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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



Mr Olner

  40. British Waterways wound up their freight division seven years ago and they are still the proper coordinating body for all freight on United Kingdom waterways. What do you think ought to happen with this new strategic authority that you mentioned? It seems to me that British Waterways have put a damper on freight because it is not in their interest. Their interest is in the leisure field.
  (Dr Hilling) I think there is a conflict of interest within BW. Most of their waterways now are essentially recreational. Whilst there have certainly been places where they have been encouraging freight, they only account for a very small part of the total freight moved by waterways. Therefore, I do not think they are the appropriate authority to deal with all the freight on waterways.

Mr Bennett

  41. Mr Johnson, most of the waste that goes down the river is mixed waste. Is that right?
  (Mr Johnson) That is correct, yes.

  42. Is there no scope for separating out waste paper and, for instance, taking it all the way to Aylesford? Is that bit of the Medway just not navigable?
  (Mr Johnson) All the way to Aylesford I think would be pretty difficult to do on a commercial scale, but you would certainly get round to the Medway.

  43. Is there not an argument that if we are going to get an extra waste paper mill built for news print it should be somewhere where it could be linked with water collection systems?
  (Mr Johnson) I think that would be an excellent idea, yes.

  44. Would it be feasible for you to separate the waste?
  (Mr Johnson) It is not feasible for us to do it. It is feasible for the householder to do it. It is a question of getting people to do something that they inherently do not want to do or find it difficult to do. Were it to be separated, you can upgrade it and take it separately, but you do need large quantities to make it viable.

  45. How many of the big reprocessing plants like waste paper processing and steel from tin cans are on waterside sites?
  (Mr Johnson) I think the Kent mills are. I am pretty sure that the Bridgewater Paper Mill on the Dee is. The steel ones probably also are.

  46. Hardly any of them receive much by water, do they?
  (Mr Johnson) Indeed.
  (Dr Hilling) There are a number of the Scottish paper mills on waterside sites which are currently being served almost entirely by road transport. They could be served by water transport. This comes back to the coastal idea that we were talking about.

  47. Is it cost that makes them favour road transport or is it that no one has got involved in the waste, other than in London, using water?
  (Dr Hilling) I do not really know the answer and what the operators were playing at in this. Obviously, in the short term, it was probably convenient to move it by road because it was very flexible. It is almost instantly available. Water transport takes greater organisation, capital funding, planning etc. Therefore, it is more difficult to do. There are studies being done on this at the moment to try and get that traffic off the roads and onto the waterways.

  48. Mr Lowe, in an earlier answer, you said that you thought leisure users of the canals welcomed freight. Is that true of fishermen?
  (Dr Hilling) They do not like any boats.
  (Mr Lowe) In my recent epic voyage to which I referred, the fishermen were extremely friendly, rather to my surprise.


  49. You say, however, you had nothing on board.
  (Mr Lowe) We had nothing on board, I regret to say. Can I come back to costs where wharfage is involved? It is a fact that if road takes a commodity, as an example, from the Humber ports to the Midlands, the cost is whatever—£10 a tonne; this is just a round figure off the top of my head. If we can take it half way or more by barge and tranship it onto a road vehicle for onward delivery, it is very often the case that the cost of that final road delivery may be nearly as much as all the way through, or it may well be more than half. This is where it is a case of adding up all the costs.

Mr Blunt

  50. You used the words "nominal licence". You were saying you wanted a level playing field with roads. How nominal do you think this licence should be for a barge?
  (Mr Lowe) That would depend. The reason I said "nominal" is because that was a suggestion made through British Waterways, who said they did not care how they got the money.

  51. What sort of nominal sum?
  (Mr Lowe) A pound a tonne carrying capacity per annum springs to mind, so a 500 tonne barge would pay £500 a year, say.

  52. This is rather important to the taxpayer. What is the scale of subsidy required to really make a difference in bringing freight onto the waterways from the road?
  (Mr Lowe) If you took the present toll income of British Waterways only, that would be 800,000 a year.

  53. You are talking in terms of the cost to your industry but I rather have the feeling that toll charges and licensing fees are incidental in terms of the whole economic cost of moving things on the water.
  (Mr Lowe) If it is 30, 40, 50 or 60p a tonne, that is a lot of money. To give you an example of a toll, we have been talking recently about reviving sand aggregate traffic into York. Talking to York City Council, they are proposing to charge us £30 for the movement of each barge, which is about a mile, on the River Foss. That is an extraordinary amount of money.


  54. How many tonnes do you carry in each barge?
  (Mr Lowe) Maybe 150 to 200. It is a lot per tonne.

Mr Olner

  55. Do you get the impression that these people do not want you using the waterways for freight?
  (Mr Lowe) It is difficult to say. The vibes coming our way from most authorities are very positive, and I include British Waterways in that, but it may be that some heads need knocking together. These navigation authorities are going to say, "We think this is a good idea but we do not want to lose by it."

Mr Blunt

  56. Are you saying that a subsidy of £800,000 a year—in other words, equivalent to the abolition of toll charges—would produce a significant increase in the amount of freight carried on the waterways at the moment?
  (Mr Lowe) It probably would. If it did not, it is such a small amount of money that it is worth taking the chance.

Mrs Gorman

  57. I want to return to Mr Johnson and the use of the river for transporting waste. In passing, there was, was there not, a wharf at Wandsworth which used to collect waste paper but which packed up because it was not commercially viable any more for processing all that paper. Is that true?
  (Mr Johnson) I am not aware of that.

  58. But it did close down?
  (Mr Johnson) If it did, it is some time ago.

  59. We used to take our newspapers there when we were kids to earn some pocket money. Do you have any idea of the decline in the use of the Thames for carting London's waste material down to your wonderfully named Mucking Flats and also to Pitsea?
  (Mr Johnson) The total quantities have gone up over the last 20 years as the amount of waste generated has gone up. The one blip in that of course was the decision of Westminster City Council in 1995 to take most of their waste off the river. We have shown about a four per cent year on year growth during the last decade in tonnage handled on the river.

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