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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 475)



Mr Bennett

  460. You would accept the Minister as the final arbiter?
  (Dr Greener) I am saying that we are trying to deliver Government policy.

Dr Ladyman

  461. What is your role in extending the waterways network or do you not have a role in that?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes, we do. The new framework issued just a year or so ago makes it clear that we have an obligation not only to look after our own waterways and to try and restore and preserve them, but also to assist other authorities, other navigations. We have taken that role very seriously in recent years. For example, the Rochdale Canal, that the Waterways Trust launched the restoration of a few weeks ago. That was a waterway not owned by British Waterways but it is actually being regenerated by British Waterways and being operated by British Waterways. There are many examples like that which we are working on in the coming years.

  462. Would you have a role in trying to influence your Minister in respect to waterways that are threatened by proposed road developments, for example?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes, we do. We try hard to involve ourselves, for example in the famous example of Lichfield to Hatherton where the Operations Director is in detailed negotiations with the road construction people to assist those who wish to see a proper provision for navigation made. We are deeply involved in that.

  463. My understanding is that the existing proposals for that road would actually make it impossible to navigate that waterway. Is that right?
  (Mr Sim) That is right. There are two elements. One crossing of the Hatherton branch canal would make it impossible for that canal to be restored. At the Lichfield branch there is provision to put foundations in for an aqueduct so there is a partial solution but not what we believe to be an acceptable solution and that is what we are working on.

  464. The thing that concerns me most about all of this structure that we trying to investigate and the way this is managed is that everybody tells me that restoration of that canal is vital for the waterways network. Everybody tells me that if that road is continued to be built on its current design path then that canal cannot be restored, and yet everybody tells me, "We are working with people and influencing people" but nobody actually tells me that they are in a position to make a decision that that road will not destroy the potential for that waterway. Can you comment on the specific issue and can you also tell me what it is about the structure that is wrong that means that nobody is in a position to make that obvious decision?
  (Dr Fletcher) My understanding is that the Government made a decision not to make adequate provision for those waterway crossings. We have sought to find a means round that decision.

  465. You are saying that it is a specific Government decision knowingly to construct a road in such a way that that waterway—
  (Dr Fletcher) Correct, against the advice of its own inquiry officers, I gather, but that is not an issue for me. It is for the Government.

Mr Bennett

  466. I think this is a question for our last witness session. Can I pursue one or two quick questions? The Waterways Trust: exactly what does that do?
  (Dr Fletcher) It is a voluntary sector trust set up to assist conserve waterways and to educate and conserve archives and operate museums and to try and promote the restorations that we have been talking about, like the Rochdale. In fact, the Waterways Trust are the owners of the Rochdale Canal Company now.

  467. Is that because you could not do it yourselves?
  (Dr Fletcher) It was not possible for British Waterways to borrow the money necessary to do that restoration. We have constraints under public sector borrowing and it is not possible for us to borrow money to buy that canal company. Therefore the Waterways Trust, being a non-public body, can do so, have done so, and they have then sub-contracted the repair and maintenance of the waterways to British Waterways.

  468. So it is a financial restraint, not a restraint of the present legislation?
  (Dr Fletcher) It is a financial constraint specifically and it is more difficult for British Waterways to acquire an open navigation. It is much quicker for a non-public body to do it. There was enormous time pressure because the millennium funding had to be done very quickly and British Waterways could not do it in time.

  469. Do you need new legislation?
  (Dr Fletcher) In the long run, yes.

  470. What progress is being made in getting new legislation?
  (Dr Fletcher) None.

  471. You are not having discussions with the Department about new legislation?
  (Dr Fletcher) No. We have suggested in the past it might be possible and the sort of thing that would be needed but it is not practical, we are advised, in the legislative time available in the near future.

  472. Do you think leisure boat users are paying enough towards your costs?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes.
  (Dr Greener) Yes.

  473. On freight, a licence fee rather than tolls: would that be helpful?
  (Dr Fletcher) Yes. We are discussing with Government the possible exchange for tolls with track access grant. Obviously the funds that come from the tolls are needed so the track can be made available for freight. The income is needed but it could be exchanged.

  474. How soon do you think that might be resolved?
  (Dr Fletcher) It could be done at the stroke of a pen.

  475. What about fishing on the canals all the year round? A good idea?
  (Dr Fletcher) I have to confess we have some reservations about the environmental impact and we are continuing our research and study programmes to see whether this has had an impact. We welcome this and we have launched a new initiative with the angling organisations to try and help them revive their activities.

  Mr Bennett: On that note can I thank you very much for your evidence.

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