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

Memorandum by Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee (IW 14)



  This memorandum is produced in response to the invitation for submissions, contained in the Press Notice issued by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, notifying an intention to hold an Inquiry into the Potential of Inland Waterways. It is unclear whether the Inquiry will include ports in its deliberations. The Port of Rye in East Sussex is situated in the tidal sections of three rivers, the Rother, Tillingham and Brede, and is administered by a Competent Harbour Authority, so may well come into the purview of the Inquiry. Many of the issues to be investigated are relevant to the Port of Rye, and the views expressed later about those issues, are made by a statutory advisory committee, the Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee, which advises the Competent Harbour Authority, the Environment Agency.


  Rye Harbour is a designated Fishing Port, and serves a balanced maritime community of pleasure boating, commercial and recreational fishing, and a commercial freight trade. The three rivers, the tidal sections of which form the harbour, act as drainage channels for adjacent low lying land. A crucial aspect of management of the area is the control by locks of water levels in the non tidal sections of the rivers, and the maintenance of sea defences in the tidal sections. The floodable areas draining to the harbour and to the Royal Military Canal include 27,000 hectares of floodable land, which was conservatively valued at £79 million during a review of the harbour some years ago. An estimated 37,000 people live in the floodable areas. The replacement cost of land drainage, sea defence and navigation infrastructure in the catchment is considered to be in excess of £200 million. It was because of the importance of the river outfall to the exceptional flood defence and land drainage interests in the area that the harbour responsibility transferred to the Environment Agency predecessor following its insolvency in 1932.


3.1  Urban and rural regeneration

  Rye is an isolated town where peripherality has historically resulted in an under performing economy, measurable social division, lack of access to jobs, education, health opportunities and available public resources.

  The Rye Partnership, created in 1996 and supported by the local MP, has developed a strategy and development programme which is now being implemented. The Environment Agency as Harbour Authority, environment regulator and landowner is a key player in the partnership and pivotal to the element of the strategy which will deliver a £1.6 million Fishmarket improvement scheme. A commitment has been secured as part of an overall £1.6 million Single Regeneration Bid by the Partnership for a comprehensive regeneration scheme for the Rye Bay area which will cost £12.6 million.

  The Rye Harbour road area to the west of the harbour abutting the waterside is an under utilised industrial area with potential for regeneration which could enhance land based and waterborne trade. The site comprising 26 different landowners has a complex history of previous uses, which have resulted in groundwater contamination. The Environment Agency has been successful in securing an £809,000 grant under the DETR Contaminated Land Funding Scheme to fund studies and site investigations. South East England Development Agency have had early exploratory discussions with the Environment Agency about the future potential for development of this area.

  Future opportunities are being explored by the Environment Agency External Funding Officer and include those which will be afforded by the ERDF Interreg IIIA programme which will support economic development in East Sussex and Kent between 2000 and 2006. Members of the Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee, in support of the Environment Agency are assisting in developing a partnership with the Baie de Somme area of the Picardy coast.

3.2  Leisure, recreation, tourism and industrial heritage

  Waterborne activity includes pleasure yachting, sailing dinghies, charter fishing and water skiing in a segregated area of the River Rother. Tourism is the mainstay of the area. Rye is the only Cinque Port with its original Harbour surviving. The medieval town has a long maritime tradition and harbour frontages within the town are particularly attractive.

  The historic legacy of land drainage is a point of pride and a feature of the local heritage. Romney Marsh had the first Charter in the country and is known as the Cradle of Land Drainage.

  The Environment Agency has a general duty towards waterside and waterborne recreation in support of its role as Navigation Authority.

  The Agency is conscious of its responsibilities to facilitate public access to the navigation and flood defence landholdings. A continuous waterside path is a feature of the Rye Partnership proposals which is facilitated by the integration of flood defence and navigation landholdings.

  Public rights of navigation exist on the Rivers Brede, where the Environment Agency is the Navigation Authority, and on the Rother upstream of the harbour limit where there is no navigation authority. The Agency sets and regulates speed limits under Land Drainage By-law. The Agency also permits and controls non-power boating on the Royal Military Canal. This is an Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, rather than a navigation. The canal is also managed to capture upland water from the hills, as a pumped irrigation reservoir in summer, and as a flood storage and relief channel in winter.

3.3  The environment and enhancement of wild life

  The Rother estuary is extensively covered with three Sites of Special Scientific Interest (two designated as Special Protection Areas and one as a Special Area of Conservation. A significant area of the Rye Local Nature Reserve was purchased by the Environment Agency under the flood defence purchasing powers.

