Memorandum by the Environment Agency (IW
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
1. This memorandum is the Environment Agency's
response to the issues raised by the Environment, Transport and
Regional Affairs Committee in the notification of the Inquiry
on "The Potential of Inland Waterways".
2. KEY PRINCIPLES
2.1 The Environment Agency welcomes the
opportunity to debate the potential of inland waterways and the
issues raised in the document Waterways for Tomorrow, given our
responsibility for sustainable development. Many inland waterways
are delicately balanced environments which need careful planning
and management if they are to thrive as natural habitats, and
be used sustainably for everything from land drainage and water
resources to leisure and tourism.
2.2 The Agency's role in inland waterways
management is an intrinsic component of its overall responsibility
for managing and improving the water environment in England and
Wales. The water management portfolio encompasses flood defence,
land drainage, water resources, water quality, waste management,
water abstraction, recreation, navigation, fisheries and conservation.
To this end, the Agency sets and monitors the environmental standards
of all waterways in England and Wales within which all navigation
2.3 Rivers are crucial to water management.
Increased run-off, climate change, changes in land use management,
and rising demand for water supply will intensify pressures on
"live", higher changeable and intensively used rivers
such as the Thames. Managing these complex environments in a balanced
and sustainable way, and ensuring that their full potential is
reached, requires a level of expertise and integrated planning
that is not necessarily required in other more artificial inland
waterways such as canals.
2.4 The Agency has specific navigation and
recreation responsibilities for 875 kms of the most environmentally
sensitive rivers in England and Wales, including the non-tidal
Thames. To ensure that these river navigations are managed to
the highest possible standards, and that the complex inter-relationships
between water supply, ecology, flood control, land drainage, recreation
and navigation are sustainable, the Agency applies an holistic
approach, based on the principles of integrated river basin management,
hereafter referred to as whole river management. In the development
and application of these principles, the Agency is one of the
most advanced in Europe. The principle of whole river management
has been endorsed by the European Water Framework Directive, due
to become law in 2003, which states that rivers in member countries
should be managed via integrated river basin management plans.
It will require a competent authority to be appointed to oversee
all aspects of river management.
2.5 Managing all aspects of the water environment
together in this way under the auspices of the Agency achieves
environmental and business efficiencies for the navigation and
recreation function. For example, costs can be shared where staff
work on flood defence in the winter and as lock-keepers in the
summer. On rivers where the Agency does not manage navigation
directly, these efficiencies do not apply. Moreover at critical
times on fast reacting rivers, the presence of two bodies has
the potential to affect the speed with which responses can be
put in place and also requires river users to deal with an additional
party for river navigation and recreation advice.
2.6 As a result of its wide ranging remit,
the Agency has developed good consultative relationships with
major stakeholders, enabling it to broker agreements across navigation
authorities, local authorities, environmentalists, anglers, drainage
boards and others. Although the grant-in-aid specifically allocated
for navigation and recreation is low compared to other areas of
activity, the Agency has ensured that it provides Government with
good value for money through internal business efficiencies and
by leveraging partnership funds externally wherever possible.
The Agency has recently embarked on an ambitious development strategy
for the Thames, Thames Ahead, with the support of riparian local
authorities. The project is designed to ensure that this the most
important waterway in the UK fulfils its potential as a sustainable
leisure and tourism asset.
2.7 Recognising its responsibilities for
future generations, the Agency has recently consulted on a far-reaching
environmental statement, "Creating an Environmental Vision".
The Agency places quality of life at the centre of its Vision
and recognises that implementing Waterways for Tomorrow is an
important part of delivering a better quality of life. In developing
its Vision, the Agency is reviewing how it can develop its recreation
and navigation responsibilities, using its resources most effectively
for the benefit of waterway users and local communities, streamlining
staff structures and developing a new framework to encourage sustainable
commercial partnership developments. This review will also address
the issues, such as matrix management, raised by the recent House
of Commons Environment Select Committee's report on the Agency.
2.8 The Agency's approach to whole river
management is supported by a range of key stakeholders, users
and by other navigation authorities who manage navigation on the
rivers of England and Wales. The Agency works with them to achieve
local solutions that are appropriate for their local conditions,
such as with the Broads Authority in East Anglia, and British
Waterways for many of their rivers and canals. Nevertheless, the
Agency believes that the EU Directive will rightly require a re-assessment
of river basin management in the future. This may result in some
changes to navigation responsibilities so that integrated river
management skills can be applied to the more complex river environments
where flood defence, water resources and biodiversity are priorities.
