Memorandum by The Inland Waterways Association
THE POTENTIAL OF THE INLAND WATERWAYS
The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is a
registered charity, founded in 1946 and campaigns for the conservation,
use, maintenance and development of the inland waterways. It has
approximately 18,000 members whose interests include boating,
towpath walking, industrial archaeology, nature conservation and
many other activities associated with the inland waterways. This
response is submitted on behalf of the Association's Council and
committee members and concentrates on issues that were specified
in the inquiry notice dated 20 July.
When the founding members of IWA first gathered
in 1946 to plan the seemingly impossible task of saving Britain's
canals and river navigations against the indifference from navigation
authorities and government alike, it would have been very hard
to imagine the importance and multiple roles of the waterways
today. The revival and restoration of many waterways has led to
the economic regeneration of many cities and towns. Today, canals
and river navigations are widely valued for the benefits they
bring for leisure, recreation and tourism. The industrial heritage
and wildlife habitat value of the inland waterways are recognised
by most people, whilst those with a more detailed knowledge recognise
also the value of canals in providing drainage and more recent
uses for telecommunications and water transfer. Yet fundamental
to nearly all these diverse aspects of the waterways is their
primary purposethat of navigationconveying goods
and people from one place to another.
Of the many millions of visitors to Britain's
canals and river navigations every year, only a small proportion
ever set foot on a boat. The vast majority are just casual visitors,
who come to enjoy the ambience and peace that waterways provide
in an otherwise noisy and busy environment. However, the very
presence of movement on the waterways has great appeala
boat ascending or descending a lock is always the focus of attention
for Sunday afternoon walkers. Without navigation, the canals would
be merely sterile ponds. Boats bring lift to the waterways and
provide a "free" visitor attraction much admired worldwide.
Britain's undervalued asset of yesteryear is fast becoming one
of its prized attractions. However, the full potential of Britain's
waterways is yet far from fully tapped.
Over 400 million visits are made to the inland
waterways every year,
of which only a small percentage (mostly boat owners and hirers)
make a direct or indirect contribution to a navigation authority
as a result of their visit. It would be entirely impractical for
the vast majority of casual users of the inland waterways to make
such a direct payment. For this reason, the continued investment
of Government in the infrastructure of the inland waterways through
grant-in-aid is fully justified. Indeed, the amount of grant aid
per visitor to the inland waterways is considerably smaller than
comparable grant aid provided for many other public amenities
such as parks and historic buildings. The economic benefits of
the inland waterways are two fold: firstly, through expenditure
by those using the waterways, whether they be boaters, walkers,
anglers or just casual visitors; and secondly, through encouraging
the regeneration of run-down areas along the corridor of a canal
or river navigation. Living and working in an attractive waterside
environment is seen by most people as highly desirable; the restoration
of a waterway, or construction of new canals, will inevitably
bring a rise in property values along their banks. Such values
are sustained if the waterway is seen to be actively used and
vibrant. Once again, navigation and waterside activity are crucial
for a waterway to reach its full potential in providing economic
benefit to the community.
The use of canals for water transfer, drainage
and telecommunication route functions is welcomed provided that
these ancillary purposes generate income that supports the primary
functions of the canal, as detailed above. In all cases, the total
income gained from using the waterway for such purposes should
be fully invested back in the waterways infrastructure. IWA recommends
that changes in the structure of publicly owned navigation authorities
should be made to ensure that this is the case. Only in a very
few cases were canals built with drainage or water transfer as
an additional function to the primary aim of carriage of goods
and people by navigation. Great care therefore needs to be taken
to ensure adequate protection of the fabric of the waterways,
if necessary through additional engineering works, in harnessing
the canals to serve additional purposes beyond those for which
they were designed.
IWA welcomes the positive approach shown in
Waterways for Tomorrow to increasing the proportion of
commercial freight traffic carried by water. However, there seems
to be insufficient precise action proposed to carry forward the
agreed principles. Successive governments encouraged the transfer
of freight on to roads for many years and the "freight by
waterway" industry is at a very low ebb. However, there is
also a new entrepreneurial spirit, with the industry actively
looking for new traffics and markets. It requires legislative
and financial commitment from government if this environmentally
friendly form of transport is to have a real role in the future.
Freight Facilities Grants provide valuable help
in increasing waterborne freight and there has recently been a
significant increase in grants allocated to waterway schemes.
