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

Memorandum by the Kent Local Flood Defence Committee (IW 22)



  Statutes establishing Navigation responsibilities are essentially local and specific in nature, being tailored to particular characteristics of the watercourse and the needs of the community. Any changes of Navigational responsibility should avoid detriment to these considerations.

  The Environment Agency (Southern Region) is the Navigation Authority for the Medway Navigation and the Harbour of Rye. Environment Agency responsibility for both Navigations derives from historic recognition of the advantages of integrated catchment management on "live" rivers where land drainage and flood defence are of prime importance.

  Although the Royal Military Canal is managed by the Environment Agency on a 999 year lease from MoD, this is a military defence, Ancient Monument and SSSI used for recreation rather than a navigation. This is shown in Waterways for Tomorrow as an inland waterway.

  The Medway Navigation, Harbour of Rye and Royal Military Canal are isolated from the inland waterways network and offer few opportunities for conjunctive use. There are no British Waterways navigations in Southern Region.


  The Medway Navigation was constructed 250 years ago and comprises 31 km (19 miles) of "live" river between the tidal limit at Allington (Maidstone) and Leigh (upstream from Tonbridge). There are 10 locks with associated sluices and weirs carrying by-pass flows.

Statutory Regime

  The Navigation is governed by Acts of 1802, 1824 and 1911 which repealed earlier legislation. Unusually these Acts place no drainage duty on the Navigation Authority nor liability in respect of matters not essential to the Navigation duty. The Upper Medway Navigation was transferred to the Agency's flood defence predecessors by the 1911 Act promoted by Kent County Council "due to the considerable alarm that flooding would become more prevalent".

  Environment Agency powers under s165 of the Water Resources Act 1991 to carry out flood defence and drainage works can only be applied with the consent of the Navigation Authority as the Navigation is a protected undertaking. Whilst a separate Navigation Authority might on many occasions be unlikely to refuse consent, commercial considerations could take priority over considerations for people and property for which the Navigation Authority would have no responsibility.

  The Environment Agency has the benefit of statutory committees for Flood Defence, Fisheries, Harbour of Rye and all functions (REPAC). The integration of Navigation with all Agency functions on "live" rivers brings it within the remit of all these Committees. The provision of Area Management provides local contact for navigators through their local groups (ie Medway River Users Association) or through statutory Committees such as the Harbour of Rye Advisory Committee (HORAC), Regional Fisheries Ecology and Recreation Advisory Committees and the Kent and Regional Flood Defence Committees.

Flood defence

  In common with other watercourses for which the Environment Agency has navigation responsibility, the flood defence and navigation role are closely inter-related.

  The Medway catchment has a particularly rapid response to rainfall as a consequence of the steep and impermeable clay catchment.

  Historically the valley has suffered the effects of flooding of both agricultural land and domestic property, culminating in catastrophic flooding in 1968. This caused massive damage both to the town of Tonbridge and in the downstream areas. Consequently the larger on-river flood retention scheme in the UK was constructed at Leigh, immediately upstream of the Medway Navigation in 1981.

  The Leigh Barrier is now operated during flood conditions by the Environment Agency which also manages water levels through the downstream Navigation to the tidal limit. In practical terms the structures are managed for navigation purposes in the summer and for flood defence purposes in winter. Telemetry of flows and levels assists the Environment Agency in providing the flood warning service as well as managing the Navigation.

  Asset condition surveys and long term Capital Programming are an essential discipline on river navigations. The Environment Agency achieves sound forward planning through its Corporate Planning approach and the production of detailed Medium Term Plans, which co-ordinate navigation needs (locks) and flood defence needs (sluices). Considerable economies are achieved through a National Capital Works team with contract procurement advantages. These structures are paired throughout the navigation.

  The sluices at the tidal limit are of considerable importance, particularly to the town of Maidstone and will be a prime consideration as tide levels rise due to climate change and the ongoing depression of South East England resulting from the last Ice Age.

