Memorandum by Commercial Narrowboat Operators
Association (CNOA) (FUS 3)
THE FUTURE OF THE UK SHIPPING INDUSTRY
1. The Commercial Narrowboat Operators Association
(CNOA) was set up in 1989 as an association of firms and individuals
operating narrowboats on the Midlands canal system. Subsequently,
and as a result of popular interest in the Association's work,
associate membership was extended to those of the general public
who were interested in the Association's aims and objectives.
The aims of CNOA are, as set out in its constitution
adopted in July 1980:
the furtherance and development
of freight traffic on the inland waterways of this country with
special reference to those waterways regarded as "non-commercial"
or "remainder" but which have carried commercial freight
traffic in former times.
Among CNOA's objectives, as set out in its constitution,
The creation of a Trade Association
which will negotiate with authorities and organisations, local
and national on behalf of its members.
The publicising of the Inland Waterway
Carrying Trade and its development and expansion.
The raising of the level of the
public perception of the Inland Waterways Carrying Trade.
The development of modern cargo handling,
wharfage and warehousing equipment within the context of the current
perception of inland waterways as a whole.
The education and training of crews
for freight purposes.
2. General response
It is our belief that inland waterway
transport could make a significant contribution in both promoting
the Government's environmental objectives and offering a safe
and economic alternative form of transport.
Although our title might indicate
that we are only concerned with the narrow canals of the Midlands,
we have a wider view, believing that a far greater contribution
could be made by the country's broad waterways and rivers, estuarial
waterways and coastal shipping than is the case at present,
and that everything possible should be done to promote this. We
realise that the narrow gauge canals of England and Wales, which
are presently much used for leisure traffic, could only make a
relatively small contribution to the transport needs of the United
Kingdom. We have no special knowledge of the Scottish or Northern
Irish waterways, but would consider that many similar considerations
would arise in their cases.
However we firmly contend that greater
use of the smaller waterways, as well as the larger ones and
coastal shipping, for freight transport would make a very significant
contribution by relieving pressure on roads and serving parts
of the United Kingdom from which rail freight services, and indeed
any rail infrastructure has long since disappeared. This applies
equally to the overpopulated South East as to the Highlands of
Wales and Scotland. Small ports with poor road access, such as
Wivenhoe or Sutton Bridge on the East Coast, or Kentish ports
such as Whitstable, or Welsh ports such as Porthmadoc could still
use the water transport option if the will were there to do so.
The broad view of water transport should include every way
in which it can be used, not merely the inland waterways,
3. Dealing with the bullet points of
the sub-committee's terms of reference in turn we would comment
Water transport both inland and
coastal urgently needs a number of "carrots" to promote
its wider use. Examples of these would be tax or rate concessions
for organisations making greater use of water transport, a simpler
and speedier process of awarding grants for improving or constructing
freight handling facilities, improved standards of maintenance,
and above all a firm stated commitment by Government to provide
a guaranteed track and to give moral and practical support to
water transport ventures. This must include a decision over
the future of the British Waterways Board and the financing of
its successors. So far as "sticks" are concerned,
we would like to see Government take a firm line with future
industrial development and examine much more fully the transport
options when the siting of new industry is intended. Greenfield
sites with no water or rail access should only be considered as
a last resort. Regulations should be made which would alter
the economic balance in favour of water transport, such as
the prohibition of uneconomic road haulage rates on back loads.
Such rates do not increase industry's true competitiveness, they
merely offer a form of hidden subsidy to road hauliers.
We are not in a position to offer
any informed comment on UK ship registration etc.
Coastal shipping and Inland Waterways
are capable of taking much more traffic than they do at present.
The advantages, which would help achieve the objectives of the
Transport White Paper, are:
A reduction in fuel, especially fossil fuel,
consumption by virtue of the lack of friction involved in water
transport, this means that a larger load can be moved for less
power than any other form of terrestrial transport.
A reduction in atmospheric pollution because
of the lower power required, and similar reduction in noise levels.
