Memorandum by the National Association
of Boat Owners (IW 19)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
The National Association of Boat Owners (NABO)
is the only truly independent, voluntary body in the United Kingdom
which exists to represent solely the interests and concerns of
the owners of pleasure boats used on the inland waterways.
NABO represents some 2,000 personal boat owning
members and more than 8,000 affiliated boat owners based on the
rivers, canals and lakes of Britain; or with trailable boats which
they take around the country.
Our submission reflects the concerns and interests
of our members from the point of view of pleasure boat owners
navigating the waterways for a pastime. In addition, some of our
members actually live on board their boats, either full time as
their main or only residence, or for prolonged periods as they
cruise continuously throughout the country.
Our comments are therefore centred on the aspects
of the Government's publication Waterways for Tomorrow
which directly affect our members.
As an Association representing owners of boats
used for leisure on the inland waterway system, NABO has no doubts
about the value of canals and rivers when used for recreational
activities and for tourism.
They attract walkers, anglers, artists, historians,
etc who enjoy seeing boating activity and historic craft. It should
be noted that, historically, most towing paths alongside canals
were private property and the public had no right of access on
foot or bicycle. This situation prevails today but many towpaths
have been improved at public expense and opened up to create safe
pedestrian routes especially in urban areas. Some towpaths have
been turned into local or national cycle routes. There is an urgent
need to clarify the status and permitted uses of canal towpaths,
Boat owners are required to have Third Party insurance cover.
Should the same apply to cyclists and other users?
The age of many of the canal structures is part
of the fascination of the waterways and many tourists hire boats
every year to travel the system. The inland waterways attract
thousands of overseas visitors every year, who contribute to the
It must be recognised that pleasure boats regularly
cruise on canals where dredging and maintenance leave a lot to
be desired. The Transport Act 1968 designated certain canals as
"cruiseways" which were to receive most investment in
maintenance, whilst others were classified as "remainder"
waterways, receiving only minimum care and attention. As a result
of partnerships with other agencies both types of canals have
been improved in recent years and some have been re-classified
as a result. However, many canals are in a poor condition and
use by boats is not encouraged.
NABO regrets that the government has not taken
the opportunity to reform the dated legislation and re-classify
the existing "cruiseway" and "remainder" canals.
Many of the latter are extensively used by cruising craft and
if use of all canals is to be encouraged then all waterways must
receive similar standards of maintenance.
Despite a year-by-year reduction in private
boat and hire boat movements on the inland waterways, the document
makes no reference to this fact. The current year (2000) has witnessed
yet another noticeable reduction in the use of canals and rivers
by pleasure craft. Our members have remarked on it, lock-keepers
have confirmed that their figures for lock passages are down,
even the River Thames has been much quieter.
The boat hire trade is in decline and the reasons
need to be investigated urgently before the hire boat industry
commits itself to any new investment.
Our members are becoming increasingly concerned
about incidents of vandalism and intimidation of boat owners.
They find themselves victims of crimefrom physical personal
attacks and theft from their boats and, all too often, the police
fail to respond or to apprehend the perpetrators. Action is urgently
required before sections of our waterways become "no-go"
Many inner city areas have been regenerated
with canals as their focal point. Unfortunately, in some cases
the contemporary canal-side buildings have not been retained or
restored. Unsympathetic office bocks and apartments have taken
their place, accompanied by a proliferation of unnecessary signs.
In one recent case, BW attempted to obtain planning permission
for the siting of a "Chinese junk" to be moored in the
centre of Birmingham. This was vehemently opposed and rejected,
but suggests that BW does not regard the historic canal environment
in the same way as the general public.
We consider that greater emphasis must be given
to preserving the historic built environment together with historic
boats, and more derelict waterways should be restored for their
original purposefor use by boats. But please, no more signs!
The overview to Waterways for Tomorrow
includes the statement "There is scope to increase the amount
of freight carried on inland waterways". This appears to
be an opinion rather than a statement of fact. Has a formal study
been undertaken by the DETR to establish the facts?
Although our members own and operate pleasure
craft on the inland waterways, they would strongly support the
re-introduction of commercial carrying on canals and rivers.
