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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. Presumably they are prepared to pay a premium? Is that so?
  (Mr Johnson) I think they are prepared to pay a small premium but the externalities of any transport operation are not fully taken into account in terms of the economics, as I am sure you all know. That is even more the case with waste management. If you can access a site by river, clearly you are not inconveniencing the people who live on the route and around and about. Usually, transport is the biggest externality of any waste management operation. If you get it out in the middle of the river, it does not affect anybody, but it benefits seven or eight million people—whatever it is in London—and the surrounding counties and you are requiring a relatively small number of people to pay for that.

Mrs Gorman

  21. Mr Johnson, you gave a fairly modest projection as to how much of an increase you could generate. I think you said around three per cent. Is that because local authorities do not have a great deal of enthusiasm for giving you this extra work?
  (Mr Johnson) My three per cent was the national total of what might be achievable in terms of freight management. In terms of water movement of waste, we could look at perhaps a 30 or 40 per cent increase, but you must always remember, when you start a journey, you have to finish it somewhere. You have to have somewhere to take it to and there are major problems with planning issues on that.

Miss McIntosh

  22. Dr Hilling, you refer to possible international status being applied for, particularly for routes such as the Humber and the Ouse. Were you surprised that in the original inland waterways glossy document of the government's, Waterways for Tomorrow, coastal shipping and short haul shipping were left out?
  (Dr Hilling) Yes. The point is often forgotten in talking about our waterways that, if you look at the government statistics on freight carriage on waterways, the figure that comes out is something like 57/58 million tonnes at the moment. The figure that is often quoted is about four million tonnes, which is simply that carried on the British Waterways part of the network. If we take that 57 million tonnes, something like 60 per cent of that is foreign traffic that is penetrating our waterways to wharves on the Thames, the Trent, a port like Goole, which has been our fastest growing port in recent years, but very much an inland port.


  23. Are you implying that it is good or bad to have foreign traffic?
  (Dr Hilling) How can we do without it? We are dependent on our ports and ports on inland waterways are very much a part of that.

Miss McIntosh

  24. The government has now accepted an amendment to the Transport Bill so that coastal shipping and short sea shipping will be introduced. Pursuing freight facilities grants, the take up by both inland waterways and railways has been very poor. What other measures would you like to see taken to encourage the industry to apply for more grants both for non-capital as well as for capital costs?
  (Dr Hilling) Are you thinking entirely of the foreign traffic now?

  25. No; domestic and foreign traffic.
  (Dr Hilling) I think it is a question of the tolls that are the significant one, and we would go along with that.

  26. You would prefer to see them replaced by a licence fee?
  (Dr Hilling) Yes. That would make it equitable certainly with road transport.

  27. You do not see a role for freight facility grants?
  (Dr Hilling) Freight facility grants and the extension of them to coastal shipping will be valuable because the division between inland and coastal is a somewhat spurious division really. This is all part of our domestic waterway system. Maybe "inland" is not the word we should be using. "Domestic" is better and that includes that wonderful, natural ring road that we have with these radial routes provided by waterways.

  28. How can we use that radial route more?
  (Dr Hilling) There has been ongoing research. For example, roll on/roll off traffic from the north of England to the south of England. A lot of container traffic that is coming into our ports moves on by road. On the continent, it would almost certainly move on by water. For example, if you have containers coming into Southampton, they could be transferred to west coast and east coast ports with feeder ships, as containers going into Rotterdam are fed to Antwerp and to other continental ports. That could all be traffic taken off the roads.
  (Mr Lowe) On freight facility grants, one thing is to make it easier for us to apply for them and work out what the grant potential might be. Secondly, if we go down the nominal licence road, there will need to be some form of track access grant payable to the waterway authorities to cover their costs. Thirdly, maybe some kind of speculative grant for refurbishment of barges or new build. Can I refer you back to the 1930s where the government made money available for barges that were horse drawn to have engines installed. Possibly also we need to look at the establishment of a government agency to encourage freight onto the waterways, rather similar to the SSRA I suppose, which would encompass freight.


  29. I thought we were suffering from rather a lot of agencies involved in the waterways already. Are you seriously suggesting another one?
  (Mr Lowe) Maybe an existing agency could take over this role.
  (Dr Hilling) This would be the same argument applied to the railways.

  Christine Butler: The costly externality costs are to do with the transhipment costs. We have to overcome that nationally. Could you identify those costs? Is it to do with the time in transhipment for getting a water borne cargo onto a lorry, say?


  30. Is there any identification of a particular overhead?
  (Dr Hilling) I do not think these costs are really related to time. Most of the cargoes we are talking about are not particularly time sensitive. They are much more costs relating to the actual physical handling of the equipment that is needed for that handling at the interface between the water and land travel.

