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


Memorandum by the Inland Waterways Association (FUS 22)

1. What action and partnership is required of the industry and government to develop a sustainable, internationally competitive shipping industry

  The use of inland waterways for the movement of freight must be recognised by the Government and the industry as a part of the British shipping industry and not in isolation as so often seems to happen. Indeed in the past it has appeared to be included in any transport planning as an afterthought. Moreover, despite the acceptance by the UK Government in the early 1980s of a standard definition of an "inland waterway" that approximates to the EU 1980 definition, inland shipping issues are still often referred to the branch of DETR responsible for British Waterways (BW), who operate only about a third of the UK's freight waterways, carrying less than 5 per cent of UK inland waterway traffic (as tonne-km), rather than to the DETR branches dealing with transport and shipping.

  There is clearly a need for inland waterway freight transport to be more widely recognised within the DETR, as an integral part of freight transport and shipping as a whole. IWA's Inland Shipping Group has long been pressing the point, reiterated later, on the need for establishment within the Department of a unit with overall responsibility for the development of all waterborne freight transport, including responsibility for grants for shipping facilities on waterways and at ports. Such a unit will need to operate in close partnership with the wide variety of bodies responsible for navigation on UK freight waterways.

  Regarding Government actions required for the development of the British inland shipping industry in particular, we would draw your attention to our earlier evidence to the House of Commons inquiry on the Integrated Transport White Paper, especially the section entitled "Coastal and Inland Shipping". We reiterate the main points of our response below.

    —  In order for the new Commission for Integrated Transport to have a balanced view, there must be a section within DETR that co-ordinates policies for the development of traffic on inland and coastal waterways and short-sea routes.

    —  Track access grants, currently available for railways only, must be extended to inland waterways.

    —  There needs to be a national register of waterside sites, which have existing or potential use for handling waterborne freight or for the location of waterway-using industries, similar to the 1996 scheme for safeguarding of 30+ wharves on the River Thames.

    —  A programme must be prepared for the improvement of selected existing inland waterways and for examining the potential for new waterway developments which maximise modal integration.

    —  Selected UK waterways must be included as part of the TENs programme as they are linked by river-sea shipping with the mainland European waterways.

    —  When promoting the transfer of freight from roads, the water transport option must always be made explicit.

    —  For the Integrated Transport policy to have any reasonable impact, the Government must implement at least the targets for waterborne freight set by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1994)—an increase from 25 per cent to 30 per cent in tonne-km of UK freight moved by water by the year 2010.

February 1999

  The Government has recently stated that it is looking to extend the Freight Facilities Grant Scheme (FFG) to cover all ports as a means of maximising the role of coastal shipping in the area of domestic freight movement. We would not object to this broad policy provided that caution were to be exercised as a system is developed. The role of inland ports must not only be protected, but positively enhanced and encouraged so that shipping can be a truly sustainable mode.

  The grant regime must have an in-built bias towards inland ports. Traffic through coastal ports should not be incurring extra lorry miles when the goods could be handled through a port further inland, i.e., in such cases the coastal port should not receive grant or at least the road haul between the coastal port and the inland port should be subtracted from the road mileage saving used in calculating eligibility for grant.

2. The contribution that shipping can make to achieving the objectives of the Transport White Paper

  The principal objective behind the Integrated Transport White Paper is to achieve an effective and economically viable integrated transport system that achieves, inter alia, efficient and environmentally sustainable freight transport.

  As the least environmentally damaging inland transport mode, with the exception of pipeline operations, inland shipping has a significant contribution to make towards achieving these objectives. We have in the previous section summarised the most important points made to the committee's earlier call for evidence for the inquiry into the Integrated Transport White Paper. The environmental benefits of inland waterway freight transport are set out in our Blueprint document (enclosed).

3. The present level of employment of UK seafarers, the effects of any present and future shortage of skilled personnel in the shipping industry, and in related on shore industries, and how the training and employment of UK seafarers can be promoted

  The problem of diminishing expertise is as important to the inland waterways as to the rest of the shipping industry, i.e., it is one that affects the whole of the British Shipping Industry. We need to see the increase in waterborne freight take place before the expertise in present crews is lost to the industry. Training of newcomers to the industry needs to start now. Special assistance should be considered to assist in this respect. recruitment is already a problem. On the Continent training establishments exist to provide a source of skilled labour for the barge industry—for example, the Royal Educational Fund for the Navigation Industry (KOF) and the Supervisory Committee for Professional Training of Youth in Rhine and Inland Navigation, based in the Netherlands. This is another reason why in future years we could find that the main operators of inland waterway traffics in the UK are Dutch and German, a trend that has already begun with the establishment of operations by Deutsche Binnenreederei (UK) Ltd on the Thames.

