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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



Mr Stevenson

  300. I want to refer, if I can, just back to your proposals, or suggestions, with regard to the fragmented structure of the situation we have at the moment. You were actually suggesting, I think, in your evidence, that a new national body should be established, based on your own organisation, I think. Why your own organisation and not somebody else's?
  (Viscountess Knollys) I think, Madam Chairman, it was not actually suggested by IWAAC that it should be IWAAC's organisation, this has been floated, I have heard, in evidence to you. It was actually not suggested. IWAAC, as you know, is tied to the 1968 Act and has its own remit, whether that has changed is up to Government, and your recommendation possibly, but, from the point of view of this body which would manage the navigation or function of waterways, I just feel that, rather than having several, there must be a way of managing the whole waterways system, which would mean a new body, because that body does not exist at present.

  301. But, nevertheless, I understand your organisation has called for a review of British Waterways legislation, to provide a case for establishing a new national body which would assume responsibility for British Waterways, and so on. So you are actually talking about removing British Waterways and setting up a new national structure; it is that profound?
  (Viscountess Knollys) I do not think that is exactly what we asked for. The logic of it is that the biggest navigation body that exists at present is British Waterways, and it may be that that would be a place to start, and you would have smaller navigations as and when, if it was appropriate for them, join in, and it would become a bigger and bigger body. But I am not suggesting that British Waterways automatically takes over all navigations, it is not like that, they are all independent, small interests.

  302. Nevertheless, you do argue, in your evidence, that the legislation covering British Waterways is long overdue for reform?
  (Viscountess Knollys) Yes. Madam Chairman, it is the 1968 Transport Act.

  303. And that would be the sort of reform, in general terms, that you have just described to the Committee that IWAAC would want to see?
  (Viscountess Knollys) This is what our evidence has suggested. I do not know if other colleagues would like to expand on it.


  304. Professor Mercer, are you going to earn your money?
  (Professor Mercer) Indeed, Ma'am. We simply see that there is a complication among the bigger navigation authorities; there ought to be a single authority, the legislation will need to be changed to do that, and therefore why not revisit the whole of the 1968 Act and get it up to date. It is 30 years old, we cannot wait another 30 years.

Mr Stevenson

  305. Yes, I understand, I think, the need to bring it up to date, but what I am trying to get at is your view of how radical the changes that you are indicating are going to be, that is what I am trying to get at; so they are pretty profound, you are talking about one body that would cover the whole situation?
  (Professor Mercer) The simplest way to look at it is to enlarge British Waterways to take on the whole of the navigation responsibility and leave the Environment Agency to do its regulatory job, which would still oversee all navigation from the environmental regulatory point of view.

  306. I have two more quick questions. The first is for clarification. We have heard from previous witnesses, AINA, that they are actively engaged in promoting best practice. I think, Viscountess, I heard either yourself or one of your colleagues talk about your organisation promoting best practice. If I am correct in what I thought I heard, is not there a duplication there; if the answer to that is yes, does it occur anywhere else?
  (Viscountess Knollys) The answer is no. Ours is a good practice planning guidance, which we are doing with Government, and it will be published by the DETR on planning issues.

  307. Lastly, do you think that British Waterways or any successor organisation or a different organisation in the future should have a specific remit to promote urban regeneration?
  (Viscountess Knollys) I would have said yes, straight off the top of my head. I do not know whether others would disagree. We have not produced a view on that.


  308. Do you want to risk an opinion, Professor?
  (Professor Mercer) Promoting is an interesting word; it would have to be qualified slightly, would it not, it cannot become the main purpose.

Mr Stevenson

  309. How can you qualify "promote"?
  (Professor Mercer) I would say that, in all its urban activity, the navigation authority, British Waterways, maybe is what it will be called, should have urban regeneration as a main supporting line for all its decisions.

  310. The distinction, if I might, in my question, I am sure you appreciate, is between that sort of remit and a duty; that is really the kernel of my question, I think?
  (Professor Mercer) But duty has got to be about navigation and the management of the waterway, and then urban regeneration must be a very close qualification throughout every urban area.

Mr Donaldson

  311. What controls, if any, would you wish to see placed on the use of waterways for water transfer?
  (Viscountess Knollys) I think one would have to pay enormous regard to the views of English Nature and the Environment Agency, and obviously it would be done waterway by waterway, through environmental impact assessments and every other form of assessment. I do not think one can give a view until you know the exact proposal.

