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

Memorandum by the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (ILAM) (IW 16)


  The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (ILAM) welcomes this Select Committee inquiry. ILAM is the independent, professional body representing over 6,500 managers from the public, private, voluntary and education sectors of the leisure industry in the UK, covering such areas as: sports and recreation; children's play; arts, museums and libraries; tourism and visitor attractions; leisure education and training; and park, open spaces, countryside and water. The Institute's purpose is to promote the better management of all leisure resources to provide better public access to a wide range of cultural and recreation experiences, in order to enhance the quality of life for individuals and communities.

  A number of items have been attached to this memorandum as appendices[1] including (Appendix one) ILAM's policy position statement, Water, Leisure and Landscapes which sets out ILAM's policy on water in its many forms, as part of the rural and urban landscape and its use as a recreation, leisure and tourism resource. You will see from this statement that ILAM has already called for a Select Committee to look at the issues facing water based leisure and so the Institute is pleased that this inquiry presents an opportunity to look at a number of the issues raised within this statement.

  Appendix two illustrates, by outlining a variety of case studies, how water and specifically leisure activities have created opportunities to provide the focus for economic, social and environmental regeneration. The initiatives vary from area based small-scale projects, to larger physical regeneration of docksides to a number of linear initiatives based alongside the watercourses. This evidence shows the wide diversity of uses that water, watersides and waterfronts can be put to and the variety of partners that are involved in such work.

  Appendix three has brought together various facts and figures relating to the leisure, recreation and tourism use of inland waterways.


  The case studies outlined within appendix two very clearly illustrate the huge potential that can arise through waterfront and waterside regeneration initiatives. There are examples from derelict docklands, such as Merseyside, London, Humber and Hull, which show that the water has provided the focus for major private sector investment in housing, leisure facilities, visitor attractions providing for both local residents and tourists. This type of regeneration extends onto the water by improving access and increasing the pressure on responsible organisations to improve water quality. With increased access and improved water quality the water resource can then be utilised by a variety of water sports and recreational activities, many of which are undertaken by a large number of people.

  Also included amongst these case studies are examples of smaller scale projects, Vicar Water Country Park and Netteswell Pond both of which have received ILAM Open Space Management Awards in 2000 for their innovative and imaginative approach to the management of open spaces. Although neither of these are strictly waterways they do highlight the focus that water can bring to smaller scale community initiatives. They do however, engage people from deprived neighbourhoods, developing skills and raising environmental awareness as well as providing an amenity site and resource for informal recreation and quiet enjoyment. These type of initiatives do take place along waterways and the highly successful River Medway Project shows that such schemes are sustainable over a long period of time and the benefits can be seen both to local communities, various recreation users and local businesses as well as the environment.

  Although there is a lot more potential for regeneration alongside waterways there are also a number of issues that need to be highlighted. Regeneration alongside canals is relatively easier than alongside rivers. Rivers are more dynamic in terms of their flow and in the ways they are carefully managed to provide potable drinking water, water for abstraction, to protect people and property from flooding as well as wildlife habitats for a number of important birds, plants, animals and fish. Therefore development alongside rivers can be fraught with problems. However, there are opportunities that arise through major flood alleviation schemes (FAS). The case studies cover the FAS at Gainsborough on the River Trent and show how such work can improve a navigable river frontage in terms of amenity and landscape, however, the Environment Agency responsible for the design, management and delivery of such schemes have not always had the vision nor the primary responsibility to use these types of schemes to bring in wider private sector investment and the Institute feels that this potential should be explored further.

  Issues over ownership also varies from waterway to waterway with canal ownership tending to rest with one agency as compared to riversides, which are fragmented and piecemeal. The Institute will explore this issue later in the memorandum.


  Water is a valuable commodity as a recreational asset, a sporting facility and a landscape amenity and as a tourism generator.


  The existing navigable waterway network is home to a large number of recreational powered and non-powered boaters. Over two million boats are owned privately and approximately 100,000 licence their boats on the existing canal, river and broadland network, a third of all leisure cruising is on inland waterways. When asked why people go boating the most frequently mentioned appealing aspects were relaxation, fresh air, friendship, pleasure, exercise and independence.

  These recreational users generate a large amount of additional spend using local chandlers, pubs and restaurants and marine facilities for fuel and maintenance. This recreational activity is very important to riverside communities and can bring jobs and opportunities in urban and rural areas.

  Towpaths and riverside paths alongside waterways are used for utilitarian purposes providing alternative routes to work, school and shopping. They are also cherished as recreational assets; the canal towpath network and riverside paths such as the Thames Path and the Severn Path are popular long distance linear walks. Sustrans have developed various parts of the national cycle network alongside waterways. The Thames Path alone estimates 500,000 short distance user days and 26,000 user days by long distance users. Walkers are estimated to contribute £1.5 million and cyclists, £125,000 to the local economy along the Thames Path.