However, further flexibility could have an even greater effect
in encouraging freight on water. Much of industry is not familiar
with this form of transport and will not enter into long-term
contracts until the delivery of the service has been proven. Some
help with trial schemes would therefore be helpful.
The Government's much hyped "10 year plan"
is confusing and minimalist with respect to waterways and waterborne
freight. It is inadequate that only £2.2 billion out of £180
billion has been allocated to "other transport", in
which category there are considerable demands beside inland waterways
and shipping. The allocation needs to be earmarked more specifically.
If inland shipping is to reach anything like
its full potential, a fundamental change in attitude is required
by industry, by navigation authorities, and by local, regional
and national government. The Government must stick with the laudable
objectives outlined in the Integrated Transport White Paper A
new Deal for Transport, and other policy documents such as
Tackling Congestion and Pollution as well as the daughter
documents covering Shipping and Sustainable Distribution.
there needs to be a national register
of waterside sites which have existing or potential use for handling
freight, or for the location of industries using inland waterways,
similar to the 1996 scheme for safeguarding over 30 wharves on
the River Thames. A mere safeguarding in planning terms is not
sufficient; statutory powers are required to strengthen it;
the Government should create a separate
unit within the Department of the Environment, Transport and the
Regions, solely with responsibility for waterborne freight. This
would co-ordinate waterway freight developments, undertake and
sponsor feasibility studies and establish a rolling programme
for the maintenance, improvement and possible extension of the
network. This unit could provide the necessary focus for activities
involving wider consideration of waterways (eg regional waste
transport planning). Given the urgent need to safeguard existing
and potential waterside cargo sites, the new unit could be charged
with drawing up a national register;
a programme should be prepared for
the improvement of selected existing waterways and for examining
the potential for new developments that maximise modal integration;
Track Access Grants, currently only
available for rail, should be extended to inland waterways;
when Government is promoting the
transfer of freight from roads, the water transport option should
always be made explicit;
Government should make renewed efforts
within the European Union to increase the recognition of inland
waterways in Britain as part of the European waterways network;
regional development agencies should
audit the freight carried on the waterways in their regions, the
possibilities for new traffic and the craft available for such
the targets set for waterborne freight
by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1994)from
25 per cent to 30 per cent by 2010should at least be met.
The inland waterways will continue to be a useful
way of stimulating urban regeneration, but it is necessary to
ensure that existing and potential wharves are not lost so that
the use of waterways for transport does not become impossible.
Too much emphasis on regeneration could reduce longer-term potential
of the waterways for transport.
The Government has already acknowledged that
waterborne transport must be an integral element in the integrated
transport policy. Water transport even now plays a more important
role than is acknowledged in official statements. Because the
scope for transfer of freight from road to other modes may be
limited, it is all the more important to pursue every possible
opportunity in the interests of sustainable transport and reducing
the demands on roads. Water transport is ideally suited for low
value, non-time critical, mainly bulk cargoessuch as aggregates,
recyclables, waste, fuels and grains and these must be taken as
close as possible by water transport to reduce road haulage. An
area in which local authorities have particular influence is waste
movement and disposalthey should combine to produce rational
regional waste disposal treatment strategies which wherever possible
emphasise the use of water transport.
IWA has long held a "Waterways for All"
policy. Whilst many parts of the inland waterways system may seem
busy at peak periods and, despite the 400 million visits per annum,
there still remains a remarkable capacity to take many more visitors
on most canals and river navigations. Indeed, many large tracts
of the waterway system, for example the Middle Level and River
Nene in East Anglia and the waterways in Kent, are considerably
under utilised. There is also a vast potential for restoring further
waterways that have been allowed to fall into dereliction. IWA
believes that derelict canals and river navigations should be
restored and reopened for public benefit and that it is undesirable
for such national assets, whether held in public or private ownership,
to be inaccessible.
Canals were built for boats to navigate and
that function underpins all other uses. This is also true because
expenditure by those involved in leisure navigation provides the
principal element of the benefits brought to the locality through
which a waterway runs. The presence of boats brings waterways
alive and is a key aspect in the attraction of visitors and maximising
the potential for property regeneration and new sustainable developments
Inevitably, some "honey-pot" sites
that are heavily promoted as tourist attractions become busy,
especially during holiday periods. Given the variety of different
users on the waterways, it is perhaps surprising how little conflict
there is between various interest groups.
