Examination of Witnesses (Questions 476
WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000
476. Can we welcome you to the third session
of evidence this morning? Could you introduce yourselves for the
(Dr Mance) Certainly, Chairman. I am Dr Geoffrey Mance.
I am the Director of Water Management at the Environment Agency.
(Miss Mckeever) I am Eileen Mckeever and I am Head
of Recreation and Navigation at the Environment Agency.
(Mr Runcie) I am Robert Runcie, Regional Director
for the Anglian Region.
477. Thank you very much. Do you want to say
anything by way of introduction?
(Dr Mance) No, Chairman. We will go straight to questions.
478. Dr Mance, is there a conflict between your
regulatory role and the navigational elements that you are responsible
for on the waterways?
(Dr Mance) We do not believe so. One ought to point
out that over half our turnover is spent on operational activities
as opposed to regulatory activities. We have two major blocks
of activity in the Agency. One is operational and one is regulatory.
We do not see a conflict between them and indeed we believe things
like our navigation activities on rivers benefit substantially
from an integrated approach with flood defence and the other activities
which involve structural work on the waterways.
479. As I understand it your responsibility
for waterways is as a promoter of inland waterways in general
terms. That is true, is it not?
(Dr Mance) We have a general duty to promote recreation
related to water. That is both on and alongside. We have specific
navigation responsibilities on specific waterways.
480. What proportion of the waterways under
the control of the agency have you navigation responsibilities
(Miss Mckeever) We have about 870 kilometres of navigable
river for which we are the navigation authority.
481. That is all of it really, because that
is the total amount.
(Miss Mckeever) Yes.
482. You have got about 800 kilometres in total,
have you not, of inland waterways?
(Miss Mckeever) For which we are the navigation authority.
483. So you have a navigation responsibility,
do you? That is what I am trying to get at.
(Dr Mance) Where we are clearly the statutory navigation
authority, that is on I think 875 kilometres.
484. That is the whole of your mileage.
(Dr Mance) On other waterways we actually interact
with things like canoeing and minor boating if you like, as opposed
to power boating, where we have a number of provisions for byelaws,
for instance, so we can actually get into conflict resolution
between different forms of recreation.
485. So for 800 kilometres you have a navigation
responsibility. What are you doing to promote freight on those
waterways for which you have that responsibility? Are you promoting
anything at all?
(Miss Mckeever) With regard to our work
on freight, we have been involved in the Association of Inland
Navigation Authorities' initiative to produce a freight strategy
which involved us looking at our own navigations with regard to
freight as well, particularly Robert will speak about the Nene
in a moment, and the Thames. I should make clear that our responsibilities
are for the non-tidal Thames which is the Thames above Teddington.
We feel there is limited opportunity for freight traffic which
would make any real impact in terms of transferring freight from
road to waterways. There are opportunities for niche markets or
for specific projects where we tried to get the taking of gravel
away from the Eton rowing course extraction by river, but unfortunately
the cost/benefit was not there for the contractor. We have already
had some talks with the potential contractors who may work with
Heathrow Terminal 5 if it happens, about them taking up materials
to and from that project by river. We have looked where there
are specific opportunities but those opportunities are fairly
limited for a number of reasons which I can go into if you so
486. Understanding that, if I might I would
like to ask two more questions because, as I understand it, your
responsibility accounts for about 16 per cent of the total waterways,
so it is not an insignificant amount. Are you discussing these
freight possibilities, albeit limited, with British Waterways,
(Miss Mckeever) As part of our collaboration agreement,
which has already been referred to, we have regular and ongoing
dialogue with regional and local colleagues in British Waterways
and only recently we had a joint meeting with British Waterways
North-East Region. They have a lot of experience up there of freight
and in fact someone from their team is coming down to talk to
us about whether they feel they can offer any of their experience
to help us.
(Mr Runcie) If I may add to that, we have done joint
studies with British Waterways, Cambridge County Council, Fenland
District Council, looking at the opportunities to increase the
freight on the River Nene all the way from The Wash right up to
Northampton. The study did show that in the tidal part of the
Nene up to Sutton Bridge and Wisbech there was the prospect of
increased freight use.
487. What sort of freight?
(Mr Runcie) A mixture of freight but largely break
bulk from small container and coaster vessels that could then
go on to the good railhead that already exists at Wisbech. Unfortunately
the study showed that because of the small tidal window the prospect
of actually taking freight further up the non-tidal stretch of
the Nene was limited.
