Our President secures a debate in the House of Lords on the future of our Inland Waterways - March 2018
" My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have joined us today for this debate. I declare my interests as a member of the Inland Waterways Association and honorary president of the Monmouth, Breconshire and Abergavenny Canals Trust.
There are currently 4,700 miles of navigable waterways across England, Scotland and Wales—plus, of course, the waterways in Northern Ireland—and a further 1,800 miles of unusable waterways, 700 miles of which are proposed for restoration. The ownership and control of these thousands of miles of waterways rests with more than 100 navigation authorities. The largest manager is the Canal and River Trust, which looks after 2,000 miles, followed by the Environment Agency, which manages 650 miles.
Our inland waterway network is a unique and precious national asset, which has the potential to transform places, enrich lives, improve mental and physical health, support communities and promote economic development. More than half of the population live within 10 minutes of a waterway. Because of their historical role as the motorways of the past, waterways pass through not only wondrous countryside but also the heart of our conurbations. Take a few steps from Paddington station or the Birmingham International Convention Centre and you are immediately on the canal and towpaths of a country-wide waterway network. Unlike the grand places that are among the primary assets of the National Trust, which are often tucked away in some glorious piece of countryside, our waterways pass through some of the most deprived communities in our land. My purpose in this short debate is to shine a light on the value of our waterways, to examine the economic potential that they can unlock and to put to the Government a range of issues where government action can make a difference to realising the waterways' full potential.
I start by concentrating on the economic potential that waterways provide. Analysis and research of this impact are somewhat sketchy, but they suggest that the value of land and property alongside a navigable canal is some 10% greater than comparable land alongside a disused canal; so values rise where working waterways exist. This rise in value is a vital tool for local authorities up and down the country where there are disused canals. The potential for planning gain should be of great interest to local authorities seeking to promote economic development. Planners have long used development potential to fund public goods such as roads, schools and other forms of community infrastructure, so applying some of this development gain to the restoration of the canal would be a wholly appropriate use for the public good.
The question I pose to the Government is: where is the economic planning policy that would drive this enhancement to our communities, and what steps are the Government taking to encourage local authorities to think carefully about the link between economic development and canal restoration? Another consequence of restoring canals is increased tourism spend. I know that my noble friend Lord Lee will expand on this later. My challenge here is to ask the Government what they are doing to encourage this economic potential.
Like other noble Lords, I should like to have a better understanding of the recent decision by Ministers to put on ice the transfer of the Environment Agency's navigable waterways to the Canal and River Trust. Perhaps the Minister can tell us where these discussions are at the moment. Has the Minister met with the CRT to explore its offer to take over the operation of these waterways? Can the Minister tell us whether the department is looking for an improved offer from the CRT? If that is the case, can the Minister tell us what more the CRT can do to improve the merits of its offer?
There is some speculation that this is related to the large structures on the waterways that are controlled by the Environment Agency. Of course structures of that size also bear a risk of failure or decay. The Government presently stand behind the Environment Agency as the guarantor for dealing with any damage or consequence of an event to those assets. If an asset of that sort were to be passed to the CRT, there would obviously be a need to either crystallise the risk into a form of payment or to back it with some form of guarantee. Can the Minister let us know whether this issue is one that needs to be resolved and, if so, what is the timescale?
The Canal and River Trust can leverage funding in a way that the Environment Agency cannot. As Environment Agency budgets are squeezed, so its ability to maintain structures and the assets that it manages for government becomes equally restricted. Its ability to restore and repair is reduced. These were precisely the reasons why the CRT was established, and why there was always an expectation that the Environment Agency waterways would eventually be included in the transfer to the Canal and River Trust. The CRT has guaranteed government funds through to 2027, which enables it to borrow and lever additional funds and invest in the longer-term future of our waterways. It produces a return which far exceeds that which the old British Waterways could provide. The sad state of canal closures in Scotland demonstrates the value of the trust structure that we now have in England and Wales.
If our waterways are to maximise their full potential, the Government must engage and appreciate their worth. There is some feeling—I have experienced it—that the Government, having passed on much of the work to the Canal and River Trust, have stood back from promoting the worth of our waterways which, after all, is not necessarily an economic issue for government but it is something that government can promote. It would be reassuring if the Minster could tell us the number of visits that he and other Ministers have made in their official capacities to see our waterways in action. It is not just Defra Ministers who need to engage. Waterways provide access to millions of people; they touch many of our most deprived communities; they can address health inequalities; and they reduce physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes and poor mental health. Through adoption by local people, they can help to build strong, resilient communities—more than 200 community groups have now adopted a stretch of waterway and that number is rising by 20% each year. Beyond that, waterways support learning and skills, covering such diverse areas as natural science, engineering, heritage, arts, technology and mathematics. They help to restore natural habitats and protect endangered wildlife species—and so the list goes on.
Waterways play a role that spans so much of the life of our country, be it in education, health, leisure, sport, local government, tourism or the environment. In reality, this spans many government portfolios. What role is the Minister's department playing in co-ordinating the government overview of the impact of our waterways on life in our country? It is so important for joined-up action in the promotion of the role that waterways can play. Our waterways are our asset on the doorstep. They need to be nurtured, treasured and—most importantly—used to the full, and the Government have a major role to play in providing that support..."
