Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Wood, Hall and Heward Ltd (FUS 19)




  Transportation is a fundamental requirement of any economically active community. As its economy grows and develops so its demand for transportation increases.

  Over the years transportation systems have evolved and developed with emerging transport technologies, in many cases at the cost and ultimate demise of the preceding system.

  In the UK there has been little effort to co-ordinate the transport infrastructure, each transport mode having to compete with the others. This has undoubtedly led to the greater use of road transport and resulted in a change of attitude towards land usage.

  We are now beginning to see the side effects of this policy such as:

    —  economic growth fuels a constant demand for more roads;

    —  increasing traffic levels and ever increasing road congestion;

    —  financial loss due to time wasted;

    —  economic loss as areas are seen as unattractive because of poor road infrastructure;

    —  health problems with increased pollution and traffic accidents;

    —  environmental concerns associated with pollution and road construction;

    —  resource concerns as fossil fuel reserves are consumed.

  The need to strike a better balance between the various modes of transport is becoming ever more urgent. There are many issues to be addressed when considering an integrated transport system which makes it a complex topic to deal with. There are perhaps four broad areas for consideration:

    1.  Funding

    2.  Existing transport infrastructure and de-regulation

    3.  Land use—the way we live and work

    4.  Car culture

  The aim of this paper, however, is to concentrate on the existing rivers and inland waterways infrastructure and evaluate what part they can play in an integrated transport system.


  There has been much fine rhetoric over the years about making more use of our existing inland waterways and rivers on the basis that they are an under-utilised resource. Unfortunately this has rarely been followed up with any concerted effort or action, much of the work being left to dedicated enthusiasts working with very limited resources.

  This decline has been further compounded by a lack of any coherent and co-ordinated transport strategy with successive transport infrastructures becoming the dominant player in a rapidly changing economic and commercial environment.

  Public perception now regards the older rail and waterways infrastructures as inferior to road transport and indeed much modern development has turned its back on railway lines and canals further hastening their demise.

  As with all things in life there is always a trade-off to be made in the choices we make. However the inland waterways and rivers in the UK do present a number of opportunities that could be readily and economically exploited if there is the "political will" to overcome previous obstacles.

  Some of the key attractions include:

    —  an existing transport infrastructure that in many cases requires only minimal investment to return it to full operational status;

    —  a network that connects many major towns and cities in the UK (currently being exploited by the Fibreway National Network project);

    —  the opportunity to link rail and inland waterways offering a real alternative to road transport;

    —  a very visible and positive environmental contribution by utilising rivers and canals;

    —  many projects that would generate PR opportunities and media coverage helping to change people's perception of canal and river transport;

    —  a system that can provide temporary storage for goods in transit, an option often exercised on the Continent.


  When the canals were originally built they provided the most economical way of transporting goods over long distances. This was superseded with the advent of the railways which are still probably the most efficient in terms of cost per ton/mile with their capacity to move thousands of tons at high speeds across the UK and Europe.

  However the considerable original investment in the canals has been sustained through the British Waterways Board and the various activities of the Waterways Recovery Groups and other membership organisations. Whilst the canals are unlikely to play a role in long haul traffic there are short haul opportunities to which they are particularly suited especially as goods and people often use several different transport modes in their overall journey.

  In order to gain maximum benefit from the existing inland waterways infrastructure a mechanism must be found to generate some "quick wins" thus encouraging and stimulating further investment into the inland waterways system. This can only be achieved through partnership and real commitment from all the interested parties.

    —  Government and Local Authorities need to find ways of "oiling" the wheels, perhaps through simpler, more streamlined grant facilities and access.

    —  Waterways Authorities need to find ways of offering incentives, such as a "holiday" period for tolls in order to help establish a new route.

    —  Commercial operators need to have confidence that their efforts will be rewarded and that prospective customers do not find it easier to opt for a road transport solution.

  Suitable opportunities can be identified and if "Championed" and widely publicised it would be possible to turn public opinion in favour of greater use of our canals and rivers.

  This in turn is likely to stimulate more interest from the commercial world and thus encourage more investment in the infrastructure.

  Perhaps these potential opportunities are best exemplified by a number of mini case studies which the author has specific knowledge and experience.


  The following mini case studies are presented as examples of potential opportunities to exploit the existing waterways infrastructure. This is not an exhaustive list and there are likely to be many other such opportunities in different regions of the UK.

4.1 Paddington Basin Development

  In August 1996 a 13 acre site in Paddington was acquired by Chelsfield plc for re-development. This site includes a short stretch of canal, the Paddington Basin, which is connected to the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal at Little Venice.

  The development site has only limited road access via Praed Street, North Wharf Road and Harbet Road. There is also only limited space on the site itself. This is already a busy part of London due to Paddington station and the surrounding residential and commercial areas. Access is restricted due to the Westway (A40M) and bridges over the railway lines.

  The canal provides an alternative transport route right into the development site. Approximately three miles west along the Paddington Arm are convenient transhipment points with both road and rail transport access. This presents the opportunity to extend the development site by utilising the canal, also as an alternative transport route to take materials in and out of the site and provide floating storage.

  The attractions of this project are:

    —  the existing infrastructure is in operational condition;

    —  it is a short haul journey of about three miles;

    —  it would relieve road congestion around Paddington station considerably;

    —  it would reduce pollution created by construction traffic.

