Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
MONDAY 3 DECEMBER 2001
1. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, we
are the Scottish Affairs Select Committee from the House of Commons.
Can I say how delighted we are to be here this afternoon at the
behest of the local Member of Parliament, John Lyons, who insisted
that we come here and see the good work that was being done. Can
I thank British Waterways for the organising they have done of
this tour and for making the presentation this morning. Special
thanks to the East Dunbartonshire District Council, particularly
the chief executive Dr Vicky Nash, for the provision of a meeting
room. I would also like to thank Falkirk and Edinburgh for their
hospitality and helping to make all this possible. We have had
a very good morning and I think we have all been very impressed
with what we have seen so far. We hope the rest of our journey
over the next 24 hours continues the way it started off this morning.
Perhaps for the purposes of the record you could introduce yourselves.
(Mr Christie) My name is Campbell Christie. I am a
member of the British Waterways main board. I am also the Chairperson
of the British Waterways Scotland Group, which provides advice
to the main board and to the appropriate ministers on British
(Mr Bell) Good afternoon. I am Nigel Bell, property
and development manager for British Waterways Scotland.
(Mr Stirling) My name is Jim Stirling, Director of
British Waterways Scotland.
(Mr Ballinger) My name is George Ballinger, I am Engineering
Manager for British Waterways Scotland.
2. Thank you very much. Can I start by asking
British Waterways Scotland briefly to outline the genesis of the
Millennium Link Project?
(Mr Stirling) I think it is fair to say that the project
we know as the Millennium Link is probably the culmination of
about 25 years of work from a number of people over that length
of time. The Forth and Clyde and Union Canal was closed at the
end of 1962 to allow the A80 to be built at Castlecary without
the need of an opening bridge. It was not long after its closure
that people started to campaign for something to be done about
the dereliction that followed its closure. As early as 1976, less
than 14 years after it was closed, the Forth and Clyde Canal was
recognised as having regional significance by Strathclyde Regional
Council for leisure and recreation. Various groups were put together
at that time, very much pushed, it has to be said, by the voluntary
sector, by bodies like the Forth and Clyde Canal Society, and
such like. By November 1988 an unusual document was produced called
the called the Forth and Clyde Local Plan, unusual in that being
a statutory local plan it crossed council boundaries and it was
a linear plan, it was a very unusual occurrence. That enshrined
no further blockages to navigation and restoration should be sought
whenever finance allowed. Not an awful lot happened after that
until the onset of the National Lottery. Some small lengths have
been restored, there was the West Lothian Canal Project at the
end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, and the Glasgow
Canal Project, successful projects in their own right. They really
showed that doing a short length of canal which is not connected
to anything else can bring environmental and very local economic
benefit but does not have any knock-on effect. The onset of the
National Lottery gave us the opportunity to look at it as a once
in a lifetime chance, if you like, to reopen both canals. British
Waterways started talking to the partners in the late spring,
early summer of 1994 about whether this was something that we
should consider putting forward for Lottery funding.
3. Has the project fulfilled expectations in
terms of job creation and time scale for job creation?
(Mr Stirling) As far as is possible at this stage
I think the answer is yes. Most of the jobs would be indirectly
created as a result of what happens following the physical canal
restoration. There were direct job predictions to do with construction
and to date the project has exceeded those as far as construction
jobs are concerned. It has not, I have to say, met all of the
training targets that were predicted, probably for two reasons,
one, the delay in starting the project due to the long drawn out
time it took to get the funding together, but the finishing date
was more or less immovable because of the Lottery rules and the
European rules. It has been harder to use training schemes to
fit in the time scale and a lot of the work that was involved
was unsuitable for bringing in trainees. There have been a number
of apprentices employed throughout the project. Having said that,
the number of construction jobs is well in excess of that that
4. Which part of the exercise has created most
difficulty so far?
(Mr Stirling) I think all construction jobs are fraught
with difficulties, whether they are ground conditions, whether
they have physical constraints due to geometry or whether it is
getting the correct permissions because of all of the different
difficulties in an area. In many ways construction is the easy
bit. The project has been delivered as it was designed from a
construction point of view. The purpose of the project right from
the outset in 1994 was to be a stimulant for other activities
that would take place beside it. I think in many ways that is
probably the hardest jobremembering, and then driving it
onthat's the reason that we are doing this because of the
knock-on effect. It is clear from the strong partnership that
has been formed that to get this far, there is an enormous likelihood
of success. The partnership has proven itself on a number of occasions.
As we got to the funding, and the funding was a fairly complicated
exercise which was not completed until spring of 1998, it took
us nearly four years to get funding together and the partnership
proved its worth throughout that period by campaigning together
and eventually making sure that there was sufficient money there
to do the job. That partnership will stand in good stead for the
future as we move forward, because that will be how the on-going
effects will be achieved.
