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

Memorandum by the Fens Tourism Group (IW 18)


  1.  The Fens Tourism Group is a partnership of seven local authorities, which joined together in 1991 to promote the lowland area west and south west of the Wash Estuary as a unique geographical area in Britain—the Fens. Tourism in the Fens area is a very important part of the local economy, where the traditional agricultural and food processing industries encourage employment of a low paid, part time nature.

  2.  In 1997, Fens Tourism commissioned British Waterways and Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick Consultants to undertake a review of the potential of the waterways of the Fens for tourism purposes. Currently, the Fens have more navigable miles than the Norfolk Broads, which are considered to be under utilised in terms of their tourism and indeed other potential uses (recreation, transport and wetland recreation for environmental purposes).

  3.  The resultant study was a 15-year vision, a "Fens Waterways Tourism Regeneration Strategy". The strategy identifies a number of key infrastructure projects and environmental improvements to the Fens Waterways.

  4.  As a result of a consequential business plan and initial public consultation, Fens Tourism are currently implementing the first phase of a Waterways Regeneration Strategy. A list of current projects specifically connected to the Waterways, being undertaken at present, are listed in the attached Annex.

  5.  Fens Tourism welcomes the publication of the Government's document, Waterways for Tomorrow. It is good to see Government policy emerge which supports the activities we have been engaged in for some time. In particular, Fens Tourism supports the concept of a modern, integrated and sustainable approach to the use of waterways.

  6.  We do however, have some comments to make with regard to the points raised by the terms of the Inquiry:

    —  Fens Tourism supports the view that Waterways should be developed in an integrated way for multi-purpose uses. In this respect the Fens Waterways are ideally suited as they cover a large distinct geographical area and are not confined to long single stretches of water. The area surrounding the Fens waterways has potential to accommodate environmental improvements (wetland re-creation) and associated tourism and recreational development. In addition, there is potential for waterfront housing development and use of the waterways for freight transport to the ports of Boston, Fossdyke, Sutton Bridge, Wisbech and King's Lynn;

    —  the question as to whether a principal use should be given priority over another use should surely depend on the location of the waterways in question and we suggest should be decided on a location by location basis, after full consultation with all relevant parties. Obviously, we would recommend the undertaking of a strategic review, as has been done for the Fens Waterways, to create a document that relevant parties can agree on. Other examples, of this type of approach are the estuary strategy documents, of which the Dee, Severn and Thames Estuary Strategy documents are all good examples;

    —  whilst welcoming the Waterways for Tomorrow document and supporting the principal aims of sustainable development and regeneration, Fens Tourism does not feel that the document as it stands contains adequate policies and mechanisms to ensure that these aims are achieved in the Fens;

    —  this is primarily because the document clearly sees British Waterways (BW) as the main vehicle for delivering inland waterway improvements. Here in the Fens, British Waterways has some responsibility for navigations leading into the Fens, for example the River Witham, but other bodies have far greater responsibilities across the Fens as a whole. These bodies are:

      —  the Environment Agency (EA);

      —  the Middle Level Commissioners;

      —  the Witham Fourth Internal Drainage Board;

      —  Fenland District Council (Port of Wisbech); and

      —  the Cam Conservators;

    —  it is not clear from the Waterways Tomorrow document how exactly these other navigation authorities will be supported by Government to fulfil its aims. Based on figures supplied in the document, there currently appears to be a large disparity in central government funding of navigation functions between BW and the EA for example, with the EA appearing to only have a spend of £3,400 per km of waterway compared to BW's £22,500 per km;

    —  within the Fens, navigation is currently still very much a by-product of drainage and flood defence. If this is to change and the waterways made to support the local economy in a more holistic way then funding to the relevant navigation bodies to improve infrastructure for navigation purposes must be improved;

    —  external funding has been sought for navigational and infrastructure projects within the Fens by Fens Tourism and as previously mentioned, a first phase programme of projects to the tune of £400K is currently being implemented. In addition to Fens Tourism core partners, funding sources have included the ERDF 5b programme, the Regional Development Agencies' rural development programme, the Environment Agency and the Middle Level Commissioners;

    —  whilst Fens Tourism is grateful for the support shown by the additional partners in implementing the Fens Tourism Strategy (for example the EA improvements at Denver and the Middle Level Commissioners work at Ashline Lock), current cost estimates to undertake further stages of the Strategy programme over the next five years are around £2 million. This figure will only cover part of the strategy programme and some basic moorings and navigational infrastructure construction. It does not cover any real development opportunities or serious remedial works;

    —  recent findings by Bullen Consultants show that capital expenditure of approximately £1 million are required to maintain the existing Nene—Ouse Navigation link, a main artery for navigation in the Fens. Other feasibility studies show that to properly integrate and connect the Fens Waterways to the rest of the UK waterway system and to development a Witham—Nene link (Boston—Peterborough) including associated housing, recreation, environmental and tourism developments, costs will be in the region of £25 million. This sum in line with other BW supported waterway improvements currently being undertaken;

    —  Fens Tourism has written in favour of the creation of a fully independent Waterways Trust, but no further consultation or information on how it will work or how monies can be accessed, has yet to be made available;

    —  Fens Tourism is confident that it can secure further funds to current levels (£400K) but even this presents difficulties. The Fens currently is not recognised as a distinct geographical area administratively, unlike the Broads and valuable officer time which could be spent delivering on the ground, is spent on report writing. A full list of funding bodies for the Fens Waterways Tourism Regeneration Project is attached. In the first year of the project, officers had to submit 42 formal reports to funding bodies, not including the various steering groups and informal reports made as part of running any project. Consideration should be given to the appointment of a lead government agency, which would assist in dealing with funding issues across the area, to ease the current large administrative burden;

    —  Fens Tourism feels that it is imperative that the Fens Waterways have the same chance of development as waterways in other parts of the UK. At present, it is difficult to see how this can be achieved with the level of funding for navigation locally and the repeated uncertainty over responsibility for navigation in the Fens. Local Environment Agency and Middle Level staff have been working closely with Fens Tourism Officers for the last three years delivering projects on the ground. Given the level of funding available for navigation within the EA, it is difficult to see how funds for the required improvements, let alone new development will be financed to the levels identified. Reviewing responsibilities on a two yearly basis causes disruption and uncertainty and is not conducive to sustainable long term partnership working. It would be in the interests of all those working to ensure sustainable development and use of the Fens Waterways if issues of responsibility were resolved once and for all.

  7.  In summary, Fens Tourism:

    —  support Government's overall aim of developing waterways in the Fens for multi-use purposes;

    —  wish to see clarification of responsibilities for navigation and waterways in the Fens resolved, so that longer term partnership working can be encouraged;

    —  would like clarification on how the new Waterways Trust will operate in relation to Fens Waterways;

    —  would like the navigation authorities in the Fens to be funded to similar levels that British Waterways are, in order to develop the holistic approach to sustainable development and use of the Fens Waterways; and

    —  would like Government agencies to recognise the Fens as a unique geographic area, rather than the sum of its administrative parts, and to appoint a lead body when dealing with funding issues to cover all administrative areas.

September 2000

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