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

Memorandum by Lafarge Redland Aggregates (IW 13)


  1.  Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd has considered the terms of reference which the Committee has set itself for its proposed inquiry into the potential for inland waterways, as set out in the Press Novice 49/1999-2000. The company welcomes this inquiry and submits the following evidence for the Committee's consideration.


  2.  Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd is part of the Lafarge Group which is one of the largest construction materials companies in the world. In the UK the company is one of the "big four" aggregates producers, and is active also in the fields of waste management, building and road materials, industrial minerals etc.

  3.  The company has for many years recognised the need to pursue the aims of sustainable development in all its activities, and consequently has taken a lead role in developing advanced methods of site management and restoration to improve biodiversity, and alternatives to road transport for its products. In this last respect are included the self-discharging train (SDT), which enables large tonnages of aggregate to be delivered to sidings and depots which lack sophisticated unloading equipment. A large proportion of the output from the company's flagship quarry at Mountsorrel, Leicester is delivered by rail.

  4.  Similarly, whether facilities make it practicable to do so, as for example in South Yorkshire, extensive use is made of tidal and inland waterways to transport bulk materials. The company has also endeavoured to comply with Government policy by applying to establish a coastal super quarry on the Isle of Harris, Scotland, for which a decision from the Scottish Executive is awaited. If approved, that would have a capacity to produce 10 million tonnes per annum of aggregate and other rock, all to be transported from its own dedicated port by bulk carrier, to receiving ports, primarily the Thames, where a wharf facility has already been established at Thurrock.

  5.  These features of the company's operations provide a major interest in the capability to transport heavy bulk low-value products by water, (by sea, estuarial waters or inland waterways), throughout England. The opportunity to submit evidence to this Inquiry therefore is welcomed.


  6.  This evidence addresses those of the topics to be inquired into which are of direct interest to the Company and of which it has experience. They are:

    (i)  the potential for commercial freight use;

    (ii)  complementarity or conflict between different waterway uses and whether a principal use should have priority; and

    (iii)  whether "Waterways for Tomorrow" contains adequate policies and measures to ensure its goals are achieved.


  7.  The publication of this report is timely and its contents generally helpful as a source of information about inland waterways. However, its treatment of freight use is inadequate, for reasons set out in the following paragraphs.

  8.  It is understandable that the report focuses on waterway uses such as leisure and recreation, and heritage conservation. There is a section on freight, part of Chapter 6, but it is largely negative in tone and content. The bias towards non-freight uses can be largely attributed to the fact that freight is not a major use over most of the inland waterway system. However, it may also be due to the fact that the main source of information and advice to DETR appears to have been the IWAAC, whose remit does not adequately cover freight. DETR should be advised to enlarge its sources of advice to ensure a better balance of interests than is now apparent. This should be done before advice on inland waterways is introduced into PPG's. The conference proposed by DETR (paragraph 7.2) should reflect such an extended basis of interests.

  9.  The company's main area of freight use of inland waterways currently lies in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, where aggregates are shipped from quarries with waterside access in 300-tonne barges via the Trent and Humber navigable estuaries and waterways to the Aire and Calder Navigations. By such means large tonnages are delivered to the heart of urban areas, avoiding large numbers of lorry trips. The focus on urban renewal in such conurbations makes this means of transport increasingly significant. In addition, there is potential to reverse the flow of materials by taking waste out of urban areas to waterside quarry locations. However, it is more and more difficult to meet the essential pre-conditions to enable such transport to take place. The cargoes are low unit value, so minimum handling is essential, and high site values at the essential wharf and interchange facilities are not affordable. At present, these operations are viable, but it would take only a small adverse shift in the price structure to force a change to road delivery.

