Memorandum by The Royal Town Planning
Institute (IW 70)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
1. Following the Government's publication,
in June 2000, of Waterways for Tomorrow, as a daughter
document of the 1998 Integrated Transport White Paper, the Environment
Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has resolved to examine
the proposals, and the extent to which they can be implemented.
The inquiry will look at the potential of inland waterways, and
the following particular issues:
the role of inland waterways in respect
urban and rural regeneration;
leisure, recreation, tourism
and historical heritage;
the environment and the enhancement
of wildlife; and
water transport, drainage and
whether the potential for increasing
commercial freight transport can be clearly identified; and the
role of commercial freight in meeting the objectives of the Government's
Integrated Transport White Paper;
the extent to which the above objectives
are complementary, and whether principal use should be given priority;
whether the Waterways for Tomorrow
policy document contains adequate policies and mechanisms to ensure
its goals are achieved, and, in particular, whether funding for
the stabilisation and development of inland waterways, including
revenue from licensing and regeneration and other monies, is adequate;
the structure of ownership of waterways,
and the roles and responsibilities of those agencies involved
in their protection and maintenance, and any other conflicts of
2. For the purposes of the inquiry, "inland
waterways" is taken to mean both tidal and non-tidal rivers
3. In the time available to put together
this submission, specially requested after the closing date for
the general submission of evidence to the Committee, the Institute
will concentrate on those matters of greatest interest and relevance
to town and country planning.
4. The Institute welcomed publication of
Waterways for Tomorrow as evidence that the Government
had given some consideration to the future of inland waterways
for the first time in over 30 years, but there is some disappointment
with the outcome. The document is a comprehensive review, but
is very light on policy. Although billed as a "daughter document"
of the Integrated Transport White Paper, the reality is that it
has little to say about the contribution of inland waterways to
integrated and more sustainable transport. There is a general
lack of clarity about where the priorities lie. Conviction and
commitment from Government are absent, and are replaced by hopes
of co-operation from the players involveda "wing and
a prayer" approach. This is typified in DETR's letter covering
circulation of the policy document:
"To be successful, this policy needs the
commitment and enthusiasm not only of waterway bodies, but everyone
else connected with, or with an interest in the waterways. Ministers
hope that you will be able to play a part in fulfilling Waterways
for Tomorrow's aim of creating a new, revitalised inland waterway
system which can be fully, imaginatively and adventurously used
5. In commenting on the earlier consultation
paper, Unlocking the Potentiala New Future for British
Waterways, in May 1999, the Institute said:
"The Institute is disappointed by the lack
of vision and ambition for inland waterways shown in the consultation
document. Its horizons seemed to be fixed on the means of catching
up on the backlog of maintenance. While there are references to
the commercial value of some of the property portfolio, there
appears to be only grudging recognition of the wider regeneration
potential of inland waterways, and almost a death wish for the
commercial use of the waterways themselves."
6. This feeling of disappointment and missed
opportunities applies almost as much to Waterways for Tomorrow.
In the current climate of emphasis on regeneration and brownfield
development, and on the more sustainable transport of people and
goods in both urban and rural areas, inland waterways must be
regarded much more as a valuable asset which can be better exploited
in furtherance of a range of Government policies.
7. The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory
Council (IWAAC) is described as "the Government's statutory
advisory body on waterways", for which the Government intends
to "encourage" a wider advisory role. The Institute
believes there is a case for giving the IWAAC more teeth, a brief
extending beyond its present advisory role, and a clear remit
to promote and develop the potential of inland waterways, for
all purposes. The extent to which an umbrella body is necessary
is demonstrated by paragraph 2.10 of Waterways for Tomorrow,
which describes the fragmentation of ownership and responsibilities.
British Waterways is responsible for roughly half the network,
but ownership of the remainder is shared between the Environment
Agency, the Broads Authority and "a wide range of other bodies".
This situation is clearly not conducive to the implementation
of "joined-up" or consistent policies, and points to
the need for a single organisation to provide effective co-ordination
and a sense of direction.