488. My last question: are these problems exacerbated
by the apparent disparity between how much the Environment Agency
spends per kilometre on navigation, which is about 3,500, and
how much British Waterways spend on navigation, which is in excess
of 22,000 kilometres? How do you explain those disparities?
(Dr Mance) I think your comparison is, I would say,
simplistic. One has to bear in mind that the waterways we are
responsible for in navigation terms are largely free flowing rivers
and, therefore, one does not have the need for the maintenance
of banks and channels, as is done on canals. The exception to
that is in East Anglia, Robert's part of the world, where many
of the major navigation waterways are actually on raised dykes
as part of the drainage of the Fens historically, where all of
the maintenance of the embankments and of the channels is actually
done under flood defence expenditure rather than navigation.
489. I gather the collaboration agreement between
yourselves and the British Waterways company is up for review.
In your view, how is it working at the moment? How do you feel
about the navigational responsibilities being taken away from
the Environment Agency and passed to British Waterways?
(Dr Mance) Clearly we do not believe it is appropriate
to break up integrated river basin management on those rivers
where we have free flowing systems with very intensive use of
the rivers. I could go back to that and elaborate, if you wish.
We have outlined it in the paper. If you take the Thames, it is
probably the most intensively used river possibly in the world,
it is very extremely managed in tight situations. One normally
sees it in normal summer conditions, nice photographs of it with
everything normal, but in 1976 during the severe drought then
the lower part of the river actually flowed backwards from Teddington
Weir, navigation never stopped. It was restricted but we managed
to keep navigation functioning even though there was so little
water available, for public water supply. During the major flood
as well the situation has obviously managed to protect the system
but also to contain the floodwaters. Trying to separate out one
activity from the major physical structures of the river when
it is so intensively managed is quite a potential risk and introduces
potentially an extra step in the chain of command under severe
circumstances and that always increases the risks of operational
difficulties. Turning to the collaborative programme, we have
been pleased with how it has worked so far. One has to say the
continued debate about responsibilities does make it difficult
to maintain impetus on positive collaboration because it does
require everybody involved, and that includes front line staff,
in being fully committed to making it work and repeated uncertainty
inevitably distracts from that. The issue about responsibilities
was raised for the first time in 1992 and seems to have been ever
present since. We had a clear ministerial decision two years ago
and we clearly regret the fact that it is back in the frame, we
would rather be getting on in strong collaboration with British
Waterways and the other waterways bodies, of which there are some
28, in seeking to make sure that the level of service to the boater
is actually raised and improved and extended, drawing on all our
experience and responsibilities. We are seeking to minimise overlap
and maximise the benefit of joint working.
(The Chairman resumed the Chair)
490. In your evidence you say that fulfilling
the potential identified in Waterways for Tomorrow will
need increased public funding. In particular, if we are to achieve
the aims of the document of transferring more freight on to waterways,
in your view how can this be done and what will the order of public
funding be? There are many calls on Freight Facilities Grants,
to what extent do you think you can tap into those funds?
(Miss McKeever) I think funding for navigations infrastructure
throughout the inland network is actually the crux of both the
leisure and freight boating. A lot of the wharves have been lost
over the years, speaking about the Thames, a lot have gone to
housing developments, etc. That is one area where there would
require quite substantial funding and then there are lots of other
issues to consider as well, environmental issues, and the impact
they might have on use that has taken over from freight. So infrastructure
is one area that would require funding. One of the areas where
we see most potential for freight is short sea shipping and we
are also the navigation authority for Rye Harbour and we have
seen a fairly substantial increase, although the figures are still
quite low, from 14 ships coming in in 1997-98 to over 100 already
this year. Without investing very much extra there already we
have seen an increase and with Freight Facilities Grants available
and more encouragement being given to industry to locate business
close to the waterways, I think that is where there is quite a
lot of potential.
491. Were you surprised that the short sea shipping
was excluded from the initial document?
(Miss McKeever) We were because we had identified
it as part of the freight strategy, that it was an area where
there was most potential.
492. Could you put a figure on the order? No,
you would not like to.
(Miss McKeever) I can for the Agency's navigation.
We believe that we need to spend about £20 million on our
own infrastructure, £12 million of which is very urgent,
the backlog where there has been under-investment for a number
of years. That is not just to do with freight, that is to do with
getting the infrastructure on our navigation to the state that
we and our users would like it to be.
