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

Memorandum by Humber Barges (IW 07)


  1.  Humber Barges Ltd is a new company established to promote the carriage of freight by barge, principally on the inland waterways radiating from the Humber estuary inland towards and to York, Leeds, Rotherham, and Nottingham, capitalising on the Government's 1998 White Paper on Integrated Transport and its follow up papers on "Sustainable Distribution" and "Waterways for Tomorrow".

  We are considerably encouraged and heartened by the positive comments and policies contained in these, documents but it is also fair to say that we are disappointed at the apparent lack of any reference to waterways and funding for development of waterway freight contained in the latest document: "Transport 2010. The Ten Year Plan."

  We would comment on the Daughter White Paper specifically as follows:

    —  6.64  "an important source of income"—this is a two edged sword, but could, of course, be of considerable significance if our proposals for funding (below) are adopted and increased freight traffic brings increased income. There has been no ship/barge activity of any consequence at Caldaire terminal for many years. We are not aware of any carriers who were involved in the "pilot study of the demand for freight" described. Who produced this document and when will it be published for comment? Regarding the "Waste by Water initiative" we understand that this had already been set up by a private contractor and for some reason has been taken over by British Waterways.

    —  6.68  We would very much wish to be represented on the "inland waterways freight study group".


  2.  The Company has identified a number of traffic flows, some of which are internal, and some of which link ports with inland destinations. These traffics are very suitable for barge transport and amount to many hundreds of thousands of tonnes per annum.

  3.  Commodities include coal, aggregates, silica sand, fluorspar, timber, steel (partly finished and finished), grains and animal foods, waste material, fly ash, scrap metal, copra, fertiliser etc.

  4.  Craft of 250-500 tonnes carrying capacity have been/are being acquired and placed into traffic.

  5.  In order to persuade shippers and forwarders to place their traffics on the waterways we need to be able to offer a service that is competitive in terms of cost, reliability, and convenience when compared to road transport.

  6.  Most shipments to/from seagoing ships are large and need an "uplift" capacity to take (say) 2-3,000 tonnes. Though some storage may be possible in the docks, this to some extent nullifies the convenience of going "overside" direct from ship to craft without landing, and without recourse to large fleets of lorries. At the inland destination, it is often the case that storage is required and this is most conveniently located at a terminal wharf, from where the customer can "call off" as required.

  7.  Barges are an integral part of the international shipping chain and are an extension of the worldwide "feeder" system of transport (The "hub and spoke") which both gathers and distributes cargo to gain the economies of scale of deep sea shipping.

    —  It is essential that Government and Planners understand that waterways are an extension of the Port system and that deep and short sea vessels can load and discharge to and from barges either direct or via the quay. The effect this will have on reducing road traffic is profound.

  8.  Taking the larger waterways such as the Aire & Calder Navigation as an example it is neccessary to look upon these as being the "water equivalent" of the motorway, and the barge as being a large "floating lorry/floating warehouse". A waterway such as this could take 2,000 lorries a day off the adjacent road(s); even now the A&C carries some two million tonnes/annum—of considerable significance in reducing road traffic in the area through which it passes.

  9.  In order to compete on equal terms with road, passage through the waterway(s) needs to be as efficient and inexpensive as possible, both for the operator and the waterway authority.

  Locks and swing/lift bridges which are already generally mechanically operated by roving or resident lock keepers (or by barge crews exceptionally) need to be further automated so that they can be controlled safely from a central point or points rather as signals, points, and level crossings are operated on a modern railway. This is not "rocket science" technology and various examples of lock and bridge automation can be studied across the Channel in Continental Europe. This would enable the waterway(s) to be open for passage of craft 24 hours, and to be operated far more economically.

  10.  Track access charges are a major cost worry for barge operators and are typically TWICE that charged for access to the UK rail system, those rail charges themselves being currently the subject of critical comment by rail operators as being "far too high compared to rail track access abroad".

  These tracks access charges (generally known as "tolls" or "dues") are levied by the waterway administrations, typically British Waterways, or the Thames Navigation Authority (EA), or the Manchester Ship Canal, or Harbour or Dock companies such as Associated British Ports. By contrast, access to waterways abroad is usually free of any charges, or the charges levied are very small.

  We strongly recommend the approach to rail freight access as recently published in a Consultation Document from the Rail Regulator. Changing the wording to reflect the waterway context this would read—

    —  "Freight operators have generally argued that waterway access charges should be as low as possible to ensure that water can compete with other modes. Access charges should, therefore, in their view, be no higher than the waterways' avoidable costs from freight operations.

    —  In addition, they argue that these avoidable costs should reflect the waterway authorities' potential for improved efficiency and that this potential should be measured against international best practice. They generally argue that the variable change (should read "charge"?) should be low to reflect their view of marginal costs of freight operations". However, better still that there be no charges to the operator.....