  10.  The main problems are:

    (i)  wharf and depot facilities require some storage capacity, and often the ability to process material on site, eg readymix concrete, asphalt, waste recycling/recovery. Such uses are often unpopular with local planning authorities and sometimes with site owners and waterway operators. New sites are difficult to secure and existing ones can be denied continued use;

    (ii)  a culture has grown up, and is overtly encouraged by Waterways for Tomorrow, of redeveloping waterside sites for residential and business uses. This creates not only high site values, which freight uses cannot afford, but promotes with site owners and waterway operators the ambition to force out low-value freight uses. This is natural, and is a reasonable policy where waterside freight use is inessential but is to be deplored where continued or increased freight use is in the public interest;

    (iii)  it is not only the loss of wharf and depot sites themselves that is a problem. Many urban areas close to waterways prove attractive for residential and business developments. When these are established the new occupants can object to having waterside freight activities as a neighbour and put pressure on local authorities to terminate them when opportunity arises;

    (iv)  on the inland waterways themselves genuine conflict can arise between freight users and those using the system for recreation and leisure. Such conflict is natural and need nor reflect blame on either interest. Setting priorities will almost always be difficult but seems likely to become necessary;

    (v)  it is acknowledged there are environmental impacts from these activities which may make them unpopular in urban areas. However, the use of countryside sites is almost always constrained by planning policies, especially if in a Green Belt. There is therefore a need to more fully integrate waterways development and planning policies for the right level of encouragement for freight; and

    (vi)  the extent to which the waterways system can accommodate large volumes of freight is severely limited by the capacity of the network. For example, economic barge sizes cannot reach Sheffield on the River Don, nor barely the outskirts of Nottingham on the Trent. If freight is to expand throughout the system substantial investment will be required in capacity improvements in locks, canal widths and draught.


    11.  (i)  There is a potential for continued and increased commercial freight use on some parts of the inland waterway system. The parts in question should be capable of identification, and will often be closely associated with adjacent estuaries. Examples are the Aire and Calder Navigations (associated with the Trent and Humber); the Lee associated with the Thames; the Medway; and possibly the systems associated with the Mersey and the Bristol Channel. In such parts of the system the actual and potential levels of freight use should be identified and priorities established over the use of water and waterside facilities to determine to what extent and under what conditions freight use can be carried out. In doing so DETR should not overlook the implications of its own policies for supply of aggregates in England, which call for progressively less landwon extraction and greatly increased supplies from sea borne imports (alongside more recycling). Sea borne imports come partly from sea-dredged aggregates but progressively more and more from coastal quarries using large bulk carriers (Glensanda in Scotland, and Lingarabay in Harris if the latter is approved) to deliver to estuarial locations. The increase in these supply sources puts emphasis on linking estuarial locations with markets by rail and where possible by inland waterway.

    (ii)  Where it is established that freight use of part of the inland waterway system is to have an appropriate degree of priority waterway authorities and local planning and transport authorities should be called upon to agree a network of waterside facilities necessary for the types and levels of freight use intended. These will be primarily wharves and depots, but associated uses necessary for them to be viable should be provided for. This should not preclude sites outwith the urban areas if suitable urban sites cannot be found. This network of facilities should be incorporated into statutory Development Plans and Transport Plans, the need to do so reinforced by reference to it in PPG's as Government policy.

    (iii)  The protection of sites identified for waterside uses under (ii) above should be reinforced by PPG's requiring local planning authorities to ensure that protected sites are not rendered untenable through sensitive neighbouring uses being permitted.

    (iv)  DETR should be strongly advised that the proposal in paragraph 6.26 of Waterways for Tomorrow, to bid for World Heritage status for the inland waterways, should not be proceeded with until such time as priorities have been settled which clearly define which parts of the system are to cater for significant freight use. It will be important in any case that DETR establishes a broader basis of advice than IWAAC can provide before embarking on the pursuit of such designation. "Waterways for Tomorrow" concentrates on freight which uses the estuaries and large river navigations. That is understandable but should not be allowed to overlook the useful role that smaller inland waterways could play to distribute heavy bulk materials from estuarial importation sites to urban wharves, limiting lorry use to final local delivery provided the necessary investment is provided.

    (v)  The objective of increasing freight transport by inland waterway and estuarial waters is unlikely to be achieved without substantially more positive support from DETR in its policies as currently expressed in "Waterways for Tomorrow" coupled with a more balanced system of advice for DETR that IWAAC is equipped to provide.

M S Ratcliff

Lands and Planning Manager—Strategy

26 September 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 5 April 2001