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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 154)




  140. You had not thought of consulting with the Chinese, who seem to have cormorants under control?
  (Mr Withrington) No.

  141. Can I ask you about SSSIs? You mentioned them but they are fairly marginal, are they not?
  (Mr Withrington) In one sense, yes. I was very heartened by what Mr Edwards said to you in the earlier session. We have had a lot of opposition from some of his members to the only two recent SSSI designations I think since the 1970s. The most recent one is the proposal on Rochdale Canal to make it a Special Area of Conservation. We feel that in most cases we can work with British Waterways and the other navigation authorities to protect these areas but in some cases there will be proposals for increased development, intensive boat use, which is not compatible with protecting this interest. As SSSIs are only one per cent of the network and normally at the ends of the network, we do not feel this is a great imposition.

  142. Mr Edwards is right. His organisation has a lot of fascinating extremists?
  (Mr Withrington) We do have very heated dialogues with some waterway enthusiasts.

  143. This morning has been a revelation to me. I never realised what passion was hidden in these groups. Could I ask this of the Wildlife Trusts: your memorandum was largely about canals. Are there any points you wish to make about river navigations and their management?
  (Dr Bardsley) River navigations are definitely distinct to canals. We believe the expertise for river navigation management lies within the Environment Agency. We would strenuously oppose moving the management of river navigations into British Waterways because of the points I made earlier about the integrated management of our rivers, integrating flood defence and wildlife concerns.

  144. I am a bit confused. Are we saying that we want one over-arching planning authority but we do not want it to control the bits that we do not want it to control?
  (Dr Bardsley) No. We would like standards set for inland waterways.

  145. We are quite happy for it to remain in its present, fragmented form as long as they all maintain a common basis of standards?
  (Dr Bardsley) Yes. I think that sums it up very well.

  146. What about habitat enhancement?
  (Dr Bardsley) There is insufficient money at the moment for habitat enhancement. Most of the work that is done—indeed, the work mentioned this morning on the Oxford Canal—was done as part of a legal mitigation because the water vole is legally protected, as is its habitat. We feel that they could produce much more benefit for not much additional cost by looking at their policies and practices and increasing use of alternative bank protection measures.
  (Mr Withrington) British Waterways has a conservation award scheme in which English Nature is one of the judges. They encourage their canal engineers to undertake enhancement schemes throughout the network. There was quite a good entry in the last two years, so we can see what can be done. A lot of it is not hugely expensive.

  147. You would say that people now are aware, that there has been a culture change; people are conscious of the things they have to do even if they do not always have the money to do them. Is that what you are telling us?
  (Mr Withrington) There is some way to go in some areas of navigation responsibility. The senior officers in navigation authorities are fully aware of all this.

  148. I am not very clever and I want it clear in my own mind. On the one hand, you are saying you want an integrated authority which will have a much greater role in bringing together all these disparate authorities?
  (Mr Withrington) Yes....

  149. On the other hand, you are saying that, although some senior members of the establishment may be aware of the need for a culture change in terms of conservation and even enhancement, that is a measure that is not received at the lower ends of the scale. Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Withrington) That particular thing can be done by bodies like the Environment Agency which are trying to champion the environment more now and get these messages through in best practice to all their staff. It might not depend on having a single authority. English Nature is prepared to work with whatever authority—

  150. It is not that any of these bodies lack either power or goodwill or even encouragement. They know exactly what they want to do. They are capable of transmitting that information to the people working for them and overall they are working for a good standard. Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Withrington) The policies are now being put into place but, as with many things, it seems to take longer than the conservation side would like to actually get it on the ground.

  151. What are the real barriers?
  (Dr Bardsley) The initial barrier is funding, as always. The policies have only just come into place. There has been very little delivery on the ground. Part of the reason British Waterways have these conservation awards is to sell their own environmental code of practice. I was also a judge and they were excellent. All the examples I saw are very much at the vanguard. There is very little of it occurring on our waterways and they have a long way to go for delivery on the ground. It is only the three large navigation authorities that have these policies clearly available. All the other authorities need in some ways bringing into line. Whether you do that through the existing Association of Inland Navigation Authorities or you set up a new planning authority is for the DETR to decide.

  152. Do you have a policy on that? Do you have a view on that? Which is the preferable response?
  (Dr Bardsley) The preferable response is that you set up an industry regulator or perhaps change the remit of IWAAC, the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, so that it includes environmental representation so that all users of the waterways can be represented.

  153. And that would do it?
  (Dr Bardsley) The devil would be in the detail.

  154. So it would not do it? We are talking about something serious and I want to know your view.
  (Dr Bardsley) My view is that if the representation and the terms of reference were sufficient and they were given sufficient power and funding, then it could do, yes.

  Chairman: We got there in the end. Thank you very much indeed. I am very grateful to you all. You have been very helpful.

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