Water transport can be used to minimise the air pollution per
tonne/kilometre of freight moved. Its increased use can play a
vital part in delivering the national air quality strategy.
A reduction in road traffic congestion provided
that there is proper integration between sea, inland waterway
and other environmentally-friendly transport media such as rail.
Regarding the other bullet points,
we are not in a position to comment other than pointing out that
our nearest EU neighbours, France, Belgium and the Netherlands
make considerably greater usage of inland waterways than the UK.
Whilst acknowledging that there are differing economic circumstances
at work in these countries, it must also be pointed out that there
is also a culture of waterways there, which is largely absent
in the UK. The countries mentioned above are not ashamed of their
ports and waterways, they actively promote them and encourage
public interest. In the UK commercial activities at ports and
waterway depots are often hidden away from the public as if they
were shameful things.
4. General observations
4.1 Some investment will be needed, but we believe
that the Government should, as a matter of priority, instigate
a full investigation into the physical improvements required to
give inland waterways a full transport role as well as their current
amenity one. We would wish to be involved with this, both
collectively as an Association and individually from our members
point of view. We believe that further investment would have a
minimum cost compared to that spent on roads. We also consider
that the present fragmentation of the inland waterways system
both within British Waterways (where the Transport Act, 1968
created three classes of waterways), and without, where there
are a myriad of authorities ranging from the Environment Agency,
through PLCs (the Manchester Ship Canal Co) and quasi-public organisations,
such as the Rochdale Canal Trust, to small trusts is both wasteful
and outdated. Such fragmentation of control acts to the detriment
of the integration of water transport of all types. Some sort
of National Inland Waterways Authority should ultimately
be set up, such as has been done in France with the Voies Navigables
Francaises. Within the existing waterway authorities much
could still be done by the authorities themselves, such as a policy
for the active encouragement of freight carrying rather than its
discouragement by officials, better supervision of water levels,
the passage of locks, the regulation and provision of on-line
mooring and so forth. Provided that Government showed its approval,
there is no reason why these could not be put in effect forthwith
by all the authorities at minimal cost.
4.2 We have already mentioned some means by
which the transfer of freight to water might be achieved in paragraph
2 above. Another means which we would greatly favour would be
the setting up of a Water Transport Agency with a remit
to promote all forms of water transport, including shipping, coastal
and overseas. This should replace the present Freight Services
Division of British Waterways which has done nothing to arrest
the decline of freight carriage on the broad Commercial Waterways,
as defined by the Transport Act, 1968. We consider that unless
something of this nature is done as a matter of immediate urgency,
there will be NO freight transport left on the British Waterways
Board's Commercial Waterways, let alone the smaller ones, by the
end of the century.
4.3 We support the concept of setting targets
for the increase in the proportion of freight carried by water,
both inland and coastal, and these targets should be the responsibility
of a Water Transport Agency. Such targets would make the
Government's commitment absolutely clear.
4.4 Insofar as new funding mechanisms are concerned,
we would limit ourselves to pointing out that the inland waterways,
uniquely, provide both a transport system linking inland with
the ports and a wider public amenity. Any funding of the system
should take this into account, perhaps by means of an annual service
payment to whatever body is entrusted with the stewardship of
4.5 Wider public awareness of the use of
less environmentally damaging forms of transport (one of CNOA's
objectives), could do much to promote their use. As we have
already suggested, the use of narrowboat transport can make an
important contribution. A public more widely educated in the
benefits of all types of water transport, including shipping,
would bring pressure to bear on firms through their choices as
customers and through influence at their own places of work.