Water resource management

  In a part of the country with high population and relatively low rainfall, the Medway catchment is of paramount importance in supplying Maidstone and the Medway towns from the Springfield intake. A 485 hectare storage reservoir at Bewl Water is filled from the River Teise (a tributary of the Medway Navigation), or by a direct abstraction from the Navigation, half way down its length (Yalding intake).

  Releases from Bewl Water via the River Teise and the lower half of the Navigation supply a major water supply intake at Springfield just above Allington lock and sluices. Both Water Company abstractions on the Navigation rely on the retention provided by the Navigation structures.

Water quality

  The safeguarding of river water quality at the water intake at Springfield is of paramount importance. Bankside storage of water to supply the drinking water needs of the community is insufficient to meet demand for sustained periods (seven to 10 days storage) and provision of resources from other sources to provide a contingency supply for the Medway towns would be complex. Vigilance and a speedy response by Environment Agency Water Quality staff is vital to protect the intake.

  Closure of the intake can be required as a consequence of agricultural, sewage or industrial pollution incidents which can have rapid consequences in a short, steep catchment.


  The Medway LEAP identifies the need to foster harmony between users. The Environment Agency's strong local relationships with anglers and Navigators facilitate this liaison. As part of its Recreation duty, the Environment Agency jointly supports the Medway River Project with Local Authorities and the Countryside Commission. A prime objective has been the restoration and maintenance of a continuous towpath.

Planning liaison

  The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on developments associated with the Navigation.

  In parallel, both Flood Defence and Navigation have consenting powers regarding certain works on the river. This is dealt with as one process, with one handling charge by Development Control staff.


  Annual liaison meetings are focused on discussing the Flood Defence and Navigation works programmes with a wide variety of organisations and individuals. Close internal co-operation with the conservation and fisheries functions helps shape the environmental dimension to the work.

  Conservation staff work closely with flood defence and navigation staff to develop best environmental practices for river work.

Joint operations

  Prior to 1979 and as a result of historic legislation, the lowest pen was regulated by two Navigation Authorities, these being the predecessors of the Medway Ports Authority and the predecessors of the Environment Agency who also carried out the flood defence role. This period generated conflicts which were overcome by transfer of the Medway Ports Authority navigation responsibility to the Agency's predecessor thus vesting responsibility for flood defence, water resource management and navigation in a single body.

Local interface

  The Medway Navigation benefits from locally based staff with integrated responsibilities at local offices. In the 1995 consultation by DETR on options for navigation responsibility, local users, including the Medway River Users Association, voted emphatically for retention of responsibility by the Environment Agency's predecessor.


  The Medway is an integrated operation for Flood Defence and Navigation purposes. Staff are primarily occupied on Navigation in summer and Flood Defence in winter. Costs are allocated accordingly in the Trading Statement and recharged appropriately.

  Navigation staff are part of the Agency's Emergency Work force which is the minimum number of retained employees needed to respond in the first 24 hours of a one in 10 year flood event (known as the Noble number).


  The Harbour of Rye is one of the Cinque Ports of significant local heritage importance. It supports commercial interests, recreational yachting and boating, and a fishing fleet. The harbour is an essential part of the outfall channel for the River Rother and Romney Marsh which is one of the largest areas of land below sea level in the country. The Environment Agency is a landholder in the harbour area through both the Flood Defence and Navigation functions, and the major part of the landholding is designated as a Local Nature Reserve.

Flood defence

  The flood defence role in the Romney Marsh area is of paramount importance in protecting people and property from flooding. Not only is the catchment unusual in the large areas of land below sea level that drain through the harbour, but the upper catchment is notoriously flashy. The discharge is restricted due to tide locking. Scouring of the upper reaches of the harbour relies on the effective operation of the four tidal sluices. Twenty seven thousand ha of fertile land below sea level now depend on the maintenance of this clever river mouth. This floodable land was conservatively valued at £79 million in the early 1990s.