  11.  In order to attract more freight traffic on the waterways we suggest a radical change in the way that tolls: and dues are charged thus:

    (a)  Barges should be licensed or registered at a nominal charge per annum eg £1 per tonne of carrying capacity, or (say) £100 per annum for a tug. This would enable the craft to ply free of charge on all the waterways accessible ie as limited only by size—a national licence just like a lorry. (nb barges or craft that operated solely on "free" waterways such as the tidal Thames would not need to be licensed.) It should be noted that there is a precedent in that Narrow Boats and small barges operating on the BW (1968 Act) non-"Commercial" waterways are already licensed in this way and do not pay tolls but there is no incentive payment for BW from government to encourage such traffic either.

    (b)  Waterway authorities need to be incentivised to provide and improve the track and facilities. The "daughter" White Paper mentions (paragraph 6.69) grants to be paid directly to navigation authorities. Instead of offering Track Access Grants to operators or their customers for selected traffics, (which involves a great deal of paperwork and civil servant time), the Government should pay the waterway authorities a sum for each tonne carried per mile—this could be, for example, one penny per tonne/mile, and this would equate to many of the tolls currently being paid.

    (c)  The above would require co-operation between the waterway authorities but this already exists to some extent with the recent arrangements for joint licensing of pleasure craft.

  12.  We suggest also that British Waterways and the other navigation authorities should consult the carriers and prospective carriers as to improvements that could be made which would encourage new traffics. Examples of improvements on B W in the N E might include:

    —  Relocation of Newark Nether lock (Trent Navigation) to enable longer craft to navigate to Nottingham, taking advantage of the large lock size to compensate for lack of depth.

    —  Conducting a feasibility study to ascertain what effect a lock at or near Torksey would have on carrying capacity of vessels using the upper reaches of the tidal Trent.

    —  Re-locating Castleford Flood Lock so as to considerably improve the ease of navigation at this tricky spot.

    —  Automation and centralised control of locks and bridges as described earlier.

    —  Improvements to waterway and channel widths (eg on Aire & Calder) to improve steering/safety and enable higher speed of transit.

  13.  British Waterways (at least) should be provided with a "pot of money" each year to be used for developing freight by way of research, and also for speculative "track improvements/automation" in consultation with carriers/prospective carriers. A source of considerable anxiety is the rapid loss of freight wharves and terminals on the waterways. It is imperative that steps be taken to ensure that no more are lost. It should be inconceivable in the light of Government policy that, for example, a busy aggregate wharf in Leeds should be closed down in favour of re-development as up-market town housing or offices—yet this will be happening soon. Steps should be taken to identify and protect the Public Wharves which the original navigation companies were required to provide (presumably indefinitely) and which the barge operators and customers could use without charge or restriction (other than reasonable restrictions on placing of cranes and so forth). It is believed that British Waterways are currently denying the existence of such wharves and rights particularly where such a wharf could be sold for redevelopment.

  Freight wharves should be considered as being "part of the waterway scene" (as abroad) and not something that is always considered undesirable near housing or public amenity.

  14.  Steps should be taken to encourage planners to do all that is possible to encourage the location of industry on the waterside so as to take fullest advantage of the environmental and economic benefits of using the waterway. By locating waterside one of the major cost disincentives—transhipment and (re)delivery by road—is eliminated.

  Planners and Government must recognise the advantage of waterborne traffic. An example of this is demonstrated in the recent construction of the Saint Gobain glass factory at Eggborough. It was built about 1.5 miles from the Aire & Calder Navigation—a major freight waterway. If it had been built alongside the canal the factory could have received its raw materials (about 500,000 tonnes/annum) by barge direct into the production line, instead of by road or (congested) rail.

  15.  Smaller waterways such as the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the Calder & Hebble Navigation, and the Grand Union Canal (and even the narrow canals)—the "historic waterways"—can also play a part for "niche" traffics—especially over short distances,—helping to reduce road traffic in a particular locality. We welcome the proposal (paragraph 6.68) to look further into this, and would be happy to assist, some of our Directors having had experience (and some success) in the past in this particular type of operation.

  16.  On the larger "commercial" waterways the needs of the freight craft operator must be paramount, so that, for example, pleasure craft are not moored on the approach to locks, and on all waterways freight craft should have priority as has always been the custom. Having said that, we see no reason why freight, pleasure craft, recreation and tourism should not co-exist happily as is the case on continental waterways. In our experience the vast majority of pleasure craft crews, and the general public alike are delighted to see freight barges operating—whether they be the traditional and colourful narrow boats of the smaller waterways, or a 500 tonner laden with steel or aggregates on one of the north eastern waterways.

David Lowe
Managing Director

21 September 2000

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