5. I have to say I was also very impressed with
what I have seen today. It is well known there were many other
canals in Lowland Scotland, have you thought about opening up
a whole network of canals and, if so, what kind of benefit do
you see to the community at large?
(Mr Stirling) The only other canal in Lowland Scotland
that exists is the Monkland Canal. There was a canal to Paisley
and Johnstone which is long gone. The Monkland canal exists at
the moment in open channel through Coatbridge, from Drumpellier
Park towards Coatbridge town centre, and a little bit further
out to the east. At the moment it is a hugely important part for
us because it is the water course that delivers water supply to
top of the Forth and Clyde Canal, so the Monkland Canal is very
important from that point of view as a conduit. It probably does
have long term possibilities to make more use of it. No studies
have been done as to how the Monkland Canal might, if it is remotely
feasible, be reconnected to the others. It would certainly seem
at this time it is likely to remain an isolated stretch of water
which more use could be made of. What the Millennium Link aimed
to achieve was the joining of the Forth with the Clyde and the
joining of the Union Canal to the Forth and Clyde.
6. Would you see that as a feasible project?
(Mr Stirling) You could certainly open up further
stretches of it, but there has not been any work done to see if
it is remotely feasible to connect it with the Forth and Clyde.
It would be extremely difficult because the M8 motorway to Edinburgh
was known as the Monkland motorway because it used the line of
the canal for its construction, there would be enormous difficulties.
7. This project runs through a number of SIPS
areas, is any special provision made to recruit people in terms
of training from the SIP
(Mr Stirling) There were a number of
measures taken during construction, possibly the greatest opportunities
are post construction. All construction vacancies were advertised
in local job centres with every effort to employ local people.
As the project moves ahead one of the focuses for a department
which we have in British Waterways, the Partnership Department,
will work with the councils and with the other agencies with that
very point in mind, how do we get the employment and wealth creation
opportunities, if you like, into those particular deprived areas?
The canals do run through quite a number of social inclusion partnership
areas. It is something which is more likely to accrue benefit
in the future. In British Waterways it is an issue that we are
beginning to approach. I do not think we would claim that we are
as expert in that field as we might claim to be in say the general
heritage or the operation of canals. It is an area that we have
seen as being important and we are putting effort into it.
8. Mr Stirling, can I turn to the question of
sustainability and find out from you what assessment of sustainability
was made by British Waterways Scotland at that period?
(Mr Stirling) We see sustainability as being the combination
of three elements, of economic activity, built and natural environment
and social equity, particularly the linkages of the economic activities
to the localities where you know jobs and employment are most
needed. The project had to be approved at a European level from
an environmental assessment point of view, so the project was
assessed and signed off by Scottish Natural Heritage when it was
up for European approval. All jobs that take place on the canal
are subject to an environmental assessment, it is the normal practice
within British Waterways anyway, we employ our own environmental
scientist. All canals in Scotland are scheduled monuments in their
entirety, so everything we do has to be approved and take cognisance
of the requirements of historic Scotland. The built environment
is well safeguarded. The area, if you like, that we are deeming
as more important and learning is the social equity side of sustainability.
The reports that were done in the beginning by DTZ Pieda and others
showed that there were linkages to the deprived areas, unemployment
was particularly high in wards along the canal and, therefore,
the opportunity to bring economic activity into those areas was
obviously there. The other side of sustainability for the canal
is its long term revenue funding. British Waterways are the long
term operators of the lowland canals. It was, perhaps, a good
project from that point of view, in that it had a revenue funding
behind it, so that once the capital works are complete there is
a body charged to looking after it, namely British Waterways.
9. Can I deal with the levels of economic sustainability?
Are the levels of investment working out so far?
(Mr Stirling) I would say they are. Do you mean on
the landward side, the on-going developments?
10. Particularly, yes.
(Mr Stirling) There are signs that that is moving.
The major private sectors moves have been in housing. Housing
does not create the economic outputs that are measured in European
Regional Development Fund terms but nevertheless they indicate
a confidence, if you like, with the private sector. We have our
own 50/50 partnership with Miller Developments in Edinburgh and
other developers are now showing a reasonable degree of interest
in sites beside the canal. It was never expected that development
would take place beside the canals in a short time scale, all
of the projections and reports always indicated there is a long
time scale involved in the benefits that will flow from the project.
Early indicators would be the number of people using the tow path,
which has grown considerably, and in some locations by hundreds
of per cent. The canals are quite obviously more heavily used
than they were before on the tow path and the amount of water
borne traffic projected is, more or less, as we would have expected
it to be.
11. What forecasts have been made concerning
the possible growth of both leisure and commercial traffic following
on from the Millennium Project?
