Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000
400. That was not the point I was making, Dr
(Dr Fletcher) I will answer your point specifically.
I just wanted to make that point quite clear to you, because you
suggested that these things were booted up to the Minister for
resolution. That suggestion is untrue. It does not apply in this
case or in any other case, incidentally. What we are doing is
land assembling on the Wakefield Waterfront site. What the board
will authorise tomorrow, I am very optimistic, is over a million-pound
purchase of additional land and buildings, and it is by taking
this more integrated approach to the Wakefield Waterfront by this
land assembly that we hope to produce an integrated and sustainable
solution to where this gallery will go. I would also point out
that this building that we are talking about is a Grade II* listed
warehouse, so it is a very important and precious thing and we
take great care before we move into these things.
401. Had it been standing empty for 25 years?
(Dr Fletcher) It has been standing empty for a long
time. Whether it is 25 years I do not know, certainly ever since
I have been in British Waterways in five years, yes.
402. A bit of a dirty jewel then, by the time
you got your hands on it?
(Dr Fletcher) Yes. Many of these public assets have
been not best used for many years and one of our particular remits
is in a sustainable way to return them to public use so that they
can benefit the public. If I could mention the other site, Chairman,
this is at Sowerby Bridge, the salt warehouse, we have an excellent
partnership there with Yorkshire Forward, the RDA in that area,
and also with HLF. In our discussions with HLF on the bid that
we submitted for funding they suggested that if we submitted it
at a slightly lower level there would be a positive outcome, so
there are some additional funds that we have put in there in our
priority repair programmes to the salt warehouse, so the combination
of ourselves, Yorkshire Forward and HLF looks like producing a
very positive result. It will be just one of dozens and dozens
of heritage structures. You heard of one of them in the evidence
earlier when you had the local authority from the River Trent
where we have refurbished a Grade II* listed warehouse there,
so there are many other people that are quite delighted with what
we are doing.
403. Could British Waterways explain to the
Committee how in their view the collaboration agreement between
themselves and the Environment Agency is currently operating?
(Dr Greener) I would say that the collaboration agreement
is enormously important. It extends of course way beyond an agreement
on navigations, and in fact by far and away the most important
aspects of it are not in the navigation area. At the operational
level it is working well. Perhaps you would like to comment, Dr
(Dr Fletcher) Eighty per cent of the agreement is
working brilliantly and I think the recent collaboration in these
disastrous floods we have had has demonstrated just how well we
and the Environment Agency work together, the people that are
working side by side, joint call-out, joint share of equipment.
All that has gone very well. There are areas where there could
perhaps be better activity and it is where we have some difficulty
in having a proper remit on the ground because we do not in all
areas have navigation responsibilities. It is this area where
we do not have any navigation responsibility where we are less
able to assist the Environment Agency in that collaborative effort.
The agreement is going very well.
404. Can I just raise a parochial problem? The
boom at Boroughbridge came very much into play during recent floods
and I have made a submission to British Waterways locally that
apparently it is the angle at which the boom was put in place
that is the problem. This highlights some of the problems we have
between two agencies being involved. How do you envisage these
problems both locally and nationally can be ironed out in the
(Dr Fletcher) I do not actually know of the Boroughbridge
Chairman: We do not necessarily want to get
into the angle of the boom just at the moment. I am sure it is
tremendously important but not quite this second, if Miss McIntosh
will forgive us.
405. I was just using it as an example of how
we can iron out these difficulties. I understand that the Government
has said in its paper that this was meant to be reviewed this
year and this year is rapidly running to an end. What mechanisms
do you have in place to iron out such difficulties?
(Dr Fletcher) We have regular meetings at director
level with the Environment Agency to go through our policies,
so we have an action plan appended to the agreement that we have,
about a 20-page action plan, with specific items in there with
actionees down the side. That is what we review regularly with
Dr Mance whom I think you are going to see later. He and I meet,
and I also meet regularly with the Chief Executive and the Chairman
meets regularly with the Chairman. The major activity takes place
on the ground where our operational staff work intimately with
each other. When I go on the bank it is often difficult to distinguish
between an Environment Agency guy and my own employee because
they work that closely. It is an intimate exchange in our water
control, flood measures and environmental issues and this is going
on hour by hour, day by day, and by and large it works really
406. In your submission you have said that you
enthusiastically support the targeted assistance to put in more
freight on the waterways, and you conclude that freight traffic
on the waterways can be doubled in the next five years. That seems
a very ambitious plan and, bearing in mind that freight facilities
grants are already heavily over-subscribed, how do you envisage
that we can meet that target?
(Dr Fletcher) We think that is quite a moderate target.