4. What the UK can learn from the experience of other countries in dealing with similar problems, and the role of the European Union

  The UK can learn much from our mainland European partners and also the former Eastern Bloc countries, especially with regard to modern barge systems and river-sea ships. Our Association is a member of the recently formed European River Sea Transport Union and we feel that it would be worth calling its President Hans W Dünner for interview. As Managing Director of Deutsche Binnenreederei GmbH, he could provide an account of the rapid expansion of the former East German state inland shipping operation to become a successful commercial enterprise with joint venture inland waterway operations in USSR, Poland, Czech Republic, Netherlands and UK. We enclose an article published in Lloyds List written by Dr David Hilling on this subject.

  Ongoing technical development of modern inland waterway vessels and cargo-handling systems, along with track infrastructure improvements, have led to development of a successful and vibrant inland waterway transport industry in several mainland European countries. Alongside active marketing by the inland shipping operators themselves, Government support has been a significant factor in encouraging modernisation and maintaining the profile of inland water transport as a viable and environmentally advantageous transport mode. In contrast, the image of inland water transport in the UK is poor, with many industrialists regarding it as an outdated transport mode epitomised by the narrowboat. Even the publication in 1996 of the National Audit Office report on FFG under the Department of Transport's name included a photograph of a train alongside narrowboats on the Oxford Canal, with a caption referring to transfer of freight to rail and water! Whilst there are some specialist opportunities for small scale carriage by narrow boat, the major opportunities lie with much larger craft.

  It is notable that positive developments on UK freight waterways in recent years have often come from the activities of overseas companies. Examples include the establishment of push-tow systems on the Thames by Deutsche Binnenreederei (UK) Ltd, the growth of container shipping through the inland port of Goole, since the establishment of additional facilities at the port by Rhein, Maas und See Schiffartskantor GmbH (RMS) and the re-establishment of the American owned Lighter Abroad Ship (LASH) services to the inland port of Selby.

  Although the UK inland shipping industry must play its part in modernising its own image, the Government has a significant role to play in awareness raising and positive encouragement of the inland waterway freight transport mode in the UK, as a fully integrated part of the wider European waterway network. ISG recognises and welcomes the fact that this has already begun in terms of improvements in the availability of FFG and the inclusion of positive policies in recent PPGs and hopes to see a continuation of this direction through the Integrated Transport Policy. However, the inland shipping option still hardly features at all in most Government publications directed at industry (either from DETR or DTI) and this is an area where much could be learnt from the approach of many other European countries.

  The European Union can and does play many positive roles in these developments, ranging from supporting research in environmental and technical transport issues to strategic transport planning, such as in the TENs programme, and funding of transport infrastructure. However, to maximise benefits to the UK inland shipping industry, the UK Government must be a fully active participant in development of these policies. This has not been the case to date, in that inland waterway freight transport in the UK and the integration of UK freight waterways into the wider European network appear largely to have been ignored by DETR. Once again, these issues are highlighted in our enclosed Blueprint document.

5. Summary

    —  Transport of freight by UK inland waterways must be seen by the Government as an integral part of the British shipping industry as a whole.

    —  To ensure that inland waterway freight transport receives appropriate recognition within the context of the Integrated Transport Policy, it is essential that a unit is established within DETR, with responsibility for co-ordinating policies for the development of freight transport on inland and coastal waterways and short-sea routes.

    —  This unit will need to establish a close partnership with the wide variety of bodies responsible for navigation on UK freight waterways.

    —  Government policy to encourage the British shipping industry should include measures to improve inland waterway infrastructure and to protect key operational sites.

    —  Grants for encouragement of waterborne freight should be extended to include Track Access Grants for waterways and, with appropriate measures to encourage use of inland ports, wider availability of Freight Facilities Grants.

    —  Waterborne freight transport has environmental advantages over road and rail. Increased use of this mode would contribute towards the Government objectives of development of an environmentally sustainable Integrated Transport System.

    —  Diminishing expertise is a problem in the inland waterway freight industry in the UK. Opportunities for training new entrants are few and this needs to be rectified, if British operators are to maintain their position in the UK.

    —  In many mainland European countries a positive approach is taken by the shipping industry and Government to the development of modern systems of freight waterway transport. In contrast, the image of inland waterway transport in the UK is poor and positive developments are often the result of initiatives by overseas companies. The UK Government should adopt a significant role in raising awareness and improving this image, learning from experience elsewhere in Europe.

    —  Inland freight waterways in the UK should be seen as an integral part of the wider European waterway network and included as part of the TENs system. The UK Government should be a fully active participant in development of European policies for waterway freight transport.

    —  It is recommended that the Committee should interview a representative of the European River-Sea Transport Union, for further views on the European dimension to an integrated freight transport policy.

Neil Edwards

Executive Director

1 December 1998


 
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