Nearly all activities currently taking place
on the inland waterways are complementaryindeed, they add
interest one to another. Occasionally there is friction between
anglers, who like undisturbed solitude, and other users. An irresponsible
or unthinking minority can sometimes cause ill feeling between
users, but this is not unique to the inland waterways. Towing
paths are often narrow and are shared by users with differing
interests, eg angling, walking and bird watching. They are quite
unsuited to travelling at a high speed; therefore, permitted cyclists
need to be wary of other users and ride at a slow speed. The use
of towing paths as cycling commuter routes or for long distance
cycling should be strongly discouraged because of the dangers
to other users.
The inland waterways are a living demonstration
of the ability to create artificial habitats that nature will
colonise. The abundance of wildlife is an added attraction for
most usersbe they boaters, anglers, walkers or casual visitors.
Occasionally there are concerns from wildlife interests that other
users should be excluded from a certain waterway, and if applied
to a newly restored waterway, this can have a seriously demotivating
effect on the voluntary restoration movement. IWA believes that
such conflict needs to be managed so that, if necessary, conservation
interests should be preserved by appropriate engineering works,
such as constructing off-line havens. In the case of a canal,
ie artificially constructed, it must by definition always be possible
to build another, if adequate funding is available. However, in
many cases, a deep centre channel and proper husbandry are all
that is required.
IWA welcomes the Government's recent publication
Waterways for Tomorrow as a positive contribution towards
providing a realistic and positive framework in which the inland
waterways can operate in the 21st century. It is, however, only
a start on what is needed. Government recognition of all that
has been achieved by the voluntary sector in rescuing the inland
waterways from near certain oblivion is long overdue, but nonetheless
welcome. That Government is determined to increase the contribution
that the inland waterways can make to the life of the country
(page 6) is reassuring, but good words need to be turned into
IWA welcomes the new flexibility that has been
given to navigation authorities and the Government's encouragement
of a national strategy, but it is still the case that navigation
authorities currently operate under obsolete or inappropriate
legislation. The Transport Act 1968, which governs British Waterways'
operations, deals with waterways as they were at that time. Today,
many of its provisions seem absurd and entirely inappropriate.
The legislation governing the waterways administered by the Environment
Agency comprises a most unfortunate amalgam of archaic laws and
minor provisions within more recent Acts, which together provide
a mix of unsuited regulation and red tape that only serves to
impede proper modern day operation and development. For example,
there appears to be a direct conflict between the Anglian Water
Act 1977 and the Environment Act 1995. The Agency currently finds
itself as a manager of river navigation, flood defence and water
resources; and as a regulator of conservation, water quality and
other waste issues; whilst this provides for integrated river
basin management, the means by which internal conflicts between
different parts of the Agency are resolved are far from clear.
As a regulator of industry, it may also be more difficult for
the Agency, compared with other bodies without such a role, proactively
to seek outside funding and to encourage investment from third
parties in partnerships to benefit development of the waterways.
IWA recommends that one organisation, which has navigation and
recreation as its primary functions, be created to administer
all Britain's inland waterways. Any move that further fragmented
navigation responsibility or split British Waterways' responsibilities
would be most undesirable. Equally, any form of privatisation
or franchising of the inland waterways would be most unwelcome
and would be strongly resisted by users.
IWA strongly recommends that new primary legislation
should be introduced as a matter of urgency to set down a practical
and sustainable management regime for inland navigation in the
21st century. Whilst the parliamentary timetable may currently
be congested, we strongly recommend that parliamentary draftsmen
start work immediately in order that a Bill can be prepared for
the next parliamentary session. Time simply must be found.
The under-funding of the inland waterways, dating
back to nationalisation and before, is well documented. That,
in recent times, government has, at last, recognised this deficiency
is a welcome step in the right direction. However, it is a national
scandal that there remains outstanding works directly affecting
the safety of the public. There is equally no room for complacency
when BW is still more than 20 years away from clearing the backlog
of maintenance work to meet its statutory obligations and the
Environment Agency seemingly not even in sight of ever doing so.
The unfortunate aspect of all this is that the under-funding of
the country's navigations over many years has prevented proper
maintenance from being carried out, so that money that should
properly have been spent on a "just in time" management
has been wasted in clearing up after disasters and mishaps that
could have been prevented. This is no discredit to the staff and
management of the navigation authoritiessimply that the
opportunity of proper maintenance was denied by the necessary
funds having been so long withheld.
A glaring example of the inadequacies of the
1968 Transport Act is the continued existence of Remainder Waterwaysa
temporary measure of the 1960s, intended only whilst long-term
decisions were made on the future of such waterways. 32 years
later, such a labelling is obsolete and a restraint to proper
management and the development that Government is keen to promote.