  Figures produced by the British Marine Industries Federation estimate over 7.8 million adults in the UK participate in boating and watersports annually. There is a wide range of sporting activities taking place on inland waterways, such as canoeing, rowing, sailing, angling, charity rafting, dragon boating etc with each sport having a number of clubs and associations situated alongside the waterway. Many UK champions have trained and competed on the UK navigable waterways. For example the Olympic medallists Redgrave and Pinsent both train and race on the River Thames and events like the Henley Regatta are a focus for the sport. The long distance canoe race, the Devizes to Westminster utilises canal, non-tidal and tidal rivers and has over 500 competitors and associated land based support. A substantial number of national and international angling events take place on waterways across the country attracting many participants.


  In addition to the "resident" recreational craft a large number of people from within the UK and from overseas take hire boat holidays thereby creating a vital tourism industry.

  However, the hire boat industry, particularly on river navigations, are susceptible to weather and flow conditions, more so than the Broads or the canal network. This river industry is generally suffering from the lack of investment in the hire boat fleets and without a quality product cannot compete with other operators on the rest of the waterway network and overseas operators. Many of the hire fleets are over 15 years old and one in four customers suffer a breakdown of boat or equipment.

  British Waterways have shown that investment in hire boat operators can be successful and consortium based approaches to marketing can benefit the entire waterway network. However, within the terms of their financial memorandum this is much more difficult for the Environment Agency to consider doing, however working with the BMIF the Agency has been discussing these issues with hire boat operators of their river navigations through a series of seminars entitled "The Future of River Boating". The Institute would urge the Committee to look further at the restrictions placed on navigation authorities due to financial agreements with their sponsoring Government department.

  Waterways are visitor attractions in a number of ways, for holidays on the water, accommodation and activities alongside the waterway, and generally as an enhancement to the landscape. The River Thames marketed as the Royal River is a major tourism attraction—its heritage value and the important role it has played in the past makes it special and is now being used in London as the focus for regeneration. A number of the major new attractions in London have been built on or alongside the tidal River Thames; the Dome, London Eye and the Tate Modern.

  The heritage and industrial past of the canal network too cannot be under valued with the waterway museums at Stoke Bruerne, Gloucester and Ellesmere Port anticipating over 135,000 visitors this year. A similar attraction, the award winning River and Rowing Museum at Henley, alongside the river Thames, anticipates receiving over 50,000 visitors in this its second year.


  Water is a valuable habitat for a wide variety of species that either live in or alongside watercourses. Sustainable waterway management can ensure that conservation and recreation can be managed successfully together. A number of navigation authorities can show good practice examples in undertaking essential maintenance works, ie dredging operations, tree management, piling, revetment and bankside protection etc. Research has been undertaken on the impact of boats on canal environments and this has underpinned operational activities.

  However, there are issues relating to waterway restoration when a previously active waterway has been allowed to slide into dereliction. As a wildlife habitat, the derelict waterway is home to variety of protected species for example Natterer's bats in the Greywell tunnel of the Basingstoke Canal and the Loddon Pondweed in one of the tributaries of the River Thames. This then presents a problem when identifying potential routes to link and increase the wider waterway network.


  The Institute can see the potential for canals, as linear routes, to increase the activities in respect of water transfer, drainage and telecommunications. The canal network has already acted as a route for optic cable laying and management issues surrounding the state of the towpath after such work has been highlighted by various use groups. However, the Institute is concerned about canals acting as water transfer conduits and would urge that before any decisions are made further research is undertaken as to the potential for damage to existing wildlife through introduction and movement of alien species, the transfer of water borne diseases and parasites and the implications of water chemistry changes which will affect the existing canal and receiving river ecology. There are examples of how this can work by canals and rivers linking in a relative close proximity (River Severn and Gloucester and Sharpness Canal) but the wider transfer of water may have much larger and more wide reaching implications and this must be thoroughly researched.


  The Institute can see the links with the integrated transport white paper published in 1998 and that the Waterways for Tomorrow has been seen as a sister paper. However, the large recreational use of the waterway network has now made this more of a leisure based issue than a transport issue and ILAM would hope that cross departmental thinking has included consultation with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who will be interested in the sporting, heritage, and tourism element of the waterway network.

  The waterway network does offer potential to move commercial freight traffic. However, this will be constrained to those activities which do not require immediate delivery, as this is a very slow form of transport.

  The Institute is of the opinion that better use could be made of waterways for alternative public transport. This has happened or is being planned in major cities like London and Dublin but could be utilised more widely across the UK. However, this is currently a slow and relatively expensive means of transport and the Government could support it further by giving various tax exemptions to those considering using waterways to either move commercial freight or provide public transport services. However, again on rivers this is an issue, as changes in flow patterns and flood conditions can seriously affect the services offered and this must be considered in the viability of such activities. Waterways cannot be treated in a generic manner, rivers and canals are operated and function very differently and provide a different set of opportunities from each other.


