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

Memorandum by the Chairman of the Southern Region Regional Fisheries, Ecology & Recreation Advisory Committee (IW 35)



  The Environment Agency is best placed to provide an holistic management approach to navigable rivers. The synergies accruing from our integrated management of flood defence, navigation, recreation and water management functions enables the Environment Agency to potentially deliver best management at best cost. The River Medway provides a good example of such integrated management carried out by the Environment Agency. Here staff costs are shared between functions and necessary critical mass is achieved with considerable operational synergies through seasonal duality of roles and broadly skilled staff. This potential for considerable financial savings and the high quality integrated service provided leads us to the view that navigation duties for rivers in England and Wales are most appropriately vested in the Environment Agency.

  The Environment Agency's existing strong consultation processes have a reputation for being impartial, and fair. This open relationship with users has helped the Environment Agency develop and implement robust and valued river management practices across England and Wales, successfully balancing the needs of many interacting interests and conflicting demands that exist.

  The Environment Agency integrated river basin management process has led to extensive environmental gains in river valleys, beyond the navigation corridor. Its ability to work in collaboration with a wide range of partners has enabled it to produce many examples of sustainable and integrated projects, delivering the public demand for nurtured and not over-developed waterway corridors.

  The Environment Agency, and its predecessor organisations, has developed a lead role in collaborating with other organisations in partnerships to forward common interests. A good example is the Medway River Project which involves the local community with this important river navigation, enhancing the natural and built environment whilst protecting the character of the river corridor valued by the local residents.

  The Environment Agency multi-functional requirements for large-scale water management and supply have also benefited the navigable river network. It has been able to balance the demands of users with that of water level management and abstraction, securing gains for each through its ability to analyse and understand the overall hydrological requirements of catchments.

  The River Medway is extensively used for boating, recreation and fishing, however, it is a river that floods rapidly and this can jeopardize towns along its course. The flood control structures and the powers vested in the Environment Agency enable the effects of flooding to be managed within a context of protecting the navigation, people and property. The Environment Agency's role in providing integrated river management and protection to the local community is recognised and greatly valued.

  The Committee feels that the numerous interacting factors that make the efficient management of river navigations a complex task prompts the conclusion that the Environment Agency's integrated management approach is better suited to the task than either that of British Waterways or of private operators networks. Key points to consider include:

    —  The diverse ownership of riparian rights which creates issues for development and management that are not generally present on the canal network.

    —  The Environment Agency's responsibilities for navigations are usually severely handicapped by a lack of government funding specifically for navigation. Without the economic synergies of integration the cost of our flood defence role would increase substantially and navigation opportunities for people to enjoy would be reduced.

    —  The Environment Agency's financial regulation means that access to development capital is severely restricted. Many inland navigations carry with them a legacy of much-needed engineering work which has been underfunded for many years. With adequate funding the Environment Agency could soon reverse this trend, realising the full potential of inland waterways.


  We believe that the integrated approach to all aspects of water management for English and Welsh rivers is best served by one Agency. The Environment Agency's duties for flood defence, drainage, recreation, conservation and navigation make it the only organisation well suited and structured to this provision and to maintaining effective, efficient and progressive management of river navigations.

  Within the Southern Region, despite inadequate funding, there is considerable progress in developing the potential of our inland waterways for their economic, environmental and social values. Integrated waterway management stands as a central ethos to the Environment Agency's "Vision for the Environment", and its application commends the real benefits of integration by one operating organisation.

  I trust our committee's views are valuable to your deliberations, and give evidence for our belief that the Environment Agency remains the most appropriate and able body to properly manage river navigations in England and Wales.

Dr Nick Giles

28 September 2000

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