8. This view was echoed in Britain's
Inland WaterwaysAn Undervalued Asset, the report of
the IWAAC itself, when it expressed concern that Government planning
policy paid little attention to the inland waterways. The Institute
sees the planning system as the key to the future development
of inland waterways, but would not go as far as to call for a
dedicated PPG. Instead, it supports the suggestion that relevant
matters should be given better and more co-ordinated coverage
as the existing suite of PPGs is revised and updated. That, however,
shifts the onus to regional planning bodies and local planning
authorities in preparing regional planning guidance and development
plans. It raises the profile, but does not provide a proactive
body, "fighting the corner" of the waterways, with whom
LPAs can liaise in developing policies and proposals. As a step
along the way, however, the Institute supports the proposal to
invite the IWAAC to prepare a good practice guide, to be published
jointly with DETR, promoting the contribution of inland waterways
to regeneration and other projects.
Urban and rural regeneration
9. Water adds new dimensions to regeneration
projects. The environmental bonus is an obvious one, but alongside
comes the opportunity to diversify schemes into recreation and
tourism. This does not have to mean a coastal or major riverfront
location, as recent projects in, for example, Birmingham, Salford/Manchester,
and Leeds have demonstrated. In each instance, inland waterways
have formed the focus of area-based schemes. These have been further
enhanced by the presence of redundant waterside buildings of some
characterpreviously in uses connected with the former commercial
role of the waterwaywhich have been available for conversion
into new homes, or offices, or other uses.
10. There is no single, stereotyped solution
to regeneration, but there is a need for a much more proactive
approach on the part of the riparian owner (often British Waterways
in urban canal-side situations such as those exemplified above).
Waterways for Tomorrow states that British Waterways has
a property portfolio valued at £280 million, of which £230
million is non-operational. This indicates the extent of the contribution
it can make to regeneration, and its facility to enter into schemes
on a partnership basis. Pre-existing land ownership patterns rarely
fit the regeneration scheme, so there will be a requirement for
the same land assembly process as in other areas. This can be
expedited by a more commercial outlook on the part of owners,
moving away from the old nationalised industry culture, and a
greater willingness to enter into partnerships to take schemes
forward for a wider area.
11. In rural areas, although the scale and
nature of projects may be different, the new mindset is equally
important. Projects will be smaller, and are more likely to be
heritage, tourism or conservation-based, but imagination and partnership
will be required, accompanied by a bit of lateral thinking by
land owners, to bring forward and implement schemes.
12. Many of our inland waterways flow through
the conurbations, where they follow pollution-free routes separated
from those used by motorised traffic. An added bonus is that towpaths
are generally safe and level, and are, or can be made, environmentally
attractive, so lending themselves to use by pedestrians and cyclists.
Although the recreational use of towpaths is often highlighted,
and individual regeneration schemes have capitalised on them,
there is scope for much greater, more general, use. Local transport
plans should be used to bring forward upgrading and lighting programmes,
and improve links to footpath and cycleway networks, so that towpaths
and other riverside walkways can be used for commuting and the
other short urban trips which are so environmentally damaging
when undertaken by car.
13. In this context, British Waterways'
recent steps to introduce charges for the use of some towpaths
by cyclists, while possibly understandable from a narrow commercial
viewpoint, are hardly indicative of joined up thinking as we attempt
to reduce dependence on the car.
Leisure, recreation, tourism and historical heritage
14. The recreational use of inland waterways
has increased, as commercial use has declined, to the extent that
it is now often the principal pre-occupation of those responsible
for the waterways. It also figures large in Waterways for Tomorrow.
The Institute believes there is scope for a much more planned
and co-ordinated approach that will help realise the full potential
in urban areas, and make a valuable contribution to the diversification
of rural economies.
15. The waterways, and their immediate surroundings,
provide a facility for active and informal recreation, and a focus
for tourism development. They also represent an important part
of our historic architectural and engineering heritage, and an
16. It is here that the Institute believes
the planning system can make an important contribution, and supports
the suggestion in Waterways for Tomorrow that appropriate
advice and guidance might be included in PPGs, as they are revised.
Inland waterways represent, often lengthy, corridors, that are
significant on a regional scale. It would be appropriate, therefore,
for regional planning guidance to set out a strategic approach
to the development of leisure, recreation, interpretation, etc
facilities in each corridor, to be detailed in the development
plans that follow. The use of the waterway corridors as long distance
footpaths or cycleways, as well as the means of providing sustainable
transport to the facilities to be provided, can also be addressed
at this level.
