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

Memorandum by the Environment Agency (IW 46)


  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".


  2.1  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 authorities work.

  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.


  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 the notice:

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 heritage

  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 Wye.

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 drainage authorities.

  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 more costly.

3.5  Freight

  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.


  8.1  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, sustainable way.

September 2000

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