Memorandum by the Parliamentary Waterways
Group (IW 69)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
The Parliamentary Waterways Group is an official
All-Party Group of the House of Commons. It is made up of 10 Peers
and 38 MPs of all parties and 86 Associate Members from organisations
and individuals with a variety of interests in the waterways.
Regular meetings are held with specialist speakers. The Group's
Terms of Reference are attached (Appendix A).
1. THE ROLE
(a) Urban and rural regeneration
Waterways are ideal as catalysts for urban and
rural regeneration and there is a welcome statement in Waterways
for Tomorrow (WFT) that the Government will promote this (6.54/2).
To evaluate the statement properly, Members would need to see
details of what this promotion will entail.
It is good to see that the Government "expect(s)
new waterside development and waterside improvement and restoration
to respect, conserve and, if possible, enhance the waterway scene,
creating a worthwhile legacy." (WFT 6.42/2). This expectation
needs to be translated into action via planning policies which
ensure the conservation of the waterway landscape and heritage,
not forgetting the view from the waterway.
Where housing is built beside waterways, a good
standard of properties is needed to encourage the lasting nature
of the regeneration. Numbers of waterside wharves have been used
for speculative housing, resulting in the loss of the wharf. Wharves
are facilities vital for freight transport and essential for the
development of the waterways for freight in the future.
Planning policies need to ensure wharves are
retained and that building materials and rubbish are carried by
water during any new building or industrial activity on watersides.
(b) Leisure, recreation and the industrial
The Environment Agency (EA) and British Waterways
(BW) are the largest managers of inland waterways. They have statutory
responsibilities for leisure and recreation. Their Government
funding needs to be adequate to ensure safety and to provide and
maintain basic facilities such as locks and towpaths.
Members welcome the statement that the Government
"will support the greater recreational use of the waterways
for all, including the towpaths and waterside paths, where practicable"
(WFT 6.16/2) and "supports the provision of passenger boat
services . . . wherever practicable and economic" (WFT 6.60).
Details of the nature of the support proposed would be helpful.
It is also good to note progress being made towards an option
for through-ticketing for boats on different waterways by means
of reciprocal licences. Members would welcome extension of the
through-ticketing arrangements to freight craft.
Many of BW's towpaths have been adopted as long-distance
cycleways without the safeguards advised by Members being adopted.
Waterside paths are not generally wide enough for cycles to be
ridden past pedestrians with safety; if pushchairs or wheelchairs
are involved the problem is compounded. Members are very concerned
about the lack of supervision and lack of power for the authorities
to restrain excessive speeds.
There is a considerable problem of cyclists
assuming they have priority on the towpaths and speeding with
scant regard for pedestrians and anglers. They fail to slow down
at locks and bridges, creating a potentially life-threatening
hazard to themselves and other towpath users. Government should
ensure this is addressed as a matter of urgency.
Government should give the Countryside Agency
the task of ensuring all towpaths are adopted as pedestrian rights
of way (not bridleways) within a reasonable timescale.
(c) The environment and the enhancement of
The Government supports the protection, conservation
and enhancement of the natural environment (WFT 6.42/1). Some
detail of the support envisaged would be helpful. There is a danger
of differences of opinion between agencies and user groups, for
example over the type of management of vegetation.
Well-established waterway restoration schemes
should not be subject to long-term postponement because of such
disagreements. Precedents exist for successfully establishing
havens for rare species away from the main line of canal and therefore
allowing restoration to progress.
Some waterway areas are designated Sites of
Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), for instance because a rare
plant is growing on or by the channel. This may result in restrictions
on use of that waterway for leisure or freight. We believe that
in cases where the original reason for designation has disappeared
(if the plant has died out), there is no mechanism for removing
the designation. A mechanism should be introduced as soon as possible,
since there is no reason for the SSSI to remain if the reason
for designation has gone.
Members are glad to see that the Government
"will encourage navigation authorities to provide and promote
facilities for electric boats where practical and economic".
(WFT 6.42/5) it would be helpful to know what form the encouragement
will take. Members would also point out that internal combustion
engines for boats are not environmentally unacceptable and new
design developments increase their acceptability.
(d) Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications
We support the projects listed above as a good
source of revenue for navigation authorities, provided they do
not detract from the enjoyment of (a) to (e) above. For example,
telecommunications companies failing to reinstate the towpath
properly after laying cables.
2. Freight Transport
The Group supports the Government's Integrated
Transport policy and looks forward to waterways being maintained
for freight in a complementary fashion with road and rail. The
waterborne freight industry is extremely willing to support Government
policy in this regard, however, operators are doubtful whether
in the short term they will have sufficient craft available unless
they are given grant-aid or financial incentives to refurbish
former commercial transport boats. The question of disappearing
wharfage is also of concern, see 1(a) above.
BW are obliged to maintain their Commercial
Waterways for freight under the 1968 Transport Act. The White
Paper which preceded the Act envisaged that BW would set up a
separate Freight Division which would operate the commercial waterways
in such a manner that they would pay for themselves. However,
BW wound up their Freight Division several years ago.
Member have considerable doubts as to whether
BW are yet encouraging freight transport sufficiently on their
waterways to comply with this legislation. Anomalous charges for
freight boats on EA waterways should be addressed. Track Access
Grants should be extended to cover waterborne freight to give
parity with rail.
While freight will naturally be concentrated
on inland waterways associated with the larger estuaries, Government
should ensure that operations on smaller waterways are not deterred
by local or national policy.
