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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 592)



  580. Have you given any thought to track access canals?
  (Lord Whitty) We are certainly looking at whether freight facilities grants can be extended in that respect, that is part of the flexibility that I referred to earlier.

  581. Moving on to planning, in Waterways for Tomorrow you rejected the idea of having specific planning guidance, what are you actually doing to ensure that the whole framework of planning around canals is sorted out? There appears to be a problem getting freight handling sites along the canals and there are clearly problems of access for people to walk along them in places, how are you actually giving guidance to local authorities as to what they should be doing in their structure plans?
  (Lord Whitty) PPG 13 will give clear guidance that they should facilitate.

  582. Facilitate what?
  (Lord Whitty) Facilitate both developments on the canal, which would allow commercial traffic, and to use the environmental advantages of canal land and access to canal land as part of their environmental and recreational policies. There is quite a lot in there. The current position is summarised in the back of Waterways for Tomorrow. Obviously we are going to reprint that after we get the final version of the new planning guidance. You would not have a single PPG in relation to waterways, all of the aspects which relate to waterways will be pulled together in one supplementary document.

  583. Would it not be better to have one body over the whole of inland waterways to actually promote the interests of users?
  (Lord Whitty) There are various federations or bodies of different sorts of users.

  584. I am aware of them. We have had a fair amount of evidence from them. What about coordinating them into one body? Do I take it that is a pass, or `phone a friend?
  (Lord Whitty) In a sense it is not matter for me, it is a matter for the various associations which represent various people, such as anglers, boaters, freight movers, farmers, etc. It is not easy to construct a single body for all those people. We do try and bring them together when we can, including in the parliamentary context. Your colleague, Mr O'Brien, is the Chairman of the parliamentary dimension of that. We do try and bring them together but they are voluntary groups who make their own decisions.

  585. I am told that if you want a project to succeed with regeneration you do not just need a canal or a waterway near to it but you actually need boats on it. Do you agree with that?
  (Lord Whitty) Not as put. In general it is useful to have boats on waterways because it improves the attractiveness of the area, even if there is no commercial benefit of those boats. It is not a requirement that a stretch of water with its contribution to regeneration has to have boats on it.

  586. There is some evidence, we had it before the Committee, that the number of people who are using the waterways for recreation is declining, do you think something should be done to arrest that decline?
  (Lord Whitty) The number of people using waterways for some aspects of boating is declining, which I think reflects the holiday-taking pattern of the population as a whole. I think there are some things the boat industry could do to promote itself more effectively.

  587. Such as?
  (Lord Whitty) One is advertising, for second holidays, weekends, etc, which they do not engage in as strongly as they might. It may be that the waterways could be given some help in that regard. It is, in general, a reflection of the population patterns. Other aspects, such as walking and angling, I do not think are declining. The benefits which the regeneration projects bring—both the recreational projects, where there are centres for recreation, and the more rural areas—are now particularly growing, and for educational purposes they are growing. In the urban centres the use of the waterside is definitely growing, particularly when regeneration projects occur.

  588. Our Government has talked about water transfer, what sort of volumes of water would you expect to be transferred by canals?
  (Lord Whitty) I do have some figures on that, but I will have to look them up. There has been a feasibility study in relation to the water grid, which has identified a range of figures, of which the maximum is 500 megalitres a day, which is a lot of water.


  589. Thank you for that insight.
  (Lord Whitty) It is a lot of water, but it would not have the effect, that some people think, of raising the level of water by more than a few inches at any time.

  590. This is one of the things you studied with great care.
  (Lord Whitty) Indeed.

  591. I want to bring you back to regeneration before I let you escape, it is very essential that many of the buildings that stand alongside waterways, whether they are canals or not, are brought back into active use. Many of the regeneration products are carefully balanced packages, put together by people who are not waterways people. Do you honestly think that you have given clear enough guidance to British Waterways, and everybody else involved, that this is actually one of your priorities, that you think the social benefits are so great they can produce instant results that will have tremendous effect on the areas concerned? Are you really making it clear that you want this done with some urgency and commitment?
  (Lord Whitty) I believe we have. I believe that part of the message that is being put across to waterways, British Waterways in particular, since we came into power has been this regeneration role. It is a central part of our Department's responsibilities. The Deputy Prime Minister himself has been particularly keen on such regeneration projects. I know that the management of British Waterways are quite clear and that is the political and strategic message we conveyed to them. I do believe they are following that in a number of locations.

  592. For years this entire area has been totally neglected, money has not gone in, there has not really been support for these myriad of groups that get some kind of benefit, is this Government serious about looking at freight, leisure and regeneration in terms which will produce, if not instant results then quite rapid results?
  (Lord Whitty) We are committed. We need to ensure that the projects are soundly based. We need to have regard to the wider planning process. Our belief, our intention and our commitment is precisely that. We do believe that a tremendous contribution can be made by the waterways assets and their expertise to regenerating the heartland of a lot of our cities.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

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