Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fourth Report


Visit to Yorkshire, Monday 15 January 2001

      Mr Andrew Bennett MP
      Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP
      Mr Bill O'Brien MP
      Dr David Harrison (Clerk)
      Ms Katie Smith (Committee Specialist)


The Committee received evidence criticising British Waterways' involvement in two regeneration projects in Yorkshire, at Sowerby Bridge and Wakefield (details can be found in IW44, IW73). In summary, British Waterways was criticised for: an overly commercial approach to heritage-led projects where the benefits are more than simply monetary; a disregard for accountability and the need to consult; and a failure to work properly in partnership. We gave British Waterways the opportunity to respond to these criticisms. In a supplementary memorandum, the organisation stated that it did not accept the interpretation of events by Regeneration through Heritage and others and pointed out that it has an "excellent track record" in regeneration partnerships (see IW52A).

Three members of the Committee accepted an invitation to visit the projects at Sowerby Bridge and Wakefield, and to visit other completed waterside projects in Leeds.

Sowerby Bridge Wharf

After a tour of the site, the Members met with representatives from Regeneration through Heritage, British Waterways, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council and the tenants who run businesses from the site. The partners in the project put forward their, somewhat differing, perspectives on its development. We were told about a number of difficulties:

  • funding. There was much discussion about British Waterways' approach to putting a funding package together for the regeneration of the Sowerby Bridge canal basin. The Heritage Lottery Fund had rejected an initial bid made by British Waterways on behalf of the Sowerby Bridge Wharf Partnership to refurbish and convert two listed warehouses. We heard that there was now disagreement among the partners as to who was best placed to submit a revised bid. British Waterways was of the view it should lead on the next application, but the other partners believed that a local trust would have more success because the HLF may be more sympathetic to a bid from a community-based trust. In addition, such a trust would be able to assemble a funding package free of any requirement to achieve the sorts of yield British Waterways seeks. A key issue is whether British Waterways would be able to accept a rate of return on the project lower than the 8 per cent specified in its financial memorandum. In addition, the tenants felt that British Waterways was being overly-optimistic regarding the level of funding which could be expected from HLF.

  • communication. The tenants claimed that British Waterways had not been communicating properly with them and, in particular, had not responded to correspondence. However, after some discussion within the group, they conceded that this was more perception than fact.

A number of action points were agreed. First, British Waterways promised to set up meetings with a) Yorkshire Forward, to establish whether it would be prepared to provide grant funding for the project and b) the Heritage Lottery Fund to discuss the likelihood of a second application succeeding. British Waterways also promised to ensure that all parties were kept informed by, for example, inviting a tenant representative to attend the meetings with funding bodies, and reporting back on progress to all partners.

Leeds and other regeneration projects

The Members visited several waterside sites in Leeds City Centre which had been successfully redeveloped for residential and commercial uses. (Granary Wharf; Bridge End/Dock Street; Fearns Wharf). The projects involved British Waterways working successfully in partnership with the public and the private sector. Redevelopment of such sites has been instrumental in kick-starting the renaissance of Leeds' city centre. Over lunch, members were invited to view presentations of a number of other British Waterways sites that have been successfully regenerated in partnership with a variety of bodies. These included sites at Sheffield, Nottingham, Newark on Trent and Market Harborough and involved, in some cases, the restoration and reuse of derelict Grade II and II* listed buildings.

Wakefield Waterfront

At Wakefield, the Members visited the Waterfront, and toured around the listed Navigation Warehouse and other parts of site. This was followed by a meeting at Wakefield ArtsMill with representatives from British Waterways, Regeneration through Heritage, Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, Wakefield Waterfront Trust and the developers involved in the project: CTP/ St James and Bellway Homes.

The key area of difficulty on the Wakefield Waterfront project was disagreement among the partners about the future use for the Navigation Warehouse. The local authority and other partners were promoting the proposal to locate the Hepworth Gallery in the warehouse. They believe that a flagship project is essential to make the most of the Waterfront site, and would be a catalyst for the regeneration of Wakefield as a whole. However, British Waterways had some concerns about this option since the original feasibility study raised some concerns that a proposed extension and other internal alterations would be potentially damaging to the fabric and setting of the Grade II* listed building. In addition, a key stumbling block appeared to be the levels of yield British Waterways was prepared to accept on its investment. British Waterways believe that the Waterfront can be regenerated without the Hepworth Gallery in the Navigation Warehouse.

However, progress on the Wakefield Waterfront project seemed to be more certain. At the time of our visit, the partners were on the verge of signing a collaboration agreement and agreeing Heads of Terms for the development of the site. The acquisition of a key site, currently owned by Decorative Labels, was proceeding. A second feasibility study had been commissioned, and the partners had agreed to be bound by its findings.

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Prepared 14 March 2001