For instance, if some sort of points system were to be instituted
for produce sold at retail outlets based on the amount of energy
consumed to bring them to the consumer, and this were to be made
a legal requirement of sale, then the customer could judge whether
or not it were worth buying fruit flown in from California against
local produce. A large proportion of consumer goods of a non-perishable
nature brought into the UK by pollutive transport such as air
and road could well be transferred to shipping by a public awareness
4.6.1 Links with ports are already directly
made by inland waterway in many cases. Unfortunately these have
been grossly neglected in recent years, mainly as a result of
the now defunct Dock Labour Scheme. Containerisation is not always
suitable for narrowboat transport, but should certainly be encouraged
on the broad waterways. In other instances, especially those involving
discharge direct to and from ship, most types of inland waterway
craft are suitable. Port Authorities should be made more aware
of the existence of waterways connecting them to their hinterland,
and actively encouraged to use them. The widening or lengthening
of many of these waterways is needed as an urgent priority. Ports
which have inland waterway links include the following: The Mersey,
Severn, Humber and Thames ports, the Wash ports and the Chester
Dee. Other ports with inland waterway connections, but which are
not connected with the main network of Central England are Yarmouth,
Lowestoft, Chatham and the Medway ports, Littlehampton, Exmouth
and Bridgewater. In Scotland the Forth and Clyde ports will shortly
be reconnected by the restored Forth and Clyde Canal. Far more
use could be made of LASH or BACAT systems of containerisation,
whilst smaller containers could be devised which could be utilised
on the smaller waterways which connect with ports.
4.6.2 Details of potential interface traffic,
some of which has been carried on an experimental basis in recent
Newsprint from Ellesmere Port to
Brentford for onforwarding to Newspaper premises in the London
Imported solid fuels via Trent wharves
to the Midlands.
Ditto via Sharpness (River Severn).
Ditto via the Port of London.
Timber products from Wash ports to
the London area.
Imported steels from Wash ports to
the Birmingham area.
NB. All the above movements are suitable for
narrowboat transport. Other possibilities which have been investigated
in recent months, but which can use larger craft, are:
Container traffic inwards and outwards
from Wash ports to motorway or A1(M) interchange points. (and
see our remarks in 4.6.1 above regarding LASH or BACAT systems).
Stone import traffic from the Irish
Republic via Bristol to the lower Thames.
Import/export traffic via the River
Lea, or the River Thames or the River Wey, or the lower Grand
Union Canal to an M25 interchange. The viability of this last
suffers from the multiplicity of waterway authorities in the London
Area. The Port of London Authority, British Waterways Board, the
Environment Agency and the National Trust are all responsible
for sections of waterways needed to make such a movement viable.
4.7 Even with the use of quite elderly technologies,
water transport is still highly fuel-efficient. The introduction
of newer technologies such as fuel cell power units could raise
this efficiency even further. If there is to be a renaissance
in water transport, it will make economic sense for carrying organisations
themselves to explore and invest in such new technology to reduce
their transport costs still further. CNOA is currently carrying
out an appraisal of this technology in association with staff
of British Waterways.
The Government should exert all the pressure
at its disposal to put pressure on local authorities and Government
agencies to prevent further disappearance of all types of wharves
and waterway servicing points particularly including those in
4.9 The removal of excessive costs, such
as the British Waterways practice of charging licence fees based
on pleasure boat cruising usage, or the high tolls charged by
the Environment Agency for use of the Upper Thames, or access
charges for the connection of off line moorings, wharfs and loading
basins, would do much to make inland waterway transport more
viable. If the relevant authorities complain that they are
thus losing revenue, then the various grants that they receive
from Central Government should be upgraded to reflect this. The
tax system might be used to encourage waterside industry to make
use of the waterway on their doorstep, and would also encourage
others to return to the waterside. It is arguable that any loss
to the Revenue would be compensated by the lesser spend on highway
4.10 Whilst we see a positive role for local
authorities in planning and regulating development of freight
facilities, as well as encouraging a greater use of water transport
both directly and indirectly, We are not convinced that large
scale capital developments should be their responsibility unless
in partnership with Central Government or its agencies, and private
industry. This would regulate "wild cat" schemes
entered into for short term political reasons and encourage long
term investment based on sound environmental and economic principles.
5.1 CNOA supports the development of a national
integrated transport policy and feels that all forms of water
transport can play an important part in this.
5.2 It also feels that, given its acknowledged
limitations, narrowboat transport can make a very significant
contribution to this as well as raising the public profile of
that policy, in particular the revitalising of all waterborne
modes of transport, including coastal shipping.
30 November 1998