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

Memorandum by the Anglian Regional Flood Defence Committee (IW 24)

  The Regional Flood Defence Committee (RFDC) is the executive committee through which the Agency is required to discharge its flood defence and land drainage functions in the Anglian Region. It is responsible for recommending to the Agency's Board the amount of money which local authorities will contribute to flood defence works in the Region. It also prepares an annual programme of flood defence maintenance and improvement works, determining the necessary funding and obtaining Ministerial approval, and it is responsible for providing and operating flood warning systems.

  The Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food appointed me as RFDC Chairman on 1 July 2000. Other members of the committee are appointed by, or on behalf of the constituent Councils in the Region, or by the Agency.

  In the Anglian Region recreational navigation is an important activity, particularly on the rivers Nene and Ouse, for which the Agency is the Navigation Authority. Both rivers form part of the network providing land drainage to a wide area of Fenland and the East Midlands, with the Agency being responsible for flood defence and control.

  RFDC have consistently supported the Agency in the development of its integrated river management, and firmly believe this to be the most efficient and cost effective way forward.

  The rivers Nene and Ouse are particularly good examples of a fully co-ordinated approach as both have exceptionally extensive systems of weirs, locks and sluices to maintain navigable river levels and to control flooding. All of the structures contribute to both needs, and the operational activities at control structures cannot be divided into those required by navigation and those required by flood defence. These flood defence and navigation activities are managed alongside and in conjunction with the Agency's other responsibilities of improving water quality, developing fisheries, enhancing habitats, creating environmental benefits, and broadening leisure facilities within the river corridor.

  The river Nene is the most "flashy" in the Anglian Region and any sustained periods of wet weather or sudden heavy rainstorms result in periods when it is unsafe to navigate the river and many of the lock structures convert temporarily to a flood discharge role. At such times the co-ordinated operation of all structures is essential for public safety. During the autumn/winter period of 1999-2000 alone, the new "strong stream" advice system was used to warn boaters that flows were too strong for navigation to be safe on 60 days. To deal with such episodic events, whether the result of drought or heavy rain, the Agency retains a significant staff presence on the river, in the form of the emergency work force. Although principally a flood defence force, navigation benefits directly from its presence. The synergies that exist across the management of all river control structures provide an excellent example of efficient, cost-effective delivery of service that is gained as a direct consequence of managing rivers in an integrated manner.

  Boat users on the Nene and Ouse enjoy further benefits as a consequence of integrated river management. These include an enforcement team which also deals with fisheries and water resource issues, and an engineering design team shared with flood defence, with the resulting efficiencies of delivering a co-ordinated engineering programme, funded by the respective functions. There are also benefits gained from combined dredging and week cutting programmes serving both functions. The efficiency gained by such synergies would be lost if the management of navigation were to be separated from the remainder of river management.

  The Committee welcomed the recent Collaboration Agreement between the Environment Agency and British Waterways, and believes that this should form the basis for the future development of the navigational systems in England and Wales.

  Alongside the foregoing, the Agency works with a wide range of partners in its work on waterways on day to day management matters, including other Navigation Authorities, Local Authorities, Drainage Boards, Water Companies, Conservation bodies, Agricultural and Industrial concerns and a diverse range of user organisations.

  The Committee has encouraged the Agency in furthering the development of partnerships to extend, and enhance, the facilities within the river corridor. This combined approach has generated additional expenditure of over £3.25 million in 1999-2000 within Anglian Region.

  The RFDC joins the Agency in its support of the Government's Transport White Paper, which looks to increase the use of river navigations for freight, but is keen to ensure that this is achieved without any adverse impact on the environment. The Committee believes that opportunities exist for increased freight between the Essex ports and the Thames, and also believes that options including dredging should be considered to facilitate the increase in water borne freight on tidal rivers.

  The Committee believes that the best way to secure waterways for the future is for firm decisions to be made on the future of river navigations. Navigation roles and responsibilities have been under almost continuous review since the late 1980s with a number of studies and consultations taking place to assess the merits of transfers between navigation authorities.

  The Agency has consistently received a high level of support from stakeholders, and user groups, to continue its role.

  In summary, the committee believes that the Agency should retain the navigation on rivers, which it does best, and that British Waterways retain responsibility for navigation on canals, which they do best.

  RFDC members wish to thank Members of the Select Committee for the opportunity of contributing to your enquiry.

Peter Bye, Chairman

27 September 2000

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