  It will be very difficult to change the current situation on the existing waterways network. For the last 100 years the rivers and canals have been predominated by recreational usage. Realistically freight and commercial usage will only be practical on some waterways and where possible this has already, to some extent, been exploited. Although there is some potential to expand this further the issues around, cost, time and weather/flow conditions will constrain the development of this activity. The Institute feels that sustainable recreational use of the waterway network should continue to be its principal use.

Waterways for Tomorrow

  The Institute is delighted that the Government has developed a policy paper on the inland waterway network. However, the document is naive in many of its statements in relation to the entire waterway network, as it has not looked in sufficient detail, at the differences between river, canal and broadland development. The document is very heavily bias towards the canal network and as seen from the figures at the front of the document the navigable river network too is considerable in terms of development potential, but the issues facing this development are very different to those identified for canal navigations.


  Despite fairly substantial grant in aid to British Waterways and the Environment Agency, other navigation authorities often operate on a shoe string budget, attempting to generate as much revenue as possible from the users of the waterway in order to survive. The Broads, having few navigation structures, manage their navigation budget purely within the toll income received from recreation, commercial and hire boats using the Broads. However, this does not address the major capital investment needed to maintain the in-stream structures on rivers and canals necessary for the impoundment of water, the passage of boats and the maintenance of a navigable depth. Navigation authorities have to undertake the operational management of the waterways as well as the promotion and leisure and tourism development of the waterway to enhance the amount of recreational use to generate further income. They are often ill equipped and under resourced to do both activities. The one exception to this is British Waterways. This success, the Institute feels, is due to a number of reasons, firstly due to the fact that as the largest (mileage) of the navigation authorities it can benefit from various economies of scale. BW also have an extensive property portfolio which enables them to make the best commercial use of property in their control and use it as a catalyst for regeneration and further development. This ability to attract inward development enables them to employ commercially aware staff and market their products and services more professionally than other authorities.

  Much greater investment is needed to maintain, develop and improve the existing waterway network. Much of its restoration and re-development has been down to voluntary effort and labour and this should not be under stated. The work of the waterway restoration societies and trusts has done a great deal to make the waterway network what it is today.


  The establishment of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) is to be welcomed and the strategy document Steering a Fresh Course should have taken a more prominent place in the development of the Government's policy paper. A great deal of work and effort was given to the development of this document to ensure that all stakeholders were engaged in the process. This consultation, engagement and consensus building was not reflected in the Government's own approach to its policy paper, Waterways for Tomorrow.

  This grouping has brought together a previously fragmented network of managing bodies. They now have a forum in which to share good practice, ask for advice and to feel part of a wider waterway network.

  The Institute feels that in management terms, it is essential that river navigations are managed in an integrated manner balancing the many needs that are placed upon them. Not only is this cost effective it is a far more efficient form of management than through service level agreements and memoranda of understanding between authorities. The Institute would suggest that the Select Committee should consider whether one body should undertake the management of all river navigations and one body be responsible for the management of canal navigations.

  The Institute is concerned with the recommendation within Waterways for Tomorrow to review the Environment Agency's navigation responsibilities again. The Agency (and its predecessor body, the National Rivers Authority) has been subject to two major reviews in the last eight years each lasting nearly two years and this will be the third in less than 10 years. Yet another Review over and above that required as part of the FRPM quinquennial review will use resources which could be better devoted to the improvement and development of the navigations for which the Agency is navigation authority. A good example of how the Agency is looking at new and innovative ways of developing its waterways is the Thames Ahead initiative which involves the Agency working closely with business and commercial interests to encourage inward investment in the development of the non-tidal River Thames.

  The Institute feels that very little credence or recognition has been given to the role of local authorities in the development and management of the waterway network. A few local authorities are themselves navigation authorities. A number of the case studies illustrate how local authorities are an integral part of most regeneration initiatives. Much more could be achieved, particularly with river navigations, to develop waterways, especially within urban settings.


  The use of the term waterway, has in this evidence been used to describe the publicly and statutory navigable network of rivers, canals and broads across the UK used by predominantly powered boats. The waterway network however, is much larger than this with the Environment Agency estimating there to be over 40,000 km of rivers (excluding small streams and tributaries). Although a fair proportion of these water courses are physically navigable by unpowered craft such as canoes and kayaks, they are often in private ownership and the legislation in this country means that permission needs to be sought before a vessel can legally navigate that stretch of water. Ownership of these watercourses is often fragmented and it is difficult to negotiate access to these rivers. The British Canoe Union (BCU) on behalf of its members negotiates access by agreement but after 50 years of trying to negotiate access have only succeeded in securing 500 km of formal agreements. The Institute believes that if a holistic approach is being given to the true and full potential of the entire inland waterway network then consideration should be given to this issue.

September 2000

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