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.
2. THE MEDWAY
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.
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1824 and 1911 which repealed earlier legislation.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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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).
3. HARBOUR OF
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.
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
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
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
In this context Rye Harbour offers opportunities
for walking, sailing, water skiing, bird watching, cycling and
other recreational uses.
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
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
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.