There are approximately 180 miles of navigable Remainder Waterways,
which should be reclassified to Cruiseway status straight away.
Whilst this will not of itself produce extra funding to improve
the standards of maintenance, it will ensure that there are no
longer excuses for local authorities, the private sector and others
to treat some of the Remainder sections as second-class waterways.
Reclassification to Cruiseway status would provide the assured
future that is a prerequisite to investment, development and regeneration.
For many years, IWA promoted the ideal of a
"Waterways Conservancy" with all the country's navigations
under a single authority. The essential purpose of this was to
break down the barriers between different authorities and to provide
for seamless management, not only of navigation, but also of other
related functions. Neither the current structure of British Waterways
nor that of the Environment Agencynor indeed the smaller
navigation authoritiesfully meets these criteria.
The changes in style of management of British
Waterways over recent years have largely been positive, though
we are cautious of over-exploitation and commercialism. The waterways
are a public legacy for all sectors of the population to enjoythe
nation's heritage: they should not be treated solely as a commercial
asset. We welcome sensitive development of waterside sites, but
this needs to be constrained by having respect for their environs.
Recent innovations promoting waterways as telecommunications carriers
are positive signs of resourceful management, so long as the practical
results damage neither the facilities enjoyed by the public nor
the historic fabric of the waterway corridor. There is a need
now for British Waterways' structure to be revitalised by new
legislation to bring it into today's world.
The formation of the Association of Inland Navigation
Authorities appears to have assisted interaction and communication
between different authorities and with Government but, so far,
it seems to have brought few tangible benefits. Greater co-operation
and innovation are needed to encourage the public to make fuller
exploration of the waterways. Duplication of management and administrative
systems, such as craft licensing, has remained largely unimproved.
Some of this work is hampered by outdated bureaucratic legislation
(eg Thames Conservancy Acts governing licence rules) and this
only serves to emphasise the need for legislative reform.
The formation of The Waterways Trust and its
timely actions have been most welcome in providing a secure footing
for the waterway museums and in developing rescue packages for
waterway restoration schemes, such as that for the Rochdale Canal.
There are concerns about the independence and transparency of
the Trust, which it will need to demonstrate are unfounded if
it is to achieve its full potential in public support.
Whilst there have been great strides in developing
the waterways and encouraging their use, we are concerned that
ever increasing bureaucracy and over regulation, and the over
application of Health & Safety rules in pursuit of the "Nanny
state", are undoing some of the good work. Two examples of
this are the Boat Safety Scheme and the disconnection of gate
paddles on some locks on BW's waterways. Most boaters support
the principle of having a scheme to ensure that boats do not cause
an undue health or safety risk, either to their users or to others.
However, the present scheme operated by BW and the Environment
Agency is seemingly so complicated and bureaucratic that it has
lost the confidence of the majority of boat owners as well as
forcing less affluent boaters from the waterways. The apparent
"knee-jerk" reaction by BW in disconnecting gate paddles
from many lock gates, in response to the Gargrave tragedy, has
irked many boaters and is perceived as a "back-side covering"
move rather than any real contribution to safety. IWA accepts
the need for rules that genuinely promote safe and considerate
use of the waterways, but part of the attraction of canals and
river navigations can be an element of adventure and escape; such
rules should therefore be kept to the necessary minimum.
Road crossings of waterways
We are pleased that Government intends to ensure
that the effect of new road schemes on waterways earmarked for
restoration is fully considered from the outset, but consider
that the means suggested are inadequate. Many examples exist of
publicly funded projects, most often highways, obstructing restoration
projects and, some years later, public money being expended to
reinstate the course of the waterway. The statement in paragraph
6.52 of Waterways for Tomorrow is not entirely helpful
because action by local authorities is limited to the planning
horizon, a much shorter period than the duration of most restoration
projects from initial concept. We also anticipate conflict about
the interpretation of the words "realistic likelihood"
and "in whole or in part". In addition it is particularly
disappointing that no date has been set for the issue of guidance
in Design Manual for Roads and Bridges: such guidance has been
promised, by Highways Agency, on several occasions in the past
10 years but nothing has emerged.
24 British Waterways. Visits to Inland Waterways 1994:
an analysis of inland waterway data from UK day visits surveys.
Market Research Unit, British Waterways. Research paper No. 79,
April 1996. Back