Memorandum by John Nicholls Esq (IW 67)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
I have been asked to make a submission on the
collective policy and involvement of Regional Development Agencies
in inland waterways. I received this request on return from holiday,
and only a few days before the deadline. Consequently, I have
been unable to contact and consult colleagues in other RDAs, but
I nevertheless hope the following might be helpful as a purely
personal set of thoughts on this issue. Please read it as such,
rather than as a joint RDA position statement.
I believe there are two key areas of interface
between RDAs and inland waterways.
Firstly, RDAs are successors to a variety of
funding regimes through which funding has been made available
for the restoration or creation of waterways infrastructure. Such
funding has benefited both British Waterways and a multiplicity
of voluntary sector groups. The principal funding stream has been
the Land Reclamation Programme inherited from English Partnerships,
which in turn inherited the former DOEs Derelict Land Grant. In
many cases such investment was characterised by canal restoration
virtually for its own sake, as a piece of environment upgrading
not necessarily tied to other regeneration or economic aims. Funding
from other streams has also been involved: for example, in this
region the Single Regeneration Budget is part-funding the creation
of a marina as part of a riverside regeneration in Newark.
There may well be a case for the continuation
of such investment, but I believe that the wider economic competitiveness
remit of the RDAs and the Government's response in Chapter 6.54
of the DETR "Waterways for Tomorrow" document will lead
the RDAs to apply a significantly different set of criteria to
requests for such support. They will be less inclined to accept
a purely amenity-based justification for such projects and will
look instead at how such proposals fit into a wider economic and/or
physical regeneration strategy for the relevant area. Numbers
of direct and indirect jobs generated, their contribution to tourist
development and job diversification and a value for money judgement
on that basis will be key criteria. I believe RDAs will be particularly
supportive of rural projects of this type if they meet these criteria.
This makes it probably less likely that some of the bolder voluntary
sector projects for restoration of entire abandoned waterways
will get support: my experience of such projects measures the
costs in tens of millions and the jobs benefits, at best, in a
The second, and increasingly important, interface
between BW and the RDAs is in the field of waterside regeneration.
It has long been recognised that water can provide a key, uplifting
ingredient in physical regeneration projects. Salford Quays, Sheffield,
Birmingham and the Black Country are but a few of the numerous
examples, and this success undoubtedly impacts on the wider issues
of social and economic regeneration of these areas. Over the years,
BW has become increasingly aware of and involved in this process:
by enhancing their own infrastructure in subject areas, by engaging
their often substantial historic land assets in the process; and
by an increasingly flexible and co-operative approach on issues
like wayleaves and canal maintenance.
Latterly, BW seems to me to have taken a step
further by engaging entrepreneurially in the regeneration process
itself, participating in the assembly of sites, master planning
and securing beneficial development. A prime example is their
involvement in emerging proposals for the riverside area of Nottingham.
This development is entirely welcome and should
be encouraged. It is extremely useful to have another player involved
who is able and willing to play the longer-term game of site assembly,
(which often deters the private sector), which can link that involvement
with enhancements to its own waterway infrastructure, and can
ultimately make a return on such investment which can be recycled.
The involvement of a public sector partner in this process is
especially valuable to the RDAs since our ability to support private
sector partners through the Partnership Investment Programme has
been curtailed through the EC's State Aids decision.
My own view is therefore that BW should be resourced
and encouraged to develop this role further. Ultimately, working
in partnership with the RDAs, this will generate a return for
their investment but will also greatly benefit the regeneration
prospects of parts of our towns and cities.
Director of Regeneration and Rural Affairs, East
Midlands Development Agency
23 October 2000