In the interim, the Agency believes that the current strategic
partnership arrangements in place, as outlined in Section 6, are
a progressive framework within which to develop the potential
for inland waterways and their use for navigation and recreation.
3. THE POTENTIAL
The Agency has responsibilities for all the
waterways of England and Wales and is committed to developing
their potential. With regards to the specific issues raised in
3.1 Urban and rural regeneration
3.1.1 The success of waterway regeneration
projects in tackling urban and rural blight has been remarkable.
Canal systems, particularly those with land assets and buildings,
have large potential for further development. Opportunities are
necessarily more limited on rivers, where developments on the
flood plain are rightly restricted and where there is fragmented
land ownership. Nevertheless, the Agency has been active as a
major partner in urban regeneration programmes such as on the
Aire and Calder with British Waterways in Leeds City Council.
The Agency's project to develop the Fishmarket in Rye Harbour
has helped protect and create up to 200 jobs and approximately
300 indirect jobs. The Agency's proposal for a site at Sunbury
on Thames would regenerate an industrial area, bringing new boating
related facilities and improved public access to the river.
3.1.2 In developing our partnerships with
the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), the Agency has been
promoting the concept of sustainable development and its application
across all types of development, including those on waterways,
to ensure compatibility between economic, social and environmental
benefits. This has resulted in a higher profile for waterways
within the RDAs Sustainable Development Plans.
3.2 Leisure, recreation, tourism and the industrial
3.2.1 Rivers and canals are one of the greatest
and most easily accessible leisure resources in the nation, and
the Agency is committed to expanding access for all. Across all
its rivers the Agency provides information for trippers, boaters,
anglers, canoeists and other leisure users, provides educational
events and information packs and has developed the role of lock-keepers
to provide tourist information and advice. It issues strong-stream
advice for boaters, runs telephone advice lines and provides sanitary
and waste disposal facilities, working with local authorities
where it is not the landowner. Working with the Fieldfare Trust,
the Agency has recently completed a comprehensive report on providing
facilities for disabled across all waterways. This is an extension
of ongoing work, such as providing platforms for disabled anglers.
3.2.2 On the Thames alone, each year there
are 10 million visits to the river by foot, bike or car and the
Agency ensures the safety of 300 river events, including the Henley
Royal Regatta. The Agency has worked closely with the Countryside
Agency to ensure the successful development of the Thames Path.
Over the last two years the Agency has developed 16 important
partnership projects including lock developments, boatyards, rowing
clubs, footbridges, towpaths, slipways and the landscape, totalling
£3 million, of which the Agency raised £2.7 million
from other sources. An independent study estimated that the Agency's
navigation and recreation activities on the Thames generate about
£16.5 million in visitor spending and directly support about
425 jobs in the local community.
3.2.3 Major developments are underway elsewhere,
eg in the Fens, the £1.3 million Denver Navigation Project,
for which the Agency has secured 50 per cent in Objective 5B European
funding, will open up 18kms of previously inaccessible waterway,
complete with moorings and sanitary stations. The Nene Waterways
Partnership of Local Authorities and the Agency, is producing
ambitious development plans to attract funding for recreation
and navigation on the Nene. The Agency estimates that between
1996 and 1998 it worked on 49 partnership projects in the Anglian
Region and secured £6 million of partnership funding.
3.2.4 The Agency also helps other organisations
to enhance wildlife, navigation and heritage on their waterways
and has recently produced guidelines: "Navigation Restoration
and Environmental Appraisal".
3.3 Environment and wildlife
Waterways provide unparalleled opportunities
for the enhancement of wildlife. The Agency has secured some notable
recent successes, eg the recovery of the otter. Sometimes, inevitably,
there is conflict between the need to protect and enhance wildlife
and the needs of the community and leisure users. The Agency's
whole river management approach means that specialists within
the Agency can resolve these conflicts at an early stage and develop
locally appropriate solutions. It is in this context that the
Agency has applied to become the navigation authority on the River
3.4 Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications
3.4.1 The Agency is currently developing
a new national water resources strategy aimed at securing the
proper use of water and ensuring its availability 25 years ahead.
This strategy will allow for the continued use of the inland waterways
network for water transfer. In considering proposals to transfer
water, the impacts on water quality and the risks to local ecology
will need careful investigation. The Agency will work with any
organisation proposing to transfer water to ensure that their
proposals are practicable and sustainable for the environment,
the community and any other users.
