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

Memorandum by the British Canoe Union, Southern Region (IW 40)


  The Southern Region of the British Canoe Union (BCU) would like to support the evidence given by the national office of the BCU. The Southern Region is particularly interested in this inquiry due to the significance of the waterway network within the Region.

  The River Thames is one of the main navigable rivers in this Region. It is home to a number of canoe clubs and outdoor activity centres, embracing all the various canoeing disciplines. The river can be used for recreational touring, competitive sprint and marathon events, local, regional and sometime national slalom competitions as well as being home to a number of canoe freestyle events in the whitewater to be found at the base of the weirs.

  Supporting this recreational and sporting use are thousands of volunteers who give many hours to the development and administration of their sport. This contribution should not be overlooked and performs a valuable social objective in the empowerment of individuals and communities.

  The links between the canal network and the River Thames are also useful and the canal network is also used for a variety of uses. In this Region the Kennet and Avon Canal is host to the marathon Waterside race series and is also the start of the endurance event the Devizes to Westminster.

  It is noticeable to paddlers in this Region that the rivers offer different opportunities than the canals can offer and vice versa. For example, the winter paddling events taking place on the canal network are more reliable than those held on the rivers due to the considerable variation in flow. The Region feels that this difference is an important issue to consider when determining an overall policy approach to the inland waterway network.

  Paddlers in the Region have an understanding of the work needed to maintain the flow levels and are appreciative of the work that many of the lock keepers on the Thames do to facilitate canoeing in weir pools and the constraints they work under in managing the river for its many uses. This work has extended to the development of specific facilities for canoeists at certain weirs, for example Boulter's lock and the new summer flume, which is ideal for freestyle paddling and the moves to reinstate the base of Hambledon weir following work which altered the state of the play wave.

  The BCU nationally work closely with the various navigation authorities and negotiate licensing arrangements where for an annual fee BCU membership is recognised by these authorities as a valid boat licence. This is applied to the majority of the British Waterways canal network, and in this Region, the Basingstoke Canal and the River Wey but due to restrictions in the Thames navigation legislation this cannot unfortunately be applied to the River Thames. The BCU has for some time attempted to meet a compromise arrangement with the Environment Agency but to no avail. The BCU Southern Region would urge the Committee to consider the issue of implications of having various conflicting pieces of legislation governing the various waterways across the country and would suggest that this could be reviewed and possibly harmonised in the future to ensure generic legislation across all waterways, ensuring consistency across the country but could meet local needs and variations.

  Despite having access to a considerable waterway network, there are other issues of access in this Region. As the response of the BCU has indicated, access to water is limited to those waterways, which have either a public or statutory access to them or where voluntary agreements have been negotiated. There are a number of rivers in this Region, which have limited amounts of access; a great deal of these are tributaries of the River Thames. They provide an ideal opportunity for quiet enjoyment of the countryside, to learn about the aquatic environment whilst undertaking a healthy, outdoor activity. In determining the Government's policy towards waterways the BCU Southern Region would wish to see the issue of access to all waterways considered as part of holistic review.

September 2000

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