We see no conflict between these different class
of user since most waterways were originally constructed to accommodate
commercial craft and leisure use followed the commercial decline
of the waterways. Re-introduction of large freight-carrying vessels
would improve the navigable state of the waterways. Water depths
would need to be maintained for the larger craft, locks and other
structures would be improved and kept in operable condition and
these would benefit our members and all leisure boat users.
We deplore the fact that many of the larger
commercial waterways controlled by British Waterways have been
allowed to deteriorate since commercial use has declined over
the past 30 to 40 years. This is despite BW continuing to have
legal responsibilities to maintain such waterways in a condition
suitable for use by commercial vessels.
For instance, BW has failed to dredge major
rivers such as the Severn and the Trent following the decline
in commercial use. Waterways such as these could not be readily
used by large freight vessels unless BW were to carry out considerable
improvements and maintenance works to restore them to their former
navigable condition. NABO has consistently campaigned for all
canals and waterways to be dredged to their original profile except
where engineering factors preclude this.
The lack of investment and maintenance of the
major commercial waterways in recent years reflects the fact that
BW has not sought to promote commercial carrying. On the contrary,
it has even sought to reduce the standard of maintenance and depths
on certain commercial waterways in Yorkshire.
We do not foresee commercial carrying being
brought back to the narrow canal network to any appreciable extent.
Narrowboats have insufficient capacity and operational restrictions
to make them a viable mode of transport. We appreciate that it
would be unrealistic to utilise narrow canals and that improvements
and widening of 200 year old structures would not be practicable
or economic in most cases.
However, the wide beam canals and rivers do
have the capability for use as major commercial routes. We commend
the proposals of the Inland Shipping Group if the IWA which has
proposed a number of major schemes for development of water transport
in its paper entitled UK Freight WaterwaysA Blueprint
for the Future (1996).
Water transport has economic and environmental
benefits. It is energy efficient, less polluting, quieter and
reduces road congestion. NABO wishes to see greater use of inland
waterways for freight carrying.
Local Planning Authorities must be charged with
ensuring that the sustainable use of inland waterways for freight
carriage is promoted whenever development proposals close to navigable
rivers or commercial-designated canals are being considered. By
way of example, permission for gravel extraction on sites adjacent
to the River Severn has been granted by the local authority in
Worcestershire and yet all materials are transported away by road.
In the same county, plans for incineration of
waste have been vehemently opposed by residents, whilst the opportunity
to convey refuse via the River Severn to an environmentally acceptable
incinerator site near Bristol has been ignored.
It is important to recognise that rivers were
improved for navigation; and canals were primarily built to accommodate
the movement of boats carrying cargoes to centres of population.
NABO deplores the fact that Waterways for
Tomorrow fails to rectify the most significant negative achievement
of the Transport Act 1968 which removed the Right of Navigation
from all canals controlled by BW.
The document fails to recognise this fact and
NABO calls on the Government to reinstate the Right of Navigation
on the nationalised canals. If they are to be "waterway highways"
for increased public and commercial use, there must be a public
right to use them.
Despite waterways attracting a variety of users
(mainly leisure) we must not lose sight of the fact that they
are first and foremost navigations. Without boats using them they
would be less attractive places and of reduced benefit to other
users such as anglers and walkers. Boats help to aerate the water
(a benefit to anglers) and prevent obstructions from weed growth.
NABO is concerned with the trend in recent years
for nature conservation to take precedence over other legitimate
and historic uses such as boating. This has developed to the ludicrous
extent that some derelict waterways have been restored to use
only for restrictions or outright bans to be placed on the movement
of boats due to the misguided concerns of English nature and other
environmentalists. There is no conflict between boating and bio-diversity.
NABO believes that all interests and uses can
be accommodated on the inland waterways. After all, boat owners
also wish to enjoy the delights of the flora and fauna of our
rivers and canals but they understand that without boats to keep
the water channel open, wildlife would suffer.
Boat owners contribute more than once to the
upkeep of the inland waterways. They are an easy target for imposition
of hefty increases in boat licence charges and have paid well
above the rate of inflation for BW licences in recent years as
a direct result of a policy decision by BW.