3.4.2 Rivers and the network of artificial
drains which connect to them, eg East Anglian waterways, are particularly
important to effective drainage, and therefore to successful water
management, as they are the most efficient conduits to the sea
in times of high rainfall. As part of its flood defence role,
the Agency works with local authorities to protect the flood plains
and achieve sustainable riverside development. This will increase
in importance with more run-off caused by land use change and
climate change. The Agency also has a supervisory role on all
3.4.3 The potential for telecommunications
across waterways is varied: along canals where there are large
stretches of continuous land ownership, opportunities exist. Rivers
have highly fragmented land ownership, often without towpaths,
making developments more difficult to negotiate and potentially
3.5.1 The use of the waterways for freight
has been in decline for many years. A recent review by the Association
of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA), of which the Agency is
a founding member, confirms that the potential for major new freight
movements on inland waterways is limited. This is the case for
both the larger rivers linked to canal systems, historically used
for major freight movements, as well as for other river systems.
3.5.2 However, the Agency supports the renewed
use of river navigations for freight in support of the Government's
Transport White Paper wherever it can be achieved without adverse
environmental impact. Where possible, the Agency influences Local
Transport Plans to encourage freight movement. The Fenland District
Council and the Agency recently examined the potential for reopening
a commercial freight route from the port of Wisbech up the River
Nene to Peterborough. The study concluded that although opportunities
exist at Wisbech, the rest of the route is not economic. The Agency
has been highly successful in Rye, where it is the Harbour Authority
and where ship movements have increased from 14 in 1998-99, to
44 in 1999-2000 and anticipated to be 100 in 2000-01. It is also
the home of the largest fishing fleet on the south coast.
4.1 The Agency believes that because waterway
environments vary so greatly, no one principal use of the waterways
can or should be given automatic priority. Canals, for example,
have a less critical role to play in flood defence or land drainage,
allowing the focus to be on regeneration especially away from
the flood plain. Rivers are often more complex. The Medway is
intensively used for boating and fishing, but is also a river
where flood conditions can develop rapidly, jeopardising the towns
of Maidstone and Tonbridge. The river, which contains the largest
non-tidal flood control structure in the UK, often has to be closed
for boating at very short notice.
4.2 The Agency's view is that multiple uses
of waterways can work extremely well as long as integrated planning
and operations exist to provide a framework for balancing priorities.
The Thames, for example, is a major leisure resource, a drainage
channel for 9,873sq kms of England, is heavily built up along
much of its banks and at the same time supplies two thirds of
London's drinking water. As a result it is probably the most intensively
managed river in the world.
4.3 The Agency has a long history in the
successful balanced management of complicated waterways, such
as Nene & Ouse systems which are so critical to flood control,
land drainage and irrigation. It has a reputation for employing
the broadest consultation with a wide range of stakeholders to
develop local solutions. This work is made easier where the Agency
is the specific navigation authority and therefore is responsible
for all aspects of river management. Where it is not the navigation
authority, the Agency works closely with the incumbent, although
this necessarily involves some duplication of activity.
4.4 The Agency believes that whatever dominant
use exists on a waterway, safety of the public and of navigators
should always be the highest priority.
5.1 The Agency welcomes the Government's
comprehensive and forward looking document, Waterways for Tomorrow.
Many waterways will benefit from the policy initiatives to come
out of it. The Agency has two substantive responses. The first
is that the difference between canal and river potential needs
to be more fully recognised. Unlike the canal system, river potential
can be constrained by other needs such as water resources and
flood defence, as well as by the more fragmented ownership of
the surrounding land.
5.2 The second response concerns funding.
Waterways have a tremendous value to rural and urban communities,
they provide leisure amenities for all social groups and many
of them are in public ownership. Fulfilling the potential identified
in Waterways for Tomorrow will need increased public funding,
together with continuing efforts in winning funds from other sources.
5.3 A number of specific recommendations
were made with regard to the Agency and these are being taken
forward. The Agency's formal response to Waterways for Tomorrow
will be available in October.
6.1 The management and ownership of the
navigable inland waterways in the UK is complex: there are over
30 different navigation authorities, hundreds of local authorities,
and many thousands of riparian landowners involved in the network,
as well as water companies and drainage boards. The Agency is
the only constant presence across all waterways. It has an unparalleled
understanding of the way they work and, as a result, believes
that user needs can best be met by implementing locally appropriate
structures and solutions.
6.2 The three largest authorities are the
Agency, largely responsible for rivers, British Waterways, largely
responsible for canals and part-canalised rivers, and the Broads
Authority, responsible for the rivers in the Broads (an area of
National Park status). Each organisation has the different skills
and expertise necessary to manage its own particular assets.
6.3 There have been a number of reviews
over the past 10 years into whether these navigation responsibilities
should be radically "streamlined". These have not resulted
in any significant change, largely because local users and stakeholders
have recognised that different waterways require different management
skills and that they would not necessarily be well served at a
local level by some apparently neat national structure.
