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

Memorandum by John Nicholls Esq (IW 67)


  I have been asked to make a submission on the collective policy and involvement of Regional Development Agencies in inland waterways. I received this request on return from holiday, and only a few days before the deadline. Consequently, I have been unable to contact and consult colleagues in other RDAs, but I nevertheless hope the following might be helpful as a purely personal set of thoughts on this issue. Please read it as such, rather than as a joint RDA position statement.

  I believe there are two key areas of interface between RDAs and inland waterways.

  Firstly, RDAs are successors to a variety of funding regimes through which funding has been made available for the restoration or creation of waterways infrastructure. Such funding has benefited both British Waterways and a multiplicity of voluntary sector groups. The principal funding stream has been the Land Reclamation Programme inherited from English Partnerships, which in turn inherited the former DOEs Derelict Land Grant. In many cases such investment was characterised by canal restoration virtually for its own sake, as a piece of environment upgrading not necessarily tied to other regeneration or economic aims. Funding from other streams has also been involved: for example, in this region the Single Regeneration Budget is part-funding the creation of a marina as part of a riverside regeneration in Newark.

  There may well be a case for the continuation of such investment, but I believe that the wider economic competitiveness remit of the RDAs and the Government's response in Chapter 6.54 of the DETR "Waterways for Tomorrow" document will lead the RDAs to apply a significantly different set of criteria to requests for such support. They will be less inclined to accept a purely amenity-based justification for such projects and will look instead at how such proposals fit into a wider economic and/or physical regeneration strategy for the relevant area. Numbers of direct and indirect jobs generated, their contribution to tourist development and job diversification and a value for money judgement on that basis will be key criteria. I believe RDAs will be particularly supportive of rural projects of this type if they meet these criteria. This makes it probably less likely that some of the bolder voluntary sector projects for restoration of entire abandoned waterways will get support: my experience of such projects measures the costs in tens of millions and the jobs benefits, at best, in a few hundred.

  The second, and increasingly important, interface between BW and the RDAs is in the field of waterside regeneration. It has long been recognised that water can provide a key, uplifting ingredient in physical regeneration projects. Salford Quays, Sheffield, Birmingham and the Black Country are but a few of the numerous examples, and this success undoubtedly impacts on the wider issues of social and economic regeneration of these areas. Over the years, BW has become increasingly aware of and involved in this process: by enhancing their own infrastructure in subject areas, by engaging their often substantial historic land assets in the process; and by an increasingly flexible and co-operative approach on issues like wayleaves and canal maintenance.

  Latterly, BW seems to me to have taken a step further by engaging entrepreneurially in the regeneration process itself, participating in the assembly of sites, master planning and securing beneficial development. A prime example is their involvement in emerging proposals for the riverside area of Nottingham.

  This development is entirely welcome and should be encouraged. It is extremely useful to have another player involved who is able and willing to play the longer-term game of site assembly, (which often deters the private sector), which can link that involvement with enhancements to its own waterway infrastructure, and can ultimately make a return on such investment which can be recycled. The involvement of a public sector partner in this process is especially valuable to the RDAs since our ability to support private sector partners through the Partnership Investment Programme has been curtailed through the EC's State Aids decision.

  My own view is therefore that BW should be resourced and encouraged to develop this role further. Ultimately, working in partnership with the RDAs, this will generate a return for their investment but will also greatly benefit the regeneration prospects of parts of our towns and cities.

John Nicholls

Director of Regeneration and Rural Affairs, East Midlands Development Agency

23 October 2000

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