Memorandum by The Ramblers' Association
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
1. The Ramblers' Association (RA) is a voluntary
organisation and registered charity founded in 1935. It has over
206,000 supporters consisting of more than 129,000 individual
members and 77,000 members of affiliated clubs and societies.
Its four core aims are to promote walking, to protect public rights
of way, to campaign for access to open country, and to defend
the beauty of the countryside.
2. With these aims, the RA's particular
concerns in relation to the inquiry lie in improving access opportunities
on foot to the waterside, and in the environmental enhancement
and sustainable regeneration of the waterways network.
3. The RA welcomes the Government's commitment
to improving public access and enjoyment of the waterways network,
and of forging closer links with organisations representing users
of waterways, through consultation documents such as Partnership
with the People and the publication of Waterways for Tomorrow.
We agree that the waterways are an undervalued asset, and that
there is huge potential for the network to contribute to national,
regional and local goals for biodiversity, recreation, sustainable
planning and integrated transport.
4. The inland waterways network is widely
recognised as an important resource for the walking public, with
towpaths and other waterside paths providing an opportunity for
both local and long distance walking for leisure. They also provide
pleasant traffic-free routes for the public to use to work, school
and the shops.
5. British Waterways estimate that 50 per
cent of the population live within five miles of their managed
network. Day visit surveys show that walking is the most popular
leisure activity and the most popular activity for those who are
making a day trip to the canal or riverside. These millions of
visitors spend money while at the waterside: their financial contribution
to the local economy helps to sustain waterside businesses to
the benefit of boaters and other waterway users.
6. Both the consultation document Partnership
with the People and Waterways for Tomorrow clearly
recognise the importance of waterside paths as a free recreational
resource, and the RA is pleased that British Waterways remain
firm in their commitment not to charge walkers for access to their
7. Many organisations, including the RA,
believe that waterside paths provide a good introduction to walking
in both urban and rural areas. The physical characteristics of
these paths, often flat, level, and without barriers such as stiles,
provide an attractive walking environment for people with disabilities.
To hesitant walkers, they provide clear and formal routes which
do not demand the navigational skills of many cross-country paths.
British Waterways is to be congratulated on its Waterways for
all project which seeks to improve access for those with disabilities
in partnership with organisations such as the Fieldfare Trust.
8. The RA welcomes the Government commitment
to giving the public greater access to the countryside and improving
the public rights of way network, of which many waterside paths
are part (para 6.9 Waterways for Tomorrow). Yet while the
Countryside and Rights of Way Bill contains provisions for a statutory
right of access on foot to mountain, moor, heath, down and common
land (subject to common-sense restrictions), the Government has
so far held back on including the same statutory right of access
to riversides. Extending the legislation to encompass riverside
access would be of great benefit to the majority of the population
of England and Wales, who live in lowland areas and may not have
the opportunity of visiting mountain or moorland in a day.
9. Presently many towpaths are not public
rights of way, and are used by permission of the landowner only.
For instance, out of 2,400km of towpaths managed by British Waterways,
only 800km are public footpaths (Developing an integrated transport
policyBritish Waterways' views, 1997). Such paths have
no legal protection in the face of development proposals, and
permission to use them can be withdrawn at will. Given the clear
direction to improve public access in Waterways for Tomorrow,
we urge the government to seek a commitment from British Waterways,
as a publicly accountable body, to investigate the feasibility
of dedicating permissive towpaths as public footpaths or bridleways
where appropriate. We would also welcome some thought as to the
creation of new waterside paths alongside rivers where the original
path has been eroded or lost entirely.
10. Undoubtedly there can be conflicts between
the various users of inland waterways. To this end, the RA is
represented on the British Waterways User Group which brings many
of the organisations representing users together, and liaise with
the Inland Waterways Association. We have commented in detail
to both organisations on issues such as towing path policies and
standards, and on the Waterways Code for users.
11. We welcome moves by British Waterways
to invite cycling organisations to the User Group meetings, so
there is a forum for discussion on issues such as shared-use of
waterside paths. While the RA is not opposed to expanding the
network of waterside routes to cyclists, it should be noted that
cyclists are often by far the fastest moving vehicles in the canal
or river environment and the physical characteristics of towpaths
can be confined and narrow. We endorse the Government's statement
that some paths will be unsuitable for unrestricted multi-purpose
use, and that it is essential that there is proper management
of the towpath to avoid conflict (para 6.5 Waterways for Tomorrow).
Where there are proposals to convert public footpaths to shared-use,
the proper legislative procedures should be used through the Cycle
Tracks Act 1984, which allows for a public inquiry and proper
consultation with the highway authority and local users.
12. The RA is of the view that regeneration
of inland waterways can be a catalyst for sensitive and sustainable
urban and rural development. The Association has welcomed the
Government's commitment to targets for the use of previously-developed
land in regional and development planning guidance. The urban
canal network in particular provides some prime "brownfield"
sites which developers are keen to exploit. Such regeneration
projects should serve the needs of local communities and maintain
or enhance public access.
13. We welcome the summary of policy advice
on planning issues detailed in Appendix 3 of Waterways for
Tomorrow and the commitment to review PPGs when they are revised
to ensure that they contribute to the development of inland waterways.
In particular we look forward to the revision of PPG13 Transport
to encourage local authorities to identify and protect disused
waterways in lieu of their restoration (paragraph 7.1 Appendix
1 Waterways for Tomorrow).
14. We endorse the policies in Waterways
for Tomorrow for managing the waterways in a way which conserves
and enhances their environmental value. The environmental codes
of practice produced by British Waterways and the Environment
Agency go some way to achieving this aim. We welcome the forthcoming
review of PPG9 Nature Conservation and hope that it will
be strengthened to ensure proper management and protection of
riverside areas. We would like to reiterate that access to land,
even that which is naturally sensitive, can benefit those areas
by promoting greater care and regard by those who visit it.
15. The RA recognises the need for organisations
such as British Waterways to explore innovative ways of increasing
monies for the regeneration and conservation of the waterways
network. However, we do have concerns about the issue of water
transferthere would need to be a thorough environmental
appraisal of such proposals. We recognise that the fibreway scheme
has been successful but, in expanding this network, the effect
on users of the towpath must be taken into account, since these
works inevitably encroach and sometimes lead to the temporary
closure of the canal and riverside to users.
16. We welcome the encouragement by the
Government of both passenger and freight transport on the waterways
network. We are keen to see much more use made of the waterways
for transportation of freight, and would urge British Waterways
to attach a higher priority to promoting this. The Ramblers' Association
is deeply concerned at the amount of freight that is currently
transported by road, both because of the impact of lorries in
the countryside (danger to walkers, and damage to verges) and
because of the wider traffic and pollution issues. If British
Waterways were to stimulate the water freight industry, it could
play a significant role in reducing the problems that road freight
17. Overall, we welcome this strategy, and
look forward to the Government developing policies which will
contribute to the country's sustainable development objectives.