The full debate can be seen here
Inland Waterways Association Five Point Partnership
The Inland Waterways Association are asking our future MPs to demonstrate that they will support the waterways if elected to the House of Commons by supporting our Five Point Partnership which includes the following:
- Protect our Heritage
- Build a Local Relationship with Constituency Waterways Groups
- Work with IWA in Parliament - Join the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways
- Support the Transfer of Navigations Currently Managed by Environment Agency to Canal & River Trust.
- Support Affordable New Off Line Moorings
For further information :-https://www.waterways.org.uk/news_campaigns/iwa_manifesto/iwa_manifesto
Rev. John Collier Appointed Chaplain
A chance conversation at Fourteen Locks Canal Centre led to Revd John Collier being appointed as the first-ever Chaplain to the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canals Trust.
John is curate-in-charge of the Parish of Mamhilad and will be installed as Chaplain by the Bishop of Monmouth, Rt Revd Richard Pain, at a service of thanksgiving for the work of the Trust in Mamhilad church at 12 noon on 22nd February.
The canal is an important part of the Parish at Mamhilad. Boating and canoing on the canal has become an important activity, and families, walkers and cyclists use the towpath. The hedgerows and reed beds are a haven for animals, and fish amphibians and insects live in and around the water.
The Trust aims to preserve the canal as a part of the history of the area, and make it available as a resource to promote a healthy lifestyle for locals and act as a tourist attraction. Members of the Canals Trust give their time and skills to improve the canal and towpaths for the benefit of others.
John hopes that the appointment of a Chaplain will forge stronger links between the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canals Trust and the Church. There has been a discussion about an annual service of thanksgiving, and the Trust will make a presentation to a volunteer who has given a longstanding commitment to their work.
John says, "The canal has been such an important part of communities along its route, and I am keen that the Trust will be enabled to bring back this importance. I see the cooperation between the Trust and the Church to this end to be important, and I am very pleased to accept the role of Chaplain to strengthen the bond between us, and to show that our Church is an active part of the community in which we live and worship."
Bishop Richard says, "I am thrilled that John is taking on this role. As an active parish priest he has already built up community links in the area and his chaplaincy will remind us of the importance of tourism in Monmouthshire and the fruitful partnership of the church. People need to relax and the tranquil waterways of our canals provides an opportunity to reflect and find space. The church offers a similar sanctuary in life and I hope that locals and visitors alike will also discover the peace of our ancient and beautiful churches."
Heritage Lottery Funding Secured to Restore the Ty Coch Flight
A project to restore a derelict section of our canal in Cwmbran is now underway thanks to the support of a £854,500 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant awarded to Torfaen County Borough Council in partnership with our Trust.
The money is being used to develop a comprehensive programme of training to equip new and existing volunteers, including the long term unemployed, with the heritage construction skills and canal management techniques needed to carry out the restoration work. An estimated 270 volunteers will take part in the project, clocking up 6510 volunteer days with 150 taking part in training and a further 50 receiving accredited training. The aim is to see boating, fishing and canoeing taking place along this stretch of waterway once again for the benefit of visitors and locals.
Dr Manon Williams, Chair of HLF in Wales, said: "Wales' canals are an important heritage asset for the country and a haven for wildlife. This is a fantastic project with local people at the heart of it. By training volunteers in restoration and repair skills we can make sure the canal is maintained and valued well into the future. It's great to see so many volunteers wanting to get involved and open up this historic section of the canal once again as a place for Torfaen residents and visitors to enjoy, which will in turn bring benefits to the local economy."
Richard Dommett MBE, theTrust's Regeneration Manager , who has been working directly with community volunteers on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal for the past nine years, said: “The volunteers recognise the potential which the canal restoration brings to local communities, contributing positively to both the economic, social regeneration and the conservation of the communities’ local heritage.
"The strong partnership which has built up over many years between the local authorities and the Trust has highlighted the desire of the local volunteers to see the canal conserved and enhanced as a complete waterway from Brecon to Newport and Cwmcarn including future access beyond to the Bristol Channel."
The funding will also improve the interpretation of the canal including a community website, walking leaflets and newsletters. Local schools will be given the opportunity to get involved using education packs including a multi media CD and learning aids linked to the national curriculum. A senior project officer and a volunteer supervisor will be employed to manage the programme of activity.
Councillor Bob Wellington, leader of Torfaen County Borough Council, said: "The Canal is an important part of the heritage of South East Wales. In 2012 the canal is celebrating its bi-centenary and the Waterworks project will provide a lasting legacy and resource for local communities in Cwmbran and visitors to the area."
The project will follow in the footsteps of the successful Fourteen Locks project which HLF supported with a £700,000 investment. The project was completed in 2010 and now welcomes 53 thousand visitors per year to the Canal Centre at Newport and many more to what is considered to be Britain's most picturesque canal.
The Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canals Trust would like to thank Members and Officers of Torfaen County Borough Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting this important project.