Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000
580. Have you given any thought to track access
(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
(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
583. Would it not be better to have one body
over the whole of inland waterways to actually promote the interests
(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
(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
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
bringboth the recreational projects, where there are centres
for recreation, and the more rural areasare 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
(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
(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
(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.