  Shingle accretion along this part of the English Channel coast is rapid on a shore with a high degree of exposure to prevailing wind and wave action and the river outlet is potentially mobile. The entrance to the port now lies some four km from the town but has been preserved by considerable maintenance and operational activity, not only to combat longshore drift, but also siltation. The replacement cost of land drainage and sea defence infrastructure in the Romney Marsh area, including the Harbour of Rye, was estimated in the early 1990s to be in excess of £200 million. These protect 37,000 residents.

  The Kent Flood Defence Committee has requested that its claim to the control of the harbour assets should be recognised, particularly against the background of the financial rescue in 1932 of the harbour by the Jury's Gut Catchment Board (KFDC's predecessor). Property acquisitions since that time (comprising the major part of the estate) have been under flood defence purchasing powers and title would remain with the Agency in the event of transfer of the pre-1932 estate to a separate Navigation Authority. In view of rising sea levels, flood defence byelaws are rigorously enforced which would preclude development on large areas of the Agency's holdings.


  The Agency has statutory conservation duties including a general duty to promote conservation and a specific duty to further conservation in respect of proposals relating to the Agency's functions, to protect sites of conservation interest and to take account of the effects that any such proposals would have.

  The Rother estuary is extensively conserved with designated European sites (two designated Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and a RAMSAR/Special Area of Conservation (SAC) site) comprising three Sites of Special Scientific Interest and one Local Nature Reserve directly adjoining the Harbour. These constitute an important wildlife corridor. Walland Marsh SSSI (1,946 ha) is conserved as a long established grazing marsh with associated plant and insect communities and breeding sites for marsh birds. Camber Sands and Rye Saltings SSSI (239 ha) extends the length of the east bank and is conserved for its sand dunes, salt marsh, shingle, open water, inter-tidal sands and associated fauna and flora. The Rye Harbour SSSI covers 761 hectares and is designated for both biological and geological reasons. Within this area is the Rye Local Nature Reserve (356 ha), managed jointly with East Sussex County Council, which includes 157 ha of Environment Agency land and is noted for fine coastal shingle and a diversity of flowering plants and birds species.


  The Environment Agency has a general duty towards recreation in respect of proposals relating to the Environment Agency's functions and has a general duty to promote recreation to the extent that it deems desirable. As harbour controller, the Environment Agency consciously maintains a safe balance between the recreational and other harbour users. In particular, the Environment Agency has regard to the desirability of maintaining public access and to securing the best practicable recreational use of water and Environment Agency land which is retained as part of its Flood Defence role.

  In this context Rye Harbour offers opportunities for walking, sailing, water skiing, bird watching, cycling and other recreational uses.

Planning liaison

  The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on planning applications and consults the HORAC on developments within the vicinity of the Harbour.

Agency role as navigation authority

  In a review of responsibility in 1992 in the context of the Ports Act, 47 of 53 external responses supported retention of the Harbour of Rye by the Environment Agency.


  The Medway River Project (a collaboration between Local Authorities and EA) is a flagship partnership which involves schools and community groups, attracting 1,500 volunteer days effort a year, improving recreation and conservation in the Medway catchment.

  The Agency has been a partner in the £8 million Millennium Park Project, led by Maidstone Borough Council and currently reaching fruition. This partnership approach has brought improvements to the navigation and benefits to the community.

  For the Medway the Environment Agency is currently assessing whether with local partners it can develop a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, either under the Sports Lottery or the innovative "New Opportunities Fund".

  Significant Single Regeneration Bid and European Regional Development Fund opportunities have been achieved or are in progress for the Harbour of Rye.


    (a)  On the Medway commercial activities on the non-tidal river are restricted to three passenger vessels. It is unlikely that cargo will feature in the foreseeable future.

    (b)  commercial trade at Rye is showing a steady increase.

      1998-99  14 ships;

      1999-00  44 ships; and

      2000-01  29 to July (predicted 100).

  The present cargoes are aggregate for road construction coming from Wales and the West Country although timber imports are expected to begin shortly.

September 2000

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