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

Chairman of the Anglian Regional Fisheries, Ecology and Recreation Advisory Committee (IW 30)


  The Regional Fisheries, Ecology, and Recreation Advisory Committee (RFERAC) was established by statute at the inception of the Environment Agency. The Committee, comprised of voluntary members with particular interest, has the role of advising the Agency on matters contained within its title.

  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 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.

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

  Taking the river Nene as a particularly good example of a fully co-ordinated approach, the river has over 100 locks and control sluices, managed by the Agency, which both control the water flows and facilitate a growing recreational navigation usage. These 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. All these activities contribute to a considerable presence of Agency staff on the riverside, an important aspect appreciated by those who use the waterways, and adjacent areas.

  The Nene, and parts of the Ouse system, are extreme examples of how a very fine balance is achieved, on a day to day basis, between potentially conflicting activities through integrated management. During critical periods, judgements have to be made hour by hour. The Committee believes that this balance will not be reliably achievable through separate management of navigation by another organisation, however carefully planned and skilfully approached.

  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.

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

  The Committee believes that there remains considerable scope for expansion of the recreational use of existing navigations, and has welcomed the recent additional funding to the Agency from DETR to facilitate urgent repairs to locks etc. Nevertheless, if the full potential of our waterways is to be realised, much further investment will be required. To this end many of the proposals in Waterways for Tomorrow are supported.

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

  The RFERAC 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. For example, in the 1997-98 review of the Nene and Ouse, 137 out of 144 responses received supported continuation of the Agency's management, and of the 220 people who attended three public meetings organised by BW only one spoke in favour of BW's proposals.

  In conclusion 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.

  RFERAC members wish to thank Members of the Select Committee for the opportunity of contributing to your inquiry.

Christopher Penn

27 September 2000

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