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

Memorandum by Kent Area Environment Group (IW 12)

  My committee is representative of a wide cross section of opinion from both the private and public sectors. I convened a sub-committee to enable us to submit this memorandum on Waterways for Tomorrow and in particular the ownership of waterways and management issues.

  Our starting point was how best to achieve the objectives set out in the paper. We therefore focused on the users, potential users, public understanding and support leading on to optimum structure and management.

  In the Kent Area the Environment Agency is the navigation authority for the inland navigation on the River Medway and is the Harbour Authority for the Harbour of Rye. There are some tidal estuaries with rights of navigation but no Navigation Authority. The Royal Military Canal is vested in the Agency by virtue of a 999 year lease. There are no British Waterways navigations in the area.

  Local navigations historically developed to meet local needs. This is reflected in the enabling legislation and current ownership.

  The Medway Navigation Authority has no legislation to consider the flood defence implications of its actions and navigation consent is required for flood defence work. It was this concern which resulted in the navigation being taken over by the predecessors of the Agency. A similar concern over the ability to protect the extensive area of the Romney Marsh led to the Jury's Gut Catchment Board (Agency predecessor) taking over the Harbour of Rye to prevent siltation and the closing of the channel.

  My committee considers that the present arrangement gives the customers good value and ensures that consents and decisions are based on a recognition of all the issues associated with flowing rivers.

  The Royal Military Canal was built as a defence structure against Napoleonic invasion and rescued from dereliction by the Agency's predecessor as an integral part of the area's land drainage network. Principally managed as part of a water regulation system the Environment Agency allows angling and navigation by non-powered craft to protect the heritage and conservation status. This demonstrates a professional approach to the management of waterways which is in the public interest and would be much more difficult if responsibilities were separated.

  In contrast the management of "canals" is through ownership of the "track" whereas on river navigations ownership largely lies with the riparian owner. This latter situation requires a more consultative and open approach to management which the Environment Agency already has in place through its committee structure. The committee felt strongly that the risk to the public was greater on rivers than canals and that flood protection was of prime importance. We also considered that the integration of flood defence with water quality, resource management, recreation, navigation, fisheries and conservation was best achieved with one organisation.

  On river navigations clear single authority accountability undoubtedly strengthens public confidence.

  We are therefore quite clear that responsibility for navigation in the Kent area is appropriately vested in the Environment Agency.

  This gives much greater public benefit than if a separate navigation authority was created. We also believe there are positive arguments for ensuring the Agency has the navigation and drainage responsibility on all river navigations where its land drainage role might be inhibited. Cross functional management lowers cost and brings benefits.

  The principle of increasing freight traffic is fully supported. At Rye Harbour this is encouraged by the provision of a full and flexible pilotage service but my sub-committee recognises that there is little scope on a relatively short isolated navigation such as the Medway.

  However, there is support for urban and rural regeneration linked to the provision of leisure, recreation, tourism and industrial heritage balanced with the environment and wildlife interest. The Environment Agency has been a leading partner in the Medway River Project. In 12 years it has encouraged community involvement in wildlife enhancement, recreation and many improvements in the Medway Valley.

  The Agency is involved with the Maidstone Millennium Park project centred on the navigation and worth altogether £8.2 million and a single regeneration budget project in Rye. My advisory group fully supports these initiatives.

  In some respects the situation in the Kent area is unique and I therefore hope you will recognise the value of the Environment Agency retaining control of the existing river navigations.

Michael Odling

18 September 2000

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