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

Memorandum by Sadie Dean (IW 06)


  I wish these comments to be expressed at the inquiry.

  The role of Inland Waterways in respect of:

Urban and rural regeneration

  Where there has been city centre improvements, such as in Birmingham, many of the old buildings have been completely replaced. This has certainly added much to the city centre but a similar area in Manchester where many more of the old structures have been preserved and adapted for modern use the result there is for more attractive.

  In the first example the buildings are of the sort that can be seen anywhere with the waterway just adding to the attraction, in the second example the whole of the waterways combined with the old buildings create a unique area and the historic interest and attraction is retained.

  There are many inner city areas where new life is returning to the canals and more thought needs to be given before old buildings are destroyed.

  There are also many towns where thoughtful use and preservation of old structures in co-ordination with the regeneration of the canals will present the uniqueness of our heritage.

  In rural areas the regeneration should be linked with the use of the waterway for navigation. The movement of craft keeps them alive, especially on the canals where otherwise the water becomes stagnant and clogged with weed or/and litter. Frequent use and the presence of boaters offers free supervision and cuts down vandalism to plants, buildings and wildlife.

Leisure, recreation, tourism and the industrial heritage

  The industrial heritage of the waterways is linked to boats and carrying. Although this has ceased over much of the system, there are many historic boats and buildings still in existence, and it is these that are attractive, both for those involved with them and for visitors. The boats are not all in museums or stored up.

  Visitors to the waterways whether tourists, walkers, casual passers by or those on boating trips or holidays, really get great pleasure from seeing historic boats on the waterways. The speed of travel enables exchange of information, interest is shown and questions answered.

  This is a unique feature of our waterways and the nation's heritage. Visitors are attracted by it.

  It cannot exist without maintenance of waterway standards and the retaining of the old buildings.

The environment and the enhancement of wildlife

  The waterways should be kept free of pollution and rubbish.

Water Transfer, drainage and telecommunications

  To use canals that were not designed for water transfer schemes to move water about would completely destroy them and the heritage that needs to be preserved. The beds would be scoured, gradients would have to be introduced and boat speeds increased to combat the flow introduced. Land and later road drainage is an historic use of the canals though it is hoped that lessons have been learned from the mess caused, and now being put right, because of the drainage from the M5.

Freight Transport

  Waterways that carry freight at present can be upgraded and the volume of traffic increased.

  As long ago as 1948 it was impossible to carry a full load along many canals because of poor standards of maintenance.

  As recently as two months ago we experienced great difficulty in bringing three quarters of a load to Birmingham, because of blockages caused by rubbish allowed to accumulate over the years at certain known points. Pairs of boats cannot carry in the traditional manner along some wide canals, the Shropshire Union Nantwich to Chester for example, because of blockages behind the lock gates preventing both gates from being fully opened.

  To enable freight to be carried commercially:

      —  Suppliers and destinations must be able to load and unload directly onto the boats.

      —  The waterway must be correctly maintained.

      —  Inexperienced persons slowing down lock use cannot hold up the transport of goods.

      —  The water is not frozen.

  Any feasibility study on commercial carrying on canals would only create jobs for those doing the study and those generating the paperwork.

  Commercial carrying can be shown on the canals by those willing to sponsor it. It is very popular and attracts great interest.

The extent to which the objectives are complimentary or whether a principal use should be given priority.

  The waterways have changed greatly in the last 200 years (6.62 says otherwise). The worst dirt and pollution from factories etc discharging into them has been stopped. Now the rubbish comes more from individuals, litter and the obstructions from weed growth.

  There is no doubt that boat movement keeps canals "alive" and the presence of boaters reduces the incidence of vandalism and tipping.

  There is no conflict between boating and biodiversity.

  Obviously recreational use of the towpath has increased over the last 20 years, (6.4 Waterways for Tomorrow) as towpaths were private property and the public had no right of access and was forbidden to trespass. Now they seem to be given the right to roam.

  Much tipping goes on into the canals both deliberate rubbish disposal and casual litter dropping from fishermen and walkers, this affects all users.

  Most users of the waterways, boaters, anglers and walkers etc are in no conflict.

  Where towpaths have been turned into cycle ways, speeding is a great problem and source of danger.

The Waterways for Tomorrow document does not contain adequate policies because

  Too much of the heritage is being sold off and demolished.

  Private sector investment too often loses sight of what needs to be retained.

  Roads are being built over and alongside the waterways and ruining the environment.

  Roads are being built over sections of canals that are being restored.

  Urban regeneration in towns is being done on a huge scale rather than attention being given to details and small areas of local excellence.

  Not all waterway users are being charged and the burden is falling heavily on the few.

The roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in the protection and maintenance of the waterways

  The waterways are not being protected from the encroachment of business enterprises.

  Far too many linear moorings are being sold, preventing visitors from stopping at interesting places.

  Commercial activities are frequently not in keeping with the environment.

  The waterways of this country will not survive if turned into a theme park.

  The great value of this heritage is being eroded and lost because those in control are losing the vision of what the historic value is.

  The unique potential of this heritage is becoming swamped by big business.

  The statutory duty of the authorities to maintain navigation on the waterways has become very low on the list of priorities.

  Too much of the work is now contracted out to those with no knowledge or interest in the waterways.

  Those painting locks and bridges paint loose and dangerous safety barriers because they are only employed to paint.

  Those cutting the grass carve into the bottom of the hedgerows where the wildlife would live. They leave dangerous growth on the towpath edge to cause hazards to users, allow trees to develop to damage the towpath walls. This also obscures the canal walls so signs of deterioration cannot be spotted early on.

  These are just a few examples of an ineffective system that is short sighted, perhaps introduced to save money, which it doesn't, as ongoing maintenance is usually cheaper.

  Waterway operatives used to take a pride in "their section". Now a few are forced to carry out tasks such as putting up signs at a lock that has leaking walls, rubbish stopping proper operation of the gates and trees overhanging the navigation channel at a dangerous height. Morale is low.

  What users and visitors want to see is a working waterway, with the history preserved and active evidence of it. This along with a natural unpolluted environment where plants and wildlife can also be enjoyed.

  More money should be spent on encouraging the use of historic craft and the restoration of related industrial archaeology.

  More derelict waterways should be restored.

  The watercourses should be kept clean and unpolluted, under these conditions wildlife will flourish.

September 2000

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