  The Harbour Authority, as the Environment Agency, shares the general duty to promote conservation and a specific duty to further conservation in respect of its water management responsibilities.

  Whilst development is constrained by the extensive conservation designations for which English Nature is the Statutory Body, the cohesiveness of the conservation area within the harbour is a significant contribution to quality of life, and is a particular attraction for leisure boaters, ramblers, cyclists and bird watchers. The nature conservation aspects and the role of the Environment Agency will be important for birds for Intereg funding.

3.4  Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications

  The Bewl-Darwell link between Medway and Rother catchments has been an important development in meeting demand for water in Kent. With major population growth predicted for the South East and 150,000 further homes predicted for Kent, future development of this link is likely to be a high priority in the future. Seamless water management is essential to balance the needs of the Medway Navigation with the needs of the community and to maintain sufficient flow in the Rother to meet the needs of the agricultural community, the navigators on the Rother, and freshening and scouring flows to the harbour of Rye. The environmental considerations of catchment transfer and managed flow regimes are of fundamental importance and must be balanced with aspirations and needs of the community.

3.5  Waterborne freight transport

  Two commercial wharves are in private ownership. After a period of recession the general cargo wharf has a growing trade and is winning contracts. Pilotage is compulsory and the Environment Agency employs two Master Mariners as Harbour Masters and Pilots, and a further Master Mariner as contract pilot in support of commercial activity. The ability to handle modern vessels has increased cargo tonnage per visit. In three years, trade has revived to more than 100 ships per annum, carrying aggregated for road and railway construction. Regeneration of the Harbour Road Industrial Estate will be an important catalyst for increased coastal freight from Rye.

3.6  Complementary or conflicting objectives and principle use

  The harbour itself, or its environs are subject to the dictacts of European and Domestic Legislation, eg Habitats Directive, Environment Act, Water Resources Act, Land Drainage Act, Harbour Docks Piers and Clauses Act, Harbours Act 1964, Pilotage Act. Generally conflicts can be resolved by reference to statute, but many local acts for navigation and local orders are no longer appropriate to modern demands on resources and facilities. Integrated operation, close working partnerships, consensus building, and arbitration are essential to resolve conflicts. Local examples include management of levels on the non-tidal Rother for flood defence and navigation, regulation where no navigation authority exists, arbitration in angling and boating conflicts. The involvement of the Environment Council by the Harbour Authority, to develop the latest Harbour Management Plan is innovative, and yielding significant dividends. The Harbour of Rye and associated water courses have benefited from the administration of all water functions by a single agency in all these respects. However, for management of the rivers Rother, Brede and Tillingham, it is imperative that flood defence and protection of lives should take absolute priority.

3.7  Funding

  The Environment Agency has successfully managed its estate of Flood defence and Navigation landholdings in and around the Harbour and this is now the mainstay of Harbour income. In less than 10 years this has grown from 32 per cent to 67 per cent of annual income. In respect of capital investment the Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee considers it entirely appropriate that public sector assets should be maintained by income from users and the public purse. The Committee notes that in February the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions increased public investment in British Waterways to help care for and develop its assets, and believes that other public sector assets should be similarly treated.

  However, financial management is sometimes constrained by requirements to do work within the financial year and by an inability to borrow.

  Funding is also required to attract the significant gearing which needs to be achieved in bids for European, Lottery and other granting Bodies for which Rye is well placed.

3.8  Ownership, roles and responsibilities

  These have been reviewed during the last decade with the following conclusions:


    —  Review of options for management (a) privatisation, (b) retention by the Environment Agency predecessor and (c) Local Trust.

    —  47 of 53 external responses supported retention by the then National Rivers Authority.


    —  Department of the Environment consultation on options for navigation. The Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee supported preference for the Environment Agency to retain responsibility, although some outside opinion favours private management. Ministers concluded that as circumstances on waterways vary so greatly, the practical implications of transferring navigation responsibilities on individual waterways need to be examined case by case.


    —  The Environment Agency requested the Royal Yachting Association to review its management of the Harbour of Rye. The Review concluded:

    "Although other management options have been mooted, it is highly unlikely that a satisfactory alternative body can be found."


  This memorandum has given a brief outline of how the issues of concern to the Inquiry affect the management of waterways in the vicinity of Rye Harbour. Examples are given showing how some of the issues which have been met, have been handled.

  The Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee welcomes the Government's support for an integrated and sustainable approach and the commitment to protection and conservation of the heritage. The Committee commends the Governments intention to improve planning guidance.

  The Committee continues to support the concept of an integrated approach by one Agency for all aspects of water management including flood defence, drainage, conservation, water transfer and navigation.

K G Steele


26 September 2000

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