Boat owners also pay for inland waterways via
national and local taxation, unlike the majority of other users.
NABO believes that the inexorable increases in the costs associated
with boat ownership may have acted as a deterrent to younger people
and the lack of their involvement concerns us. We do not want
boat ownership to be seen as elitist or unaffordable.
IWAAC was created by the Transport Act 1968
to advise BW and the government. It is not a consumer "watchdog"
NABO considers that the fact that the majority
of the inland waterway system is controlled by a nationalised
body (BW) requires an independent regulator to safeguard consumer
interests in the face of the dominant position which BW holds.
The government should appoint a consumer body (perhaps to be termed
"Off-Cut"??) to regulate the activities of BW and to
control the imposition of excessive increases in tolls and charges.
Other users, in the main, do not have to pay
any separate charges for using the waterways. Ramblers and cyclists
are permitted free access and are even subsidised by lottery funding
such as the Sustrans cycle network or by improvements to towpaths
funded by local councils.
NABO supports the assertion on page 22 that
BW's involvement in Fibreway "will provide additional income
for BW to bring forward investment in much-needed repairs and
improvements in its waterways".
British Waterways is the major operator of inland
waterways in England, Wales and Scotland as a result of its legacy
from past nationalisation of the transport infrastructure.
The EA has navigation responsibilities on a
number of major river systems including the River Thames, the
Medway and the rivers of East Anglia. However, navigation is a
very small part of its budget and is not a major activity for
The government increased public investment in
BW in February 1999 and the document states that BW has built
on the new framework and has developed its own strategy, including
plans to establish new public/private partnerships.
The commitment to public/private partnerships
is laudable but does lack credibility in the light of the recent
extensive acquisition of BW of a number of pubs, marinas, etc,
thus nationalising previously private facilities. NABO does not
believe such actions are of benefit to private boat owners.
NABO is grateful for the increased investment
to tackle the backlog of maintenance but would like to know what
the BW Strategy is.
Is it to increase public ownership of waterways
facilities such as pubs and marinas? In recent months BW has been
on an acquisition spree and has purchased many facilities formerly
in private ownership. No suggestion of any partnershipit
has simply taken them over.
A nationalised industry should not be buying
up pubs and marinas in competition with the private sector.
We are pleased that the government "wants
to encourage people to make use of the inland waterways for leisure
and recreation" including increased tourism and use by disabled
NABO notes that the government has encouraged
greater co-operation between BW and the EA with a formal collaboration
agreement and partnership projects.
We view the proposal for BW "to look at
the Agency's navigation responsibilities" with some suspicion
and not a little concern. This ominous statement suggests that
the government may be minded to hand over navigation responsibilities
on rivers to BW. A further example of back-door nationalisation;
and an extension of the BW monopoly which would be a disbenefit
to boat owners.
This comes in the wake of the government's earlier
assertion (in 1999) not to alter the present responsibilities
of the EA.
If the government is minded to change the status
quo, NABO's considered view is that it would prefer the EA to
retain control of its present river navigations and for the EA
to take on the navigation responsibilities of BW on rivers (eg
the Severn, Trent, Weaver, Ouse etc) as an integral part of managing
the river systems. However, this must be subject to adequate funding
being forthcoming from the government to the Agency.
Furthermore, NABO would not wish the EA to acquire
navigation responsibilities on rivers where no navigation authority
presently exists. We opposed many aspects of the Agency's bid
for the River Wye as we are convinced that the move would restrict
the historic right of navigation. We note that the Secretary of
State has still to announce a decision in this regard.
There are also a number of other bodies with
responsibility for navigation, including private companies, charitable
trusts, drainage authorities and local authorities. NABO would
not wish to see their functions being taken over by new or existing
bodies such as BW or EA. The variety of ownership, and the freedom
to choose where one bases a boat, adds to the interest of our
waterways. However, our members would prefer to have to pay for
only one licence covering use of all inland waterways. The optional
"Gold Licence" introduced jointly by BW and EA has been
a welcome step in this direction.
National Association of Boat Owners