigation authorities;
there ought to be a single authority, the legislation will need
to be changed to do that, and therefore why not revisit the whole
of the 1968 Act and get it up to date. It is 30 years old, we
cannot wait another 30 years.
305. Yes, I understand, I think, the need to
bring it up to date, but what I am trying to get at is your view
of how radical the changes that you are indicating are going to
be, that is what I am trying to get at; so they are pretty profound,
you are talking about one body that would cover the whole situation?
(Professor Mercer) The simplest way to look at it
is to enlarge British Waterways to take on the whole of the navigation
responsibility and leave the Environment Agency to do its regulatory
job, which would still oversee all navigation from the environmental
regulatory point of view.
306. I have two more quick questions. The first
is for clarification. We have heard from previous witnesses, AINA,
that they are actively engaged in promoting best practice. I think,
Viscountess, I heard either yourself or one of your colleagues
talk about your organisation promoting best practice. If I am
correct in what I thought I heard, is not there a duplication
there; if the answer to that is yes, does it occur anywhere else?
(Viscountess Knollys) The answer is no. Ours is a
good practice planning guidance, which we are doing with Government,
and it will be published by the DETR on planning issues.
307. Lastly, do you think that British Waterways
or any successor organisation or a different organisation in the
future should have a specific remit to promote urban regeneration?
(Viscountess Knollys) I would have said yes, straight
off the top of my head. I do not know whether others would disagree.
We have not produced a view on that.
308. Do you want to risk an opinion, Professor?
(Professor Mercer) Promoting is an interesting word;
it would have to be qualified slightly, would it not, it cannot
become the main purpose.
309. How can you qualify "promote"?
(Professor Mercer) I would say that, in all its urban
activity, the navigation authority, British Waterways, maybe is
what it will be called, should have urban regeneration as a main
supporting line for all its decisions.
310. The distinction, if I might, in my question,
I am sure you appreciate, is between that sort of remit and a
duty; that is really the kernel of my question, I think?
(Professor Mercer) But duty has got to be about navigation
and the management of the waterway, and then urban regeneration
must be a very close qualification throughout every urban area.
311. What controls, if any, would you wish to
see placed on the use of waterways for water transfer?
(Viscountess Knollys) I think one would have to pay
enormous regard to the views of English Nature and the Environment
Agency, and obviously it would be done waterway by waterway, through
environmental impact assessments and every other form of assessment.
I do not think one can give a view until you know the exact proposal.
312. What do you see as the benefits to the
waterways of water transfer?
(Viscountess Knollys) Water transfer, obviously, is
a benefit in areas of the country where there is a need for water,
and I would have thought that it was less expensive to achieve
possibly than a new reservoir, which takes 20 years to achieve,
much public inquiry work and much difficulty. I would have thought
possibly that this would be an easier way of going about achieving
the same result. The advantages, I would rely on colleagues.
(Dr Eaton) There can be direct advantages, one imagines,
to the waterways themselves, in that they would be assured of
a supply of water, at all times. The problems, I think, with water
transfer are with the possible magnitude of some of the proposed
new links, the sheer volumes of water moving and the distances;
these do have environmental implications, particularly in relation
to the dispersal of alien species, many of which are now present
in British waters and are liable to cause disruption if they are
spread to new areas. For this reason, I think, it is important
that this topic of water transfer should move away from generalities
as soon as possible and move to specific schemes being proposed,
and then we can have a detailed environmental impact assessment
of a scheme and see just what the pros and cons of it are; but
at the moment everything is in generality. The only models that
we have at the moment are long-standing and admittedly trouble-free,
rather short water transfers, such as the Gloucester and Sharpness
Canal. I do not believe that forms any model for what is now being
313. What safeguards do you think would be available
to ensure that the water transfer process would not exacerbate
the problem of invasive alien species?
(Dr Eaton) Filtration technology would certainly be
necessary where the water enters the system.
314. And are there examples of where that is
in use at the moment, in terms of the limited number of water
(Dr Eaton) I know of none. I think in both the cases
that I am familiar with the raw water is accepted from the river
and transported down the artificial waterway and then taken out
and treated at a later stage. But, as I mentioned earlier, these
are purely local and mostly within a single catchment and so are
not really models for what is being proposed.
315. Can I just ask how realistic physically
it is to transfer this water, because my sort of vision of a canal
and canals that I have seen is fairly slow-moving, almost placid
little bits of water, and if you have a moving current down it,
it is physically going to change the whole of the canal: are the
canal structures up to it?
(Viscountess Knollys) If it is to be a new waterway
with that specific remit, it would be designed to achieve it;
but with pumping it is possible to do anything, and there is a
certain amount of pumping on canals already. I am not expert on
the technology, none of us is, but I think it is possible.
316. Could I ask, finally, just quickly, Madam
Chairman, in all of the papers that I have seen you put in, and
you do call yourselves the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council,
is there anything about angling and the conflict between anglers
(Viscountess Knollys) Yes; actually, at this red-hot
moment, our 15 members do not include an angling person, and that
is sad, he has left us, and we await a new one shortly. But it
is a most important part of the amenity and leisure, recreational
side of waterways, as you heard, it is where all the coarse fishing
happens, is on waterways, predominantly, and their accompanying
reservoirs. I think the conflict is overstated, I think there
are lots of areas where good practice has been worked out with
boaters as to how to go past the angler, but there are still hot
spots and I know that occasionally there is conflict. I think
it is overstated now, because everybody knows the situation and
everyone is trying to manage it.
317. But you will know that fact better when
your angler joins you on your Council?
(Viscountess Knollys) Funnily enough, you do not have
to have a representative to tell you about the problem, you still
hear about the problems; it is the adviser of what you do about
it that I await. But I think the bigger navigations are trying
very hard to get the boaters to, and the boaters themselves and
the Inland Waterways Association, for instance, are hoping to
get their members better and better at going past anglers without
upsetting them. I think one of the areas of conflict which we
are not succeeding on managing is the very, very long poles which
anglers have nowadays, which upset the bicyclists; which is another
318. How everybody upsets the bicyclists. Dr
Eaton, I just want to bring you back, very briefly, to this business
of transfer of water, because although you were very tactful about
it you have actually argued, and other people have argued, that
18th century canals are not designed for the transfer of significant
volumes of water, and you also mention the problems of the locks.
Are you really saying that, once anybody produces a scheme for
significant transfers of volumes of water, they may find themselves
faced with a different situation?
(Dr Eaton) My comment about the volumes of water moving
was in the context of moving alien organisms, the probability
of alien organisms being transferred.
319. Yes, I understand that.
(Dr Eaton) I understand there are also engineering
problems, in that, to a large extent, the 18th and 19th century
engineers designed canals to keep water in them and not to lose
the water; and, therefore, to switch that onto a system which
is transporting water is to bring in a new use, for which the
original design was not specified. But the engineers tell us that
it is feasible to do so, and certainly in the case of the Llangollen
Canal there is a long-term successful example.