6.4 However, recognising their many similarities
at strategic level, the Agency and British Waterways, as the two
main GIA-assisted organisations, have put into place a number
of partnership activities. Firstly, a major survey by British
Waterways and Environment Agency four years ago highlighted a
number of areas for improved cooperation, which have since been
implemented. Most notably, these include establishing a national
boat licensing system, and jointly preparing guidance for waterway
users, including health and safety advice. More recently, a Collaboration
Agreement has been signed (June 2000) which will also look at
other areas where the organisations have similar interests eg
fisheries, water resources, and flood defence.
6.5 The Agency is a founder member of the
Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA), established
in December 1996 as an umbrella body for all navigation authorities,
and continues jointly with British Waterways and the Broads Authority
to fund its work. AINA's 1999 national navigation strategy Steering
a Fresh Course has been adopted by all its members. The Agency
believes that AINA provides the appropriate framework for setting
strategic priorities, sharing ideas and so providing support for
the smaller navigations authorities to manage and develop their
waterways in locally appropriate ways.
6.6 At a local level, the Agency has extensive
networks for local consultation to ensure it is responsive to
individual waterway, recreation and navigation needs. The Agency's
Local Environment Agency Plans (LEAPs) draw on the views of all
stakeholders, are updated regularly and are publicly available,
making them an excellent framework for the development of navigation
interests at a local level and an ideal mechanism to monitor progress.
Other consultation routes include the statutory Regional Fisheries
Ecology and Recreation committees, Area Environment Groups, Regional
and Local Flood Defence Committees, River User Groups, the National
Navigation Users Forum, the British Marine Industries Federation,
The Waterways Trust and increasingly, the Regional Development
Agencies. The Agency has recently requested, and been granted,
observer status on Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council (IWAAC).
6.7 The Agency believes that further collaborative
activities are possible, and will be delivered by AINA. It also
believes that, in the light of the EU directive, a full review
of all rivers may highlight the need to move the navigation responsibilities
of the more environmentally "critical" rivers to the
Agency. A more efficient use of public funds could possibly be
achieved by this move.
7.1 The Agency's specific navigation responsibilities
are for the rivers Thames (non tidal), Nene and Ouse systems,
Ancholme, Medway and a range of smaller river navigations totalling
875kms. The Agency is also the Harbour Authority for Rye Harbour
and the Conservancy for the Dee Estuary and has applied to become
the navigation authority for the river Wye. On rivers where there
are no navigation authorities the Agency can apply local statutes,
eg on boat speeds, to ensure that the environment is protected.
7.2 The Agency's grant-in-aid of £5
million for navigation and recreation has fallen greatly in real
terms over the last ten years. The Agency leverages funds from
external partnerships to augment its GIA. In 1999, it issued 32,875
boat licences for its rivers, 80 per cent on the Thames, which
together with other navigation-related income generated a total
of £4 million from users. Over 70 per cent funding for the
Thames now comes from non-GIA sources, beating the Government's
target of 60 per cent.
7.3 The Agency owns, operates and maintains
a total of 720 navigation-related assets, primarily locks, weirs,
lay-bys, and mooring sites, all of which are an integral part
of the infrastructure necessary for the safe use of the rivers
by boats. The Agency's limited riverside land is used primarily
for operational purposes. Unlike canals that were built with extensive
associated land, towpaths and buildings, rivers are natural, constantly
changing systems where in general the riparian landowner also
owns the riverbed and fishing rights. Nevertheless, the Agency
is committed to ensuring that the land it does own is used fully
and for the benefit of the community. We prepare and implement
site management plans, which identify the potential for recreation
and other developments.
Increasing funding for the Agency's navigations
remains a priority. During the recent Spending Review 2000 the
Agency has worked in close liaison with DETR to improve the quality
of its asset management planning. In addition, the Agency has
bid for extra funding for maintenance of its navigation assets
as a priority. In 1999-2000 the Agency highlighted needs of around
£1.5 million and received £740k. We are hopeful that
the 2000-01 bid for priority needs will result in additional funding
from Government. Funding the core statutory responsibilities remains
the Agency's priority.
8. SUMMARY AND
8.1 The Agency is committed to developing
the potential for inland waterways, and managing them as an integral
part of its Vision for the Environment. It is also currently developing
a new strategy for managing its navigation and recreation functions.
8.2 The Agency believes that integrated
river basin management principles should determine a review of
all river navigation management functions in the future to ensure
that changeable and fast reacting rivers are managed in an integrated,