  312. What do you see as the benefits to the waterways of water transfer?
  (Viscountess Knollys) Water transfer, obviously, is a benefit in areas of the country where there is a need for water, and I would have thought that it was less expensive to achieve possibly than a new reservoir, which takes 20 years to achieve, much public inquiry work and much difficulty. I would have thought possibly that this would be an easier way of going about achieving the same result. The advantages, I would rely on colleagues.
  (Dr Eaton) There can be direct advantages, one imagines, to the waterways themselves, in that they would be assured of a supply of water, at all times. The problems, I think, with water transfer are with the possible magnitude of some of the proposed new links, the sheer volumes of water moving and the distances; these do have environmental implications, particularly in relation to the dispersal of alien species, many of which are now present in British waters and are liable to cause disruption if they are spread to new areas. For this reason, I think, it is important that this topic of water transfer should move away from generalities as soon as possible and move to specific schemes being proposed, and then we can have a detailed environmental impact assessment of a scheme and see just what the pros and cons of it are; but at the moment everything is in generality. The only models that we have at the moment are long-standing and admittedly trouble-free, rather short water transfers, such as the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. I do not believe that forms any model for what is now being proposed.

  313. What safeguards do you think would be available to ensure that the water transfer process would not exacerbate the problem of invasive alien species?
  (Dr Eaton) Filtration technology would certainly be necessary where the water enters the system.

  314. And are there examples of where that is in use at the moment, in terms of the limited number of water transfer projects?
  (Dr Eaton) I know of none. I think in both the cases that I am familiar with the raw water is accepted from the river and transported down the artificial waterway and then taken out and treated at a later stage. But, as I mentioned earlier, these are purely local and mostly within a single catchment and so are not really models for what is being proposed.

Mr Olner

  315. Can I just ask how realistic physically it is to transfer this water, because my sort of vision of a canal and canals that I have seen is fairly slow-moving, almost placid little bits of water, and if you have a moving current down it, it is physically going to change the whole of the canal: are the canal structures up to it?
  (Viscountess Knollys) If it is to be a new waterway with that specific remit, it would be designed to achieve it; but with pumping it is possible to do anything, and there is a certain amount of pumping on canals already. I am not expert on the technology, none of us is, but I think it is possible.

  316. Could I ask, finally, just quickly, Madam Chairman, in all of the papers that I have seen you put in, and you do call yourselves the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, is there anything about angling and the conflict between anglers and boaters?
  (Viscountess Knollys) Yes; actually, at this red-hot moment, our 15 members do not include an angling person, and that is sad, he has left us, and we await a new one shortly. But it is a most important part of the amenity and leisure, recreational side of waterways, as you heard, it is where all the coarse fishing happens, is on waterways, predominantly, and their accompanying reservoirs. I think the conflict is overstated, I think there are lots of areas where good practice has been worked out with boaters as to how to go past the angler, but there are still hot spots and I know that occasionally there is conflict. I think it is overstated now, because everybody knows the situation and everyone is trying to manage it.

  317. But you will know that fact better when your angler joins you on your Council?
  (Viscountess Knollys) Funnily enough, you do not have to have a representative to tell you about the problem, you still hear about the problems; it is the adviser of what you do about it that I await. But I think the bigger navigations are trying very hard to get the boaters to, and the boaters themselves and the Inland Waterways Association, for instance, are hoping to get their members better and better at going past anglers without upsetting them. I think one of the areas of conflict which we are not succeeding on managing is the very, very long poles which anglers have nowadays, which upset the bicyclists; which is another issue.


  318. How everybody upsets the bicyclists. Dr Eaton, I just want to bring you back, very briefly, to this business of transfer of water, because although you were very tactful about it you have actually argued, and other people have argued, that 18th century canals are not designed for the transfer of significant volumes of water, and you also mention the problems of the locks. Are you really saying that, once anybody produces a scheme for significant transfers of volumes of water, they may find themselves faced with a different situation?
  (Dr Eaton) My comment about the volumes of water moving was in the context of moving alien organisms, the probability of alien organisms being transferred.

  319. Yes, I understand that.
  (Dr Eaton) I understand there are also engineering problems, in that, to a large extent, the 18th and 19th century engineers designed canals to keep water in them and not to lose the water; and, therefore, to switch that onto a system which is transporting water is to bring in a new use, for which the original design was not specified. But the engineers tell us that it is feasible to do so, and certainly in the case of the Llangollen Canal there is a long-term successful example.

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