Letter from the Minister for Marine, Landscape
and Rural Affairs to the Chairman of the Committee, 17 July 2008
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
Report'British Waterways: Follow-up'
I am grateful for the EFRA Committee Report 'British
We will be providing the Committee with a formal
Government response to the Report but in the meantime I welcome
the acknowledgement of progress, notably in the work we have done
with British Waterways to improve relationships, the benefit of
having set out policy guidance to BW through the Strategic Steer
and the allocation to BW following the CSR settlement which was
seen as acceptable in the present financial climate.
This letter addresses the request in the Report for
a note before the summer recess on the work and achievements of
the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Inland Waterways (IDG)
which the department set up last year.
The membership of the IDG comprises senior representatives
from the Department for Communities and Local Government, Department
for Transport, Department for Children, Schools and Families,
Department of Health, Department for Culture, Media and Sport,
Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Wales
Assembly Government, British Waterways, the Environment Agency,
the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities and the Inland
Waterways Advisory Council. (The Local Government Association
has also been invited to be a member.)
As the Committee Report notes, the IDG met for the
first time on 7 December 2007. It was a productive meeting under
the Chairmanship of Robin Mortimer, a Director in this Department.
The IDG agreed its Terms of Reference; namely
To provide a focal point for
- More effective cross government
co-ordination on inland waterways matters.
- A fuller understanding and recognition of the
contribution that the inland waterways can make to government
policies for climate change, environmental improvement, public
health, recreation, regeneration, heritage, planning, transport
and community cohesion.
- Discussion on proposed research into the social
and economic value of the waterways and undertake a refresh of
government policy for the waterways.
- Discussion on key strategic issues.
Agreement was reached that the IDG should meet 3-4
times a year.
The initial meeting provided an opportunity for Departments
and navigation authorities to discuss the potential contribution
of inland waterways to achieving cross Government objectives within
PSA targets. There was discussion about the scope of a proposed
research project into the social and economic benefits of inland
waterways. The IDG meeting prompted the setting up of a Programme
Board and Project Team to manage the project which has new Defra
funding for 2008/09 and 2009/10. Finally, the IDG discussed how
the review of Waterways for Tomorrow, recommended by the EFRA
Committee, should be taken forward. Some IDG members subsequently
helped to develop draft Terms of Reference for the review for
agreement at the Working Group's next meeting.
The IDG met for a second time on 18 June 2008 under
my Chairmanship (and given the importance the Government attaches
to it, I intend to Chair further meetings). This was again a productive
meeting. There was detailed discussion about the planning system
and inland waterways and this provided an opportunity for British
Waterways to discuss with DCLG elements of proposed changes including
a new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and revisions to a number
of Planning Policy Statements. CLG reported that they were examining
responses to their consultation on new Planning Policy Statement
4 on economic development, and that they would aim to take into
account British Waterways' views in preparing a final document.
In relation to the CIL, CLG advised that the Planning Bill contained
provision to allow CIL proceeds to be spent on recreational and
transport facilities to support the development of a local area.
While it would be for local authorities to decide how to spend
CIL funds, this did hold out the possibility that waterways would
be a beneficiary.
The IDG agreed that it would be useful for the navigation
bodies to engage more effectively with Chief Executives and other
senior staff in the RDAs on the contribution inland waterways
can and do make to regional economic policies. My officials will
consider how central Government can best help secure effective
engagement with RDAs and this will be on the agenda of the next
meeting, possibly with RDA and/or Government Office presence.
The IDG then considered a report from DfT about the
freight potential of inland waterways. DfT Ministers had decided
that given the role of the IDG it was appropriate to allow it
the chance to discuss the report and to make comments prior to
its publication. The report mapped waterways with the greatest
potential for freight use, either in their current condition or
with minor infrastructure improvements. DfT explained that inland
waterways with the greatest potential were generally those related
to the larger estuaries. There were other inland waterways with
local more specialised potential and these were generally those
with longer lock free sections. While the IDG welcomed the report,
the meeting provided the opportunity for DfT to address concerns
from navigation authorities that they might be placed under undue
pressure by private sector operators to make infrastructure improvements
and provide additional expenditure to maintain waterways for freight
use where this could not be justified. DfT explained that developing
opportunities for freight was a matter for the commercial market,
though facilities grants were available to support the development
of freight infrastructure on inland waterways where a promoter
can prove there is a financial need and a quantifiable environmental
benefit. The DfT report has now been published.
There was a very useful discussion about proposed
Terms of Reference for the review of Waterways for Tomorrow. The
IDG agreed that the outcome of the review had to be realistic
in acknowledging what was possible within the constraints of current
policy priorities and funding availability centrally and locally.
As a result of comments from the IDG I agreed that an updated
document should be produced if possible rather than just a supplement
to WfT as originally envisaged. This will mean a more thorough
review but I remain hopeful that it can be concluded early in
the new year. Members of the IDG will continue to be closely involved
as work on the review goes forward and the IDG will consider the
outcome in due course.
Finally, the IDG considered the detailed project
specification for the research project on the social and economic
benefits of inland waterways. A number of useful comments were
made which will be used to refine the specification before it
is put out to tender shortly.
We are planning for the next meeting to take place
in early/mid November. Agenda items are likely to include engagement
with RDAs, given the benefits of the waterways are felt most regionally
and locally; the waterways aspects of heritage; and the opportunities
inland waterways can offer in helping to achieve sustainable recreation
and improved public health.
In conclusion, I believe that the IDG will make a
strong contribution to cross Government understanding of the benefits
inland waterways can bring in helping achieve public service agreement
objectives. Ensuring the IDG delivers tangible gain for the waterways
will of course be challenging given Departments' need to focus
resources on their specific policy objectives. But I have been
impressed with the constructive approach they have demonstrated
so far and the commitment to delivering a refreshed and realistic
Waterways for Tomorrow that will again raise the profile of the
waterways and demonstrate the cross Government value of continuing
to ensure they thrive.
Jonathan Shaw MP, Minister for Marine, Landscape
and Rural Affairs
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
17 July 2008