4.2 Old Oak Lane Railway Sidings

  About three miles to the west of Paddington in London is an existing railway sidings site which has the Paddington Arm of the Grant Union Canal passing along its southern edge.

  A minimum amount of investment would be required to create a suitable transhipment wharf at this site opening up the possibility of a rail to canal link in the West of London.

  Potential traffic would be aggregates coming into London for concrete making as most of the UK's aggregates are carried by rail initially before delivery to their final destination.

  The removal of excavated material and rubbish. There are already existing land fill sites, accessible by rail, for both ordinary waste and contaminated waste.

  Strategically for London this would be an ideal waste transfer site with the ability to remove a significant amount of road traffic from the London area.

  The attractions of this project are:

    —  minimal investment to create a wharf;

    —  easy access by canal into London;

    —  direct link to existing railway infrastructure;

    —  opens up potential for real alternative to road transport;

    —  could supply the Paddington Basin Developments.

4.3 Boyer Sand and Gravel

  William Boyer and Sons Ltd of West Drayton, Middlesex, have an aggregate extraction site just north of Uxbridge on the Grant Union Canal. The destination for the extracted material is approximately 2.5 miles further north along the canal at their processing plant at Widewater, Harefield.

  Here again the basic infrastructure is in operational condition although some investment is likely on the two locks at Denham and Widewater.

  The alternative is road transport and due to earlier objections to the canal transport proposal it currently looks as if this aggregate will be moved by road, parts of which will be along small country lanes.

  The attractions of this project are:

    —  start and finish destinations are canalside;

    —  it is a short haul journey, about 2.5 miles and two locks;

    —  every barge load would be at least the equivalent of three 20 ton lorry loads;

    —  W Boyer & Sons Ltd are keen to utilise the canal if at all possible;

    —  the existing infrastructure requires minimal investment to maintain a short stretch of canal at full operational level.

4.4 British Steel

  It was recently announced in the newspaper that British Steel intends to use rail freight transport to service a new distribution hub being established in the Midlands. The suggestion being that the final delivery to the customer would be by road transport.

  Birmingham and the Midlands are the heart of the inland waterways network and whilst there may be many obstacles it is indicative of current attitudes that no mention was made of canal transport being a possible delivery route.

4.5 Bristol Waterbus project

  This project involves setting up a regular timetabled waterbus service linking Bristol City centre with Temple Meads mainline railway station and surrounding residential areas, all connected by the City Docks waterway.

  The existing waterways infrastructure is in very good condition and requires minimal investment to improve the quality of the access points—"bus stops".

  Many large corporate organisations are now waterside, including Lloyds Bank, as a result of inward investment through the Bristol Development Corporation programme.

  The journey time from Temple Meads to the city centre by waterbus is approximately 12 minutes, faster than the bus at rush hour.

  Possible alternatives are some form of light transit railway or tram. By comparison this would require considerable investment and also utilise existing roads into Bristol which are already severely congested by current traffic levels.

  The waterbus project is attractive because:

    —  it uses existing under-utilised infrastructure;

    —  it will relieve road congestion and reduce pollution;

    —  it will serve the business office community which generates much of the commuter traffic;

    —  it could be extended to include "Park and Ride".

4.6 Thames River Bus

  The Thames River Bus service was originally set up to provide an additional passenger transport route into the Docklands development area. This took advantage of the river Thames providing an efficient and convenient east—west route through central London.

  It did however fail to capitalise on its particular strengths.

    1.  It needed to integrate quickly and easily with existing road and rail transport routes such as Charring Cross mainline station.

    2.  It should have exploited the boat as a mode of transport which potentially can offer value added services that road and rail services have difficulty in providing.

    3.  It should be priced at a level that the customer perceives as reasonable and ideally linked to the travel card system.

  The lower reaches of the Thames present some operational problems such as strong tidal currents and large height differences between high and low water, the River Bus service clearly demonstrated that these were not significant barriers to providing a service. Essentially the river Thames is a very under-utilised transport infrastructure for east—west journeys across London that could easily be linked with existing road and rail interchanges.


  As the Millennium approaches pressure is mounting on Governments around the world to resolve the problem of increasing road congestion and its associated pollution.

  Clearly better utilisation of existing resources will help redress the balance. The UK is in the fortunate position of having several existing transport infrastructures to exploit and is also at the leading edge of emerging telecommunications infrastructure.

  Whilst initially the inland waterways may only have a small part to play they will provide a powerful statement showing real commitment to a totally integrated transport system.

  The benefits are:

    —  Makes good use of existing infrastructure and investment.

    —  Requires only minimal investment to upgrade to full operational status.

    —  Potential projects exist for both commercial freight and passenger traffic offering a real alternative to road transport.

    —  These "Quick Wins" could be used to change public perception.

    —  Greater publicity is likely to generate more interest and encourage more investment.

    —  Shows real and visible commitment to a totally integrated system.

    —  Makes a positive contribution towards environmental concerns.

  The catalysts will be:

    —  Changing attitudes towards greater use of water transport.

    —  Developing infrastructure to widen transport choices.

    —  Policies to encourage the greater use of inland waterways.

  At the end of the day it is down to each and every one of us to make it work.

Gerald Heward

Commercial Director

2 December 1998

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