I would set probably a higher target. I think we should try and
triple that amount. That is not incomparable with what we have
done some years ago. We think we can do that by moving waste,
recyclable materials, aggregates and construction materials. If
we can provide the wharfs and the channel capacities so that the
freight operators can at least level the playing field with the
roads and the railways by using track access grant and freight
facilities grant (which I am told will be made available; I have
been reassured there will be sufficient funds will be made available
and they will not run out on the current rate of claims, although
those claims have been much higher recently), that combination
and renewed enthusiasm by ourselves to exploit freight can quite
reasonably be done, doubling in five years. That is the target
we have set. In partnership with the operators I think we have
a high probability of doing that.
407. Finally, do you envisage linking in much
more strongly with coastal shipping and shortsea fleet shipping
under these proposals to try and do something?
(Dr Fletcher) Yes, we do indeed. We are working with
the Government, the DETR, in the Freight Working Group, so we
have partners in that group and that involves coastal people,
Manchester Ship Canal people with our coastal activities, so yes,
we are absolutely integrated.
408. Can I put it to the Chairman that you made
a bid for the navigation responsibilities from the Environment
Agency. Is there any evidence that the Agency's dual role causes
problems in practice?
(Dr Greener) To say it causes problems would be too
strong but if you had put the question: are there opportunities
by having the most appropriate body doing particular things, then
the answer to that is yes, there are. If you look at what has
been achieved relatively speaking in areas of regeneration, if
you look at the progress that has been made on navigations for
example that we have taken over, if you look at the speed with
which we could probably introduce improved methods on asset management,
if you look at the kind of increase in facilities that we could
provide for users, if you look at the support that we could give
for commercial operations, then I think for example to put it
in summary we could advance what is implied by the Government
White Paper, Waterways for Tomorrow, at quite a pace.
409. What about the rivers themselves? The rivers
are a complex means of travel. There are problems as we have witnessed
over the past few months. What would be the attitude of British
Waterways to the care of the rivers and the involvement of the
(Dr Greener) The answer I would give you is that we
would not say that there is a significant difference between rivers
and canals. Many of our canals are canalised rivers and we do
understand integrated river basin management pretty well. After
all, integrated river basin management is not a new thing. We
have been working within the context of integrated river basin
management for quite some time. Do we cover all aspects of integrated
river basin management? No, we do not. Do we need a very good,
powerful, competent regulator to oversee what we do on navigations?
Yes, we do. Is there a very important regulatory role in addition
to the operational role that we have? Yes, I would say there is.
410. Can I just take you back to the Wakefield
project. There are a couple of questions I would like to ask for
clarification in terms of trying to understand better your priorities.
We are told by yourselves that this building is extremely important,
the whole area is extremely important, and that the building has
been in your possession over a number of years. You cannot be
more specific as to how long it has been in the possession of
(Dr Fletcher) Presumably since British Waterways were
formed, I would imagine, in the 1950s and 1960s.
411. A long time.
(Dr Greener) A long time.
412. Who initiated this development proposal?
Was it yourselves or somebody else?
(Dr Fletcher) I do not know, sir, is the answer. I
know we have been working closely
413. You do not know? Dr Greener says it is
a vitally important approach: jobs, environment and so on, and
yet here we have an important Grade II listed building, you say
it is important, that has stood derelict for 25 years or more
in your possession for the whole of that time and yet you do not
know who initiated this project that there is so much controversy
(Dr Greener) If I may, in answer to the question,
when I say I do not know, it is because I absolutely do not know.
If you ask me what do I think and what do I think in
Chairman: No, we are not asking you that, Dr
414. I simply want to understand. This has been
in your possession for all this time. By your own admission it
is important for jobs, heritage, the environment. What I want
to know is, who initiated this important and, by definition, controversial
project, and you do not know?
(Dr Greener) No.
415. I just find that, and I am sure if you
were sitting in my position you would find that, a bit difficult
(Dr Greener) No, I would not, sir.
416. You would not?
(Dr Greener) No.
417. Oh, right. Well, that says a lot. Could
I then ask another question? If you do not know who initiated
this project why, if it is so important over the years that it
has been in your ownership, have British Waterways not brought
forward and initiated the project? Presumably you would know whether
your own organisation brought forward the project or not.
(Dr Greener) Yes.
418. You did?
(Dr Greener) Yes, and projects of this nature, including
this one, have been brought forward and indeed many others. The
thing I would like to suggest to you is the timescale under which
people have been looking at these kinds of things. If, for example,
you take a parallel example of Clarence Dock in Leeds, the site
assembly and the visionary process that went into thinking about
that, which is now a very successful, very important development,
went on for how long, Stewart? Fifteen years?
(Dr Fletcher) Yes.
419. I understand the complexities. I think
we all do. What I am just trying to get at is, at any time over
the last 25 years, taking that 25-year period, has British Waterways
initiated a project development on this site?
(Dr Greener) I would stake my reputation and say yes.