(Mr Stirling) The predictions from the Commission
studies by Coopers and Lybrand and the Scottish Tourist Board
were that after five years there would be 500 transits per annum
from east to west, or vice versa and this year there have been
well over 100 already. I think that is a reasonable progression.
Another number that was predicted would be again after about five
years there would be 600 boats kept on the canal, (600 privately
owned boats), certainly that is a target which has yet to materialise.
In fact we are conducting a review of our pricing regime and our
licensing regime so that we can encourage development of that.
The other major prediction was 40 to 60 hire boats. Again, the
hire boat industry is showing interest but has yet to commit itself.
There is a hotel boat coming next year to operate between Glasgow
12. You concentrated on leisure, what about
commercial? Do you see any?
(Mr Stirling) There certainly have been no predictions
of commercial traffic. It is quite difficult to see. We have received
some enquiries from people looking at the possibility of using
the Union Canal to move coal. We would certainly encourage traffic
on the canal, but at the moment we cannot see any traffic like
that. Scotland is only 40 miles wide at the central belt so if
you have to put something on a lorry, take it to a canal, take
it off again and put it on the canal and then put it back on the
lorry you might as well drive it across the country. We see the
potential for moving waste or refuse along the canal from the
cities out to landfill sites and such like, there is interest
being shown in that kind of commercial use and we do get that
elsewhere in British Waterways. That is material that is not in
13. Can you tell us how you are going about
evaluating the activity round the canals as the activity takes
off and how far to date has the activity matched up to expectations
at this point in the process?
(Mr Stirling) We are putting in place, to use jargon,
a monitoring and evaluation framework, building very much on the
work that we have had to do and are still doing to meet the requirements
of the various funders in the project. We produce a very extensive
report every month to the Millennium Commission, which is then
circulated to all of the other partners in the project, which
reports progress on the project and progress on the economic and
other activities taking place beside the canal. We are very conscious
that we are legally obliged under our European Regional Fund grants
to measure and report. We are very much dependent on our partners
for helping us gather that information. There are certain activities
which local authorities are better suited to measure than we are
and there are other activities that Scottish Enterprise and the
Local Enterprise Company Network are better suited to measure
than we are. Because of the close working relationship over the
physical construction there are regular meetings and contacts
where we are gathering that information. The early indications
would be, as I said earlier, the number of people using the tow
path and, the number of enquiries that are taking place for sites
beside the canal or potentials for business. I would say that
at this stage within the first year of the Forth and Clyde being
open and the Union yet to open entirely it is very encouraging.
14. That reference to the partners leads me
into a point I was going to raise later, which is, one of the
things that you pick up from the paperwork and from the discussions
that we have had today is that the canal represents a potential
for future development. Some work has been done by the partners
and the emphasis, again, has been what happens in the future.
I was intrigued by the comment in your own submission where you
say, "We wish to see ourselves transformed from the lead
partner on a project to being a lead partner".
I am not entirely clear, who is going to make sure the benefits
of the project are taken forward in five or 10 or 15 years? What
is the structure that is envisaged?
(Mr Stirling) What has been set up to
date to allow the Scottish Enterprise Network, the local authorities
and ourselves to work together is there have been local canal
development groups set up in each council area now, where the
local authority, through its planning, its economic development,
et cetera, meets with ourselves, with the local enterprise company
and often with the Tourist Board. Various methods are being used,
sometimes action plans, sometimes other methods, and it may be
a different route in a different area. For example in the Falkirk
area we are working with Falkirk Council and Scottish Enterprise
Forth Valley to establish a concept very similar to the Stirling
Initiative, where partners will get together and employ dedicated
staff and the staff will be charged not with creating strategies
or action plans but in picking up all of the work that has been
done to date and driving it to physical work on the ground, whether
it is tourism related, whether it is economic related or whatever
it is that is being challenged in the area. Again, that is a model
which has been tried before in Stirling and was very successful
and it is a method that we are using in Forth Valley and Falkirk.
In Glasgow there is a Canal Strategy Group set up by the council
which obviously Scottish Enterprise Glasgow and British Waterways
are involved in. That is about putting the potential activities
round the canal within the strategic framework of local planning,
and such like, to remove barriers to development in the future
and, where possible, to actually work in partnership to deliver
the physical outputs. There are different things happening in
different places, but it is very much based on local authority
15. Perhaps Mr Christie may want to respond
to this, is there not a danger that emphasis is on discrete chunks
of the canal in different local authorities, as it were, and there
are areas where the full potential will only be maximised by a
central Scotland-wide approach? There does seem to be something
missing which needs to be provided or certainly something of the
potential will be lost.
(Mr Christie) I think the other main playerJim
Stirling has talked about local enterprise companiesin
economic development terms would be Scottish Enterprise nationally.