The environment and the enhancement of wildlife
17. Along with rail and motorway/trunk road
corridors, inland waterways are havens for wildlife, both in terms
of habitat and facilitating relatively undisturbed movement. The
significance for wildlife needs to be taken into account in the
planning strategy for waterway corridors. Many development plans
already identify "wildlife corridors".
18. There are particular considerations
in urban areas, where canalside land may have been derelict or
vacant for a lengthy period, and become increasingly bio-diverse.
Care is necessary to ensure that ecological conservation is allowed
Water transport, drainage and telecommunications
19. The land drainage and water distribution
roles of inland waterways are long established in many instances.
In more recent times, waterways have been used as a convenient
means of facilitating highway drainageas specifically referred
to in Waterways for Tomorrow. The Institute would make
two points here, both relating to sustainability issues, which
have only recently come to the fore:
whilst inland waterways are often
a convenient way of assisting in the transfer of water from low
to high demand areas, there is a need for an environmental assessment
caveat where water is transferred from one river catchment to
another because of the possible adverse effects on ecology; and
run-off from land drainage, and especially
from highways, is often highly polluted. Any new schemes for drainage
to inland waterways should employ the latest sustainable drainage
techniques to minimise pollution risks.
20. The Institute is aware of recent claims
that there is unexplored potential in the use of locks and weirs
for electricity generationie electricity from renewable
sources. It has no idea of the realism of these suggestions, bearing
in mind the intermittent nature of the use of locks, in particular,
but the Committee may wish to explore the technical possibilities
The potential for increasing commercial freight
21. There appears to have been a welcome
change of heart in the year between publication of Unlocking
the Potentiala New Future for British Waterways, the
earlier consultation paper, and Waterways for Tomorrow.
Not only was commercial freight almost totally ignored in the
earlier document, but here was a reference to "uneconomic
activities that British Waterways is no longer engaged in, such
as freight carrying". By contrast Waterways for Tomorrow
is considerably more positive, saying that "commercial traffic
is still an important source of income for British Waterways,
which aims to increase the amount of traffic carried on its waterways",
and citing a number of recent developments in this area.
22. This is welcomed in the content of the
Integrated Transport White Paper. A much more positive and proactive
approach was needed, and expected. The contribution to freight
transport by inland waterways may be limited in percentage terms,
but the potential should not be lightly dismissed. There is a
direct analogy with rail freight here, and the point is well made
by the example of grain movement from Seaforth to Old Trafford
via the Manchester Ship Canal saving 5,000 extra lorry trips between
Merseyside and Greater Manchester.
23. Like rail, inland waterways were best
suited to transporting the bulk loads of the past, but this market
has largely disappeared with the demise of heavy industry in the
UK. However, rail freight has been able to take advantage of containerisation
and other means of transporting smaller quantities of goods. These
benefits are equally available to the waterways if the right marketing
strategies are adopted.
24. Policy implementation might be strengthened
by better promotion of the availability of freight facilities
grants for water-related development, now proposed by the Government.
In due course, there should also be a direct read across to the
Government's new ports policy, on which DETR consulted last year.
There are likely to be competitive advantages to inland waterways
freight in direct transhipment to/from seagoing vessels at both
existing and new ports facilities.
The extent to which objectives are complementary
25. This heading, taken from the inquiry's
terms of reference, provides a useful introduction to the Institute's
26. Unlikely though it might appear, inland
waterways can find themselves in a "win-win" situation.
With proper planning and promotion, they represent a multi-faceted
asset, capable of supporting a range of functions and facilities,
where conflicts are unlikely except in extreme circumstances.
The freight-carrying, regeneration, environmental, water supply/drainage,
recreation, tourism, heritage, and conservation functions are
broadly compatible. Only in the case, say, of a heavily used commercial
waterway is the balance likely to be disturbed. The downside is
the fragmentation of ownerships and responsibilities, and the
very breadth of the interests involved, making consultation and
planning complex processes.
27. To achieve their full potential, across
this wide range of uses, inland waterways, and the corridors in
which they lie, need to be given strategic consideration in regional
planning guidance, which would then provide a framework for site-specific
proposals in development plans. This process might be greatly
assisted by the creation of a single body representing the range
of waterways interests, which could liaise with and advise regional
planning bodies and local planning authorities as they prepare
their policies and proposals.
24 October 2000