Christine Butler

  31. That is not there?
  (Dr Hilling) A lot of it is disappearing very rapidly. It has happened along the Thames with respect to waste handling facilities, just up the road here. A whole number of aggregates handling wharves have been disappearing in recent years. These are wharves which take the low cost, bulk goods as near to the market as possible.
  (Mr Johnson) If we took containers to the port of Tilbury and took them off there, the commercial charges would be about £120 per container, on and off. That would add about £10 a tonne to the cost of the operation, which is rather more than the total cost of the water transport part in between.


  32. You control the whole of your own operation, presumably?
  (Mr Johnson) We do. Our own costs are about £1.50 a tonne per movement.

  33. You are also saying that your capital costs are becoming a problem if you need to replace equipment?
  (Mr Johnson) If we had to replace it all in one go, it would be a very big problem.

Mr Brake

  34. Following on from this question of proliferation of agencies involved, to what extent are both navigation and business opportunities hindered by the number of different agencies involved and the fact that canals are owned by so many different people?
  (Dr Hilling) There certainly have been examples in the past where the division of authority between waterways has meant that getting goods through one authority onto the waterways of another has proved difficult. One very innovative form of transport was barges on a mother ship, barges taken off the mother ship, which could then be moved into the waterway system was started, technically feasible and working very efficiently. Then it came to a stop because there was opposition from the authority that controlled the lower part of the through waterway, effectively. Another possible examples goes back to tolls. There are cases where barges move from one waterway to another and would be subject to two quite separate lots of tolls. British Waterways and the Manchester Ship Canal would be an example of that. There would be two tolls levied.

  35. Would you support the creation of a single agency that took responsibility for all aspects of waterways?
  (Dr Hilling) All aspects or all freight aspects?

  36. All freight aspects.
  (Dr Hilling) Yes, that might be justifiable.

  37. You mentioned that you were not getting the assistance that you needed in terms of identifying the environmental benefits. Perhaps you could say a little more about that, but perhaps you could also comment on what conflict you see there being between freight and the environment?
  (Mr Lowe) Going back to the freight facilities grant, we do find it difficult to work out the computation of the figures. We would welcome assistance from the Department. At the moment, they are telling us they cannot do it for us and we have to do it ourselves. Secondly, on FFGs again, there is a problem which needs addressing. There is a considerable difference in the environmental benefit between freight taken off ordinary roads, urban roads, dual carriageways and motorways. While one would perhaps have sympathy with the view that there should be a greater benefit payable for freight taken off urban roads, nevertheless the difference is quite astonishing. I think it is £1.50 per movement per mile—a movement being a lorry of course—on an urban road. I think it is 20p on a motorway. Sometimes we are in a position on the Aire and Calder to take traffic off maybe 10 or 20 miles of motorway, but the benefit payable is very small. Moving on to your second question, you asked about any potential conflict of an environmental nature. I think not. In my experience over 30 years or so of operating barges on the waterways, people who are enjoying the waterway in pleasure craft or just walking along the towpath are very pleased to see the waterways being used in this way. As an example, recently I took an unconverted, ex-freight carrying, narrow boat around the canals of the Midlands. I lost count of the number of times when people said, "What are you carrying? Is it all going to happen again? Are you restarting?" I thought that was wonderful. The short answer to you is, generally speaking, no, there is no conflict.
  (Dr Hilling) I do not think there should be much conflict on the waterways in terms of movement. You only have to look at continental waterways to see that the two go quite happily together. I think there is some scope for conflict possibly at the terminals on the waterside. This is one of the reasons why local authorities have been desperately keen to get rid of a lot of these. Cargo handling is not always neighbour friendly. It can create dust and noise. This is essentially a planning, environmental design problem. It is a challenge. It should not be a reason for saying that therefore we get rid of all freight handling terminals.
  (Mr Lowe) In Leeds some years ago an aggregate wharf was moved out of the terminal basin because of the development of the Royal Armouries. It was not seen to be compatible. People going to visit the Armouries would not want to see barges being unloaded. I find this a strange concept. Why should they not see barges being unloaded? It is part of the waterways scene and always has been. It should be part of it. Ironically enough, that wharf is disused so people going to the armouries have nothing to see.


  38. Are you not being mildly naive?
  (Mr Lowe) Yes, I am.

  39. When people start developing a waterfront, the properties are suddenly worth a very great deal more. Indeed, an aggregate wharf with the best will in the world, even if it had different coloured aggregates and was a matter of great modern art, would not produce the same return as three or four rat infested flats.
  (Mr Lowe) On that basis, I must totally agree.

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