It does seem to me that the difficult bit lies ahead, how are
we going to realise the best value out of the investments we made
in the canal? How are we going to do that? It seems to me that
it is important that we now talk about working with partners.
British Waterways was taking the lead in the development along
the canal, it now requires the lead to be very much a partnership
thing. It does seem to me in that context it is important that
there is a strategy for the whole of the Millennium Link, and
that means that Scottish Enterprise nationally have an important
role to play in the strategic development on the full length of
16. I am interested to hear you talking about
partnership with Scottish Enterprise nationally, that is an encouraging
thing to be hearing from you. It seems to me an awful lot of what
you are talking about at the moment really is the work of an economic
development agency, which I would guess takes you fairly well
away from your own remit as a Lottery raised board. Is this a
new departure for you and do you have any observations that you
would want to make on your experiences in this field, on the assumption
that it is? Is this the sort of role that you see developing for
yourself in the future?
(Mr Stirling) We do have experience elsewhere in the
United Kingdom of being involved in regeneration projects, through
obviously canal restoration and canals tidy ups. There are two
ways we can become involved, one is directly where we have our
own land holdings or acquire land holdings. We have a commercial
function, we are charged to operate commercially. We are, indeed,
a public corporation rather than an agency. One of the ways we
operate in that commercial sphere is through our property portfolio
work, therefore we can invest, Edinburgh Quay is a prime example
where we are actually in a 50/50 joint venture with the private
sector. That is the first time in the United Kingdom British Waterways
have gone into a 50/50 partnership in development. We would normally
have been the ground leaseholder and the developer would be somebody
else. We are increasingly moving in the direction of being partners
in the development process rather than simply the landowner who
leases the land to somebody else. The government produced a framework
document for British Waterways in 1999. If I can remember what
it says, "The government looks to British Waterways to carry
out [its] Statutory responsibilities within a wider context whereby,
subject to economic and environmental appraisal, its aim to promote
and accommodate conservation and regeneration. In order to secure
and conserve the waterway's heritage and environment for the future
of British Waterways should work in partnership with local authorities
and other public sector organisations, including the Regional
Development Agencies; the water industry and other private sector
bodies; and the voluntary sector including local groups . . .;
to secure additional investment; and to advance the management
and operation of the waterways." Everything we do in British
Waterways is designed, if it is commercial, to generate income
which is reinvested back into the waterways. We are taking a more
active role. We have been part of the regeneration process for
a long time now. Some of the regeneration schemes in England have
been 10 plus years. We still have that role. We also have the
secondary role where we are actively engaged in promoting the
development of the waterways.
17. You have a commitment, as I understand it,
to maintain the canal for 25 years after the completion, the building
is completed, can you pass comment on the level of employment
that you see that generating and, maybe, speculate or observe
what employment might be generated by partners to maintain things
that are not yours to maintain?
(Mr Stirling) The number of people directly employed
by British Waterways in operating and maintaining the canals is
not high, you are talking in the order of 40, possibly rising
towards 50, because it is a fairly narrow activity that we look
after. The main job creation will be on the land based development.
Our job, if you like, is to make the water come alive, facilitate
the movement of boats, make the water become colourful, facilitate
the use of the tow path. There are literally millions of visits
to the tow paths in a year. We facilitate that colour and that
flow of people which then makes land sites attractive to development.
The reports that were commissioned at the time we were going to
Brussels for the overall ERDF approval predicted somewhere in
the region of 4,000 full time jobs, but that is over a long period
of time once the land development takes place, whether they are
business, commercial, tourism or whatever field. It is a long
18. In terms of maintenance, 40 for 50 is very
modest, what about partners? I am thinking in particular of as
you walk up the canal and you look into the canal, it is your
responsibility to maintain it, but the site of it, where there
may not be development, where there might be areas of gas, it
might be unattractive and there might be some maintenance jobs,
do you see that as being significant, or is that not yours to
(Mr Stirling) That is not something that we have tried
to calculate, to be fair. We would obviously encourage, and I
have no reason to suggest that it will not happen, our partners
to maintain the land beside the canal that might come into their
remit, just as we try to maintain the land that comes into ours.
19. On the question of the tow paths, who has
overall responsibility for assessing the safety of the tow paths,
the link between usage and the perception of whether they are
safe or not, who does all of that?
(Mr Stirling) British Waterways does that. We are
responsible for the tow paths, we have occupiers liability. We
produce codes of practice for our users, whether they are walkers,
cyclists, anglers or people on the water. We carry out risk assessments
on everything that we do. We carry out risk assessments as to
whether the work we are doing requires the tow path to be closed
while we are doing it. We ask people who run events to talk to
us ahead of the events so that we can check that the risk assessments
have been done and sensible thought has been put into the impact
of the event on the tow path and the waterway.
2 Social Inclusion Partnership. Back
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