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

Memorandum by the Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs (IW 39)


  The Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs (AWCC) exists primarily to foster the interests of cruising on the inland waterways. We have, therefore, a direct interest in the development of an integrated system of waterways in Great Britain. We are an Association of over one hundred cruising clubs and we promote our cruising aims through a policy of mutual assistance exercised through the clubs. This is often given to the individual boater, but is now increasingly applied at a national level of lobbying. We enter negotiations with British Waterways (BW) and the Environment Agency (EA), and other bodies at national, regional and local levels. We join with other national waterways user associations as an Associate Member of the Parliamentary Waterways Group, where we seek to influence the parliamentary view of the waterways of this country. The AWCC is not a preservation society, but we do have a positive view of the future development and use of the waterways, which we have expressed to the Department on many occasions.

  The AWCC appreciates the opportunity to comment on the daughter White Paper, Waterways for Tomorrow, which is provided in this paper. In summary, we agree with the general thrust of the policy proposals set out in the White Paper, given that we would like to be consulted on the detailed implementation of those policies. We also share with IWAAC their vision of releasing the potential from these "undervalued assets", which is the premise for much of the White Paper, and we would commend their continuing work under the current chair.

  In setting and maintaining a steady and progressing future course for the inland waterways, we would identify three essential roles. These are interrelated, but need a degree of separation in their organisation in order to be effective. They are:

    —  The provision of good quality and well informed independent advice.

    —  The formation of policy.

    —  The setting of a national strategy and the execution of that strategy at the top level.

  The first of these roles is clearly filled by IWAAC and the broadening and focusing of their remit by recent Waterways Ministers is to be applauded. We support the declared intention to make the advice from IWAAC available to all relevant bodies. However, their expanding role deserves more financial clarity and a direct Department grant may be more appropriate for their funding, as well as a guarantee of independence.

  The policy is clearly performed by the DETR using the best advice available. This should continue.

  The strategic role is now partially performed by AINA, but we are concerned that the current arrangements lack the formality that should be rightly associated with the strong and progressive policies now established in the White Paper. Hence, we believe that a formal Strategic Authority is necessary in order to place a continuing focus on the direction and implementation of the programme for revitalising the waterway assets.

  This Association has consistently argued the need for an overarching authority. For example, in our previous paper to the DoE in May 1995, we said in our Executive Summary . . . "Our underpinning argument for proposing a National Waterways Authority is that there are shortcomings in the current arrangements, which need to be put right, and many opportunities, which would otherwise be lost. We believe a framework needs to be put in place now for the twenty first century, which is capable of planning, co-ordinating and operating the multi-functional use of the waterways of Great Britain more efficiently and effectively."[25] Much progress has been made in the last five years, particularly in recognising the enormous potential for a multiplicity of uses, but much of what we have said in the past is still relevant including the need for a strategic authority.

  We believe that AINA has achieved a great deal in bringing together with various navigation authorities, since its inception, but it needs the status of an independent authority in order to provide the continuing long term direction for the navigation authorities. Such a body would been seen to be wholly appropriate, particularly as the country's premier navigation authority—British Waterways—follows its progress towards a PPP regime.

  The White Paper summarises the new framework given to BW by Ministers in the Framework Document published last year. It is noticeable that this has allowed BW greater commercial and financial freedom as alluded to on many occasions by their chairman, Dr George Greener. Third party funding is increasing and this is likely to form the basis for the implementation of revitalising programmes. It should also put them in good position for the envisaged Public-Private-Partnerships. The co-operation between BW and the Environment Agency on matters of joint interest in the navigation function has also increased in recent years, as highlighted in the White Paper. However, this Association remains concerned that there is a fundamental dichotomy in the role of the EA. It is environmental protection agency on the one hand and promoter of leisure and tourism on the other. We understand that the EA is structured to operate within a trading fund under the Trading Fund Act. The Act may provide many freedoms for commercial operation and there are other examples of Next Steps Agencies with considerable commercial activity. However, the navigation function of the EA is unlikely to be able to exist in a similar commercial regime to the one now foreseen for BW. We believe that this will be a continuing source of tension between the two bodies if there is not an overarching body to determine strategy and set standards.

  Whilst we believe that well structured partnerships to achieve common aims may be valuable in many instances in the current political climate, such partnerships, be they formal or informal, will not achieve the operational effectiveness they desire when aims diverge. The presence of this dichotomy within the EA will continue to throw up conflicting aims and this will inevitably be a further source of tension with BW. The recent vacillation on what should be done to resolve the silting problem above Bow Locks is a good example of the problem. We believe that this problem directly supports our argument for an overarching authority. It should ensure that the direction of the navigation function of the two largest bodies, together with all the smaller bodies within AINA, is aligned, even when commercial and environmental motivations appear to be different. In summary, it is only through alignment of strategic direction that real value for money will be achieved for the substantial sums of public money that will continue to be invested in EA and BW through their Grant in Aid. We would give all possible encouragement to the Government to help AINA evolve into such a strategic body.

  Our comments have been concerned largely with the organisation and management of the inland waterways and would not be complete without mention of the Waterways Trust. We understand the reasons why BW have created the Trust and support the basic objectives. The Trust has been used to support some well-publicised restoration campaigns. The AWCC was the first user group to commit a large sum to the Anderton Lift restoration appeal and we will continue to join with other like-minded bodies in similar campaigns. There is clearly a role for an expanded trust, which we believe the Government should support, but we would now wish to see a greater distance between BW and the management of the Trust, with more public accountability through the appointed trustees. The AWCC and its senior members are willing as a body, or as individuals to participate in the management of the Trust. The same comment also applies to IWAAC.

David Pearce

National Vice Chairman

28 September 2000

25   A National Waterways Authority-a paper by the AWCC dated 18 May 1995, submitted to the DoE. Back

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