Memorandum by the National Farmers' Union
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) represents
the interests of some 70,000 businesses which are engaged in a
diverse range of agricultural, horticultural and related activities
throughout England and Wales. Many of these businesses have a
direct interest in the nations' inland waterways. Therefore we
welcome the opportunity to submit evidence on this issue.
The NFU believes that the nations' waterways,
in particular the canal system, is an under-utilised resource
for both water distribution and transportation. In principle,
we believe that with increased investment and greater strategic
vision the nations' waterways could make a significant contribution
to sustainable development. However, we also believe that great
care must be taken to address a number of substantive concerns
in order for the development of this potential to be realised
in a sustainable manner.
With regard to energy use and emissions a shift
of freight from road and rail to the waterways would provide significant
A national water distribution grid could alleviate
some of the stresses on water resource imbalances in certain areas
of the country.
However, at the same time we have concerns about
the implementation of large-scale transportation or water distribution
projects, in terms of, disturbance to farming, water quality,
cost implications and increased risk of flooding of farmland.
Probably the most significant issue for farming
is with regard to charges for abstraction of irrigation water
from the canal system. The current and proposed charging scheme
is prohibitively high and is causing farmers to seek alternative
water sources, which may not offer the best environmental option.
The NFU supports the concept of a national water
grid based on the canal network. We believe it offers the opportunity
of large-scale water transfers, which will ease the stress on
water supplies, particularly in the South and East of England.
We believe that such a grid would allow greater flexibility in
the management of the nations' water resources. In particular
we concur with British Waterways' (BW) view that such a system
will improve reliability of supply, minimise the impact of droughts
and enable strategic water transfers; and as it will mainly use
an existing water distribution system the environmental impact
of construction will be limited.
However, at the same time, whilst we believe
BW are in a good position to oversee the practical and technical
management of such a system, the strategic operation should be
managed by a national public body with responsibility for a national
water strategy. Such a body should be established irrespective
of the construction of a national water grid indeed, such a body
should be in place to assess issues such as the establishment
of a national water grid. Whilst the Environment Agency is producing
national and regional water strategies, in our view there is a
need for an open public debate on water resources which addresses
the pertinent issues of national domestic metering, the establishment
of a water grid, or the use of education to reduce demand, otherwise
the nation may be expending resources on a water grid when the
same objectives could be met more simply and cost-effectively
through a public education programme to reduce demand.
We also have some more detailed concerns over
the development of a grid. We believe that such a project should
be met from the public purse, as it would be a national asset.
We have concerns over the large scale mixing of waters of differing
chemistry. We also have concerns over the impact on farming and
farmland of large scale engineering works and compulsory purchase,
and would wish to see formal plans for compensation agreed before
such a project commenced. We also have a number of concerns over
the conditions and charges for farm abstraction from the grid.
There are also concerns that in order to move water around the
grid flows would have to be induced and measures must be taken
to ensure that floods do not occur as a result of induced flows.
In general the NFU applaud BW for their strategic
thinking in this area and are meeting with them to discuss radical
initiatives, such as using water from farmland drainage for canal
recharge and the possibility of using the farm drainage network
to augment the national water grid.
The NFU believe that the use of the inland waterways
system for increased freight traffic could have environmental
benefits. However, we would wish to see speeds restricted to prevent
flooding and wake damage to canal walls and riverbanks. We also
have concerns about pollution of canal and river waters by increased
traffic and of the increased possibility of trespass and criminal
damage arising from increased traffic.
The NFU are in the process of referring BW to
the Office of Fair Trading over their charging rates for canal
abstractions. Rates for raw water abstraction are currently prohibitively
high and are set to double in the next five years. We believe
this charging regime constitutes the abuse of a dominant position.
BW are aware of our concerns and substantive negotiations have