Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Session 2006-07

31 July 2007


British Waterways: Report published

Fundamental differences between the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and British Waterways have got to be resolved if the care and development of the UK's vital canals and rivers system is to be assured in the future.

This is the conclusion of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee report into British Waterways published today. The Committee is concerned by the recent tense relationship between Defra and BW. The former Inland Waterways minister strongly criticised BW in public on a number of occasions.

The Committee wants to see communications between the two bodies improved and would like the National Audit Office's view on the conflicting accounts given by Defra and BW about BW's finances between 2002 and 2012.

Against this background, there is also concern that the planning assumptions made as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review could mean that BW ends up with a funding settlement in which its grant is cut by five per cent in real terms over the next three years. This could result in the loss of ‚£35 million for major works over that period and could threaten BW's ability to maintain the waterways network to an acceptable standard.

MPs are keen to see BW find the right balance between developing its own income and what it receives in Government support. The Committee believes there is a strong case for providing BW with income gained from planning obligations under Section 106 of the Town and Planning Country Act, or planning gain supplement if introduced. This would provide BW with means of maximising its income from property activities.

However Government future funding should take into account that BW has a large number of people who use the canals as a facility but who pay nothing towards it. That results in wear and tear on the canal infrastructure for which there is no income.

The Committee was heartened that Sainsbury's had conducted trials to use the river Thames to carry freight to some of its stores and by plans to carry up to 7,000 tonnes of construction materials to the Olympics sites by water. It would like to see Government incentives such as a carbon credit scheme or carbon tax introduced to encourage more businesses to move off the roads and onto the waterways.

Commenting on the report, chairman of the EFRA British Waterways Sub-committee David Drew MP said:

ₓThis is a detailed report which starts with the fact that we have seen a recent renaissance in our waterways but this is now clearly under threat because of immediate funding issues and also a lack of clarity in the strategy that BW are pursuing not helped by the apparent break down in relationships with Government. Putting this right is an absolute necessity.â‚?

- ENDS -

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. For media inquiries, or to arrange bids for interviews with the Chairman of the former British Waterways Sub-committee, David Drew MP, and other Members of the EFRA Committee, please call Laura Kibby on 07917 488 557.

2. For information about the Committee's inquiry, please call Chris Stanton on 020 7219 3263. The full report, and the written and oral evidence taken in the inquiry ,will be available on the Committee's website soon after 00.01 am on 31 July 2007. Website: www.parliament.uk/efracom

3. To view the uncorrected transcripts of evidence taken in this inquiry please see the Committee's â‚ËœBritish Waterways' inquiry page at: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/environment__food_and_rural_affairs/efra_british_waterways.cfm