493. Could you just assist the Committee. How
would you describe the integrated river basin management? How
would you describe your role in that now and how would you see
that changing when the European Water Framework Directive comes
(Dr Mance) If I can respond on that. The EU Water
Framework Directive will require an approach of catchment based
494. What based planning?
(Dr Mance) Catchment based, river catchment based
planning. So on a six year cycle Member States will be required
to develop for all river catchments a plan showing how activity
in the catchment will influence the river system in terms of quantity
and quality of water and in terms of biological health. We believe
that is totally consistent with the approach developed in the
UK over the last 30/40 years. We have developed an ever more integrated
way of looking at our river systems, so that we look at the trade-offs,
we seek to maximise the benefits of any one intervention in the
system in terms of reducing flood risk, maximising the benefit
for water resources, maximising the benefit for all users of the
river, whether it is boaters, anglers or conservation value, or
just aesthetic value and access for walking. It is a sensible
way of trying to make sure that we are intervening either in a
regulatory role or by expenditure of public funds, whether ours,
those of local authorities, BW or other bodies, they are done
in a way which actually maximise the overall benefits and minimise
the disbenefits. Put simply, that is it in a nutshell but it gets
increasingly complicated. Obviously looking at flood risk there
are all sorts of issues about the land use in the catchment study
feeding down through. Arguably some of that also has implications
for water resources.
Chairman: I do want fairly sharp questions and
sharp answers, if I may.
495. Dr Mance, how should the planning system
be used to protect the waterways and their environment?
(Mr Runcie) If I may pick that one up. We actually
feel that the planning system itself could be strengthened through
the existing PPG 11 at the regional planning guidance level to
properly reflect the value of the waterways. We have actually
worked with the existing planning regime very effectively, for
example in Northampton where, in collaboration with Northampton
Borough Council, we have looked very closely at the regeneration
of the river valley and in particular following the repercussions
of Easter 1998 floods where the whole of the social, the environmental
and the natural qualities of the river were put into a challenging
position. Part of that master plan, which is planning led, was
to agree the character and landscape of the river, its open space,
for pleasure, for recreational purposes, for nature conservation,
for wildlife, for biodiversity and river habitats, as well as
to be able to regenerate physically, economically and socially
the areas surrounding the river valley and create proper opportunities
for inward investment. That had to be done by providing proper
planning and design guidance for the developers within the area
and also to provide the planning and the development of the flood
defence works for which we were responsible, to make sure that
we had an integrated approach. That has been a very successful
partnership and that has worked well.
496. In your evidence at paragraph 2.6 you refer
to the Thames publication, Thames Ahead. What are you doing
there to ensure that boaters and people using the river can have
the facilities for mooring and other needs because I was told
last night that in summer time it is hopeless trying to use the
river for pleasure purposes? What is happening on the planning
(Miss McKeever) The Thames Ahead project is
really the Agency taking the lead as the navigation authority
in getting all of those people with a stake in the Thames together,
including the 13 riparian local authorities on the non-tidal Thames.
We own very little land, most of it is around our locks and is
already available for mooring. We recognise, and have done for
the last three or four years, that many landowners who used to
fairly freely allow boats to moor up have been putting up "No
Mooring" signs, etc. Mooring and the general infrastructure
of facilities for boaters is one of the key strands of that Thames
Ahead project. We are working with local authorities to try
to get them to provide more moorings and less expensive moorings,
because there are moorings but they are also quite expensive in,
say, the Windsor area.
497. What progress are you making with the riparian
(Miss McKeever) The project was, in fact, launched
about three weeks ago, so it is at a very early stage.
498. One final question on the issue of freight.
In paragraph 3.5.1 you say "A recent review by the Association
of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA), of which the Agency is
a founding member, confirms that the potential for major new freight
movements on inland waterways is limited." Is that strictly
(Miss McKeever) I think in terms of original targets,
from memory we are to move three per cent of freight off the roads
on to the inland network. Through the AINA strategy, which looked
at various inland waterways, that was felt to be limited, except
for some of the already larger freight carrying canals. Yes, that
was the conclusion in looking at the tonnage that would be required
to be delivered. I think on rivers that has been demonstrated
in the floods of the last month or so where navigation was completely
impossible on many of our rivers, which would obviously limit
freight transport. There are lots of issues which lead us to believe
that the potential is limited. There is potential for niche markets
and for specific projects.
(Dr Mance) A brief addition, if I may, Chairman. In
some of our major flood defence projects we have tried to move
large quantity aggregates by boat. The problem we have is that
the infrastructure does not exist now on the river systems particularly
where you might be moving large quantities.
499. Are you saying there is no wharfage, there
is no way of getting in and getting out and it does not join up
at the other end?
(Dr Mance) Unless there is an investment to create
infrastructure the first contracts, therefore, become very expensive
because they bear an undue portion of providing that.