Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460
WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000
460. You would accept the Minister as the final
(Dr Greener) I am saying that we are trying to deliver
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
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
(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.
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
(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
474. How soon do you think that might be resolved?
(Dr Fletcher) It could be done at the stroke of a
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.