Freight transport should be a high priority
for waterways which are capable of taking suitable boats or where
conversion is a practical possibility, for example the Thames.
Navigation authorities should be encouraged to develop strategies
for freight use.
3. Priorities and complementary status
The legal status of the BW waterways is defined
in the Transport Act 1968. The waterways are classified into Commercial,
Cruising and the remainder. The first two categories define the
priorities for their management. BW are charged with finding uses
for the Remainder and have done so in many cases, with them being
restored and reclassified as Cruising. The upgrading of the rest
should be energetically supported by Government.
All the activities listed in the headlines above
have the potential to be complementary. If they are not in any
area the necessary steps should be taken to ensure they become
so. The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council (IWAAC) has
a role to play in helping to relieve conflicts between leisure
users where these arise on the waterways of BW.
Waterside developments should take into account
the needs and views of users, particularly the need to include
facilities for waterside leisure and boating, otherwise the waterways
will become sterile ponds.
4. Adequate policies, mechanisms and funding
in `Waterways for Tomorrow'?
WFT is very encouraging in its tone of support
for the various activities and future improvements listed. Its
policies for freight transport are to some extent explicit and
Members welcome this warmly, however they would wish this to be
taken even further (see 2 above).
However, there is a certain lack of concrete
detail and it would be helpful if a supplement were to be published
indicating exactly what form the Government's support will take.
If this is not financial, it would also be helpful to have calculations
of the necessary funding and from where it is suggested this should
It would be helpful to have a definition of
"development" as used in WFT, since this is not spelt
out and it is not always clear whether property development, commercial
development or leisure development is meant, and not therefore
easy to evaluate the proposals.
As far as boat licensing is concerned. Members
feel there is a danger that licensing authorities will "kill
the goose that lays the golden eggs". Steep increases in
charges, coupled with a zealous insistence on safety modifications
for which there appears to be little justification, have alienated
a significant proportion of the public, a number of whom have
left the waterways.
Canals: members support BW continuing to own
its canals, providing there is no erosion of the safeguards as
to maintenance standards and retention of waterways contained
in the 1968 Transport Act.
They welcome the Waterways Trust taking over
the Rochdale and Huddersfield Canals, since it has ensured the
completion of the restorations, however this provides no guarantee
for the long-term future of these waterways and they would be
concerned if the Trust were to begin to acquire large numbers
of canals. Members are concerned about the transparency and independence
from BW of the Waterways Trust.
Canals and Rivers: They support the power vested
in EA to become the navigation authority for waterways which at
present have none.
Ownership is not an apposite term in relation
to river waterways, whether freshwater or tidal. Stewardship would
make the legal circumstances clearer. No authority owns the rivers
outright. Many rivers are subject to public right of navigation,
confirmed in the 1968 Transport Act in the case of BW.
Associate members are extremely concerned to
uphold these rights, and are worried that there is to be yet another
review of EA's navigation responsibilities (WFT 5.10/3). They
would object most strongly to the management of navigation on
their rivers and tidal waterways being removed from EA, since
EA are committed to catchment management and partnerships which
have worked satisfactorily for many years. They feel in the last
five years a good deal of progress has been made by EA and to
lose this would be a retrograde step.
This concern is reflected in the chorus of disapproval
from those on the EA river waterways to the proposal that management
of navigation of the Nene and Ouse should be removed from EA and
put under the management of BW. It should be noted that for the
DETR to resurrect this proposal every few years it is not helpful
for stable management of these waterways, or for co-operation
between navigation authorities.
EA waterways are managed by local plans in each
catchment. Members approve the principle of catchment management
as an effective method, managing all the various activities and
issues on waterways together, rather than isolating one activity
such as navigation or fisheries. Users are enthusiastic about
this process, appreciating that each activity represented on the
local committee has a voice and an opportunity to reach a consensus
with other users in producing the rolling five-year plan.
They feel part of management and feel their
needs are being met. This is reflected in the enthusiastic response
of users to the idea that EA should continue to manage their navigations
and in the smaller number of complaints made to this Group about
EA as compared with BW waterways.
There is a role in the Association of Inland
Navigation Authorities (AINA) for navigation authorities to share
advice and experience on policies and byelaws, however there is
a danger in over-uniformity that the distinctive qualities and
approach of independent waterways will be lost, depriving the
waterways of some of their attraction to users and hence revenue.
Members would prefer to see greater transparency
in the operation of AINA and believe EA should be bigger players,
particularly bringing in their expertise on safety, flood prevention,
water resources and pollution control.
6. Other matters
It is encouraging to see the role of volunteers
on the waterways is now recognised and used. Volunteers have become
extremely professional in their approach.
There is a need for greater transparency in
BW, where Members feel the reasoning behind decisions on consumer
affairs is often not made available. Their customer charter is
not always adhered to, for instance in the time taken to reply
to and act upon letters of matters of concern.
Users are concerned that the remit of the Waterways
Ombudsman was diminished by BW, especially the removal of the
power to deal with legal matters.
Members are disappointed to see residential
boats are not mentioned in WFT. This form of living is recognised
by navigation authorities and has an important role to play, for
example in providing the security of a regular presence at vulnerable
WFT is most encouraging in its general approach.
Further detail is required before this Group can assess the effectiveness
of its proposals and the scale of implementation. Members look
forward to contributing to the debate in future.