Navigation Committee’s first meeting of 2024 took place on 31st January. Much of our discussion reflected the consequences of inadequate funding on the condition of waterways. More positively, the Committee received updates on the ongoing Bridgwater Docks and HS2 campaigns, and from the Inland Waterways Freight Group and the Sustainable Boating Group.
Waterway Funding and Condition
Navigation Committee has recently made two interventions in specific funding-related situations. We sent a letter to Neath Port Talbot Council expressing concern about the proposed cessation of funding for the Neath Canal and the effect it would have on public access to the towpath. We also submitted a representation to the Secretary of State for Transport regarding the toll increases imposed on boaters on Broads Authority navigations, urging the government to recognise the necessity of financial support for navigation to ensure the Broads’ essential character can be preserved.
The major topic discussed in the most recent regular meeting with the Canal & River Trust on 11th December 2023 was the serious impact that unplanned and lengthy stoppages are having on boaters. Three case studies from individual boaters were provided to Canal & River Trust in advance of the meeting and clearly made an impact, being shared at senior level within CRT. A response outlining CRT’s plans to improve the situation is expected.
Some Environment Agency waterways, particularly the non-tidal Thames, are suffering from reduced maintenance coupled with flooding. The National Navigation Team recently responded to the request for waterway condition data that we made over a year ago. It transpires that there is only one Key Performance Indicator, which is that 80% of essential assets are at or above target condition. While there is a duty to provide navigation and the aim is to exceed the KPI, it is the current target and is all that is reported on. The data showed an increasing trend from 80% in 2016/17 to 86% in 2022/23. Unfortunately this trend is not borne out by reported user experiences on some waterways, showing the inadequacy of a single high-level KPI covering all waterways. The EA also provided an estimate of the number of unplanned navigation days lost over the last three years, but this does not show any consistent trend.
Navigation Committee has been developing a method of gathering data about the condition of waterways, and there will be further news in the near future.
IWA West Country Branch reported on the real start of the Bridgwater Docks regeneration project, enabled by substantial grants from the Towns Fund and the Active Travel Fund. The new unitary authority Somerset Council will manage the project and transfer ownership of the Docks to Bridgwater Town Council when work is complete.
Since the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2 was announced, there had been little further information, until a meeting of the House of Commons Transport Committee on 10th January heard evidence from the HS2 Executive Chair. IWA’s HS2 lead Phil Sharpe reported on possible implications for the Trent & Mersey and Staffordshire & Worcestershire canals which mean that uncertainty may yet continue for some time.
Inland Waterways Freight Group
To underpin its work the Freight Group has been updating IWA’s Freight Policy. It has agreed on three work streams and targets for this year. In summary, the first is to develop a policy brief for civil servants and ministers based on quantitative information about the freight sector. The second is to influence government to commit to setting a target for the increase in the tonnage moved by water in a set time frame. The third, working with the Sustainable Boating Group, is to put together a case for HVO to be considered the only current low carbon option for freight vessels on UK categorised waters, and then to press for a mechanism for it to be made affordable.
Sustainable Boating Group
The HVO Joint Working Group representing IWA, RYA and the Cruising Association made a presentation to the APPG for the Waterways on 28th November. On the same day meetings were held with the Department for Transport and with Zemo, a major consultant to DfT on the subject of sustainable fuels. Following the DfT meeting, DfT changed their guidance on HVO on boats such that fuel supplied to an inland waterways craft can now be used for any purpose, domestic or propulsion. This has greatly simplified the marketing of HVO and slightly reduced the price, but HVO is still unacceptably more expensive than mineral diesel and more work with government is required.
The Sustainable Boating Group is setting up a working group to develop a national standard for installation of electric hook-ups. Involvement is to be sought from DfT, the EA, Association of Inland Navigation Authorities and others.
Three members of the Sustainable Boating Group, Bowman Bradley, Jonathan Mosse and Adam Wyllie, now sit on various Boat Safety Scheme committees.
The new IWA/Towpath Talk Sustainable Boating Award was launched in the Spring 2024 issue of Waterways and will be featured in the March edition of Towpath Talk.
Paul Strudwick (London Region Chair) and Sue O’Hare (Navigation Committee Chair) joined the Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs, the Barge Association, Rammey Marsh Cruising Club and the RYA in signing a letter sent by St Pancras Cruising Club to CRT explaining concerns about the safety risks introduced by the revised opening hours for Limehouse Lock between the Regent’s Canal and the tidal Thames. Paul Strudwick is leading for IWA in ongoing discussions.
Owing to increasing work commitments Alison Smedley has stepped down as both a member of Navigation Committee and the IWA representative on Scottish Waterways for All. The Committee recognises Alison’s enormous contributions over many years and has recorded its thanks.
Navigation Committee’s last meeting of 2023 took place on 29th November. Our discussions reflected the Fund Britain’s Waterways campaign and ongoing debates about funding for navigation authorities.
IWA’s first meeting with the inland waterways team at Defra for some years took place on 27th November, at their request. We had a positive discussion about the benefits of waterways and highlighted recent research by British Marine which estimates the market generated by boaters to have delivered £3.1bn in GVA to the UK economy in 2022/23, helping to sustain thousands of businesses across the UK – the majority of which are small, family-run businesses that are vital links in the rural economy. Defra is doing a piece of work on rural growth, linking with DCMS on the development of a sustainable tourism plan, and welcomed British Marine’s findings as directly relevant. On the question of funding, the Defra team followed the government line closely and suggested that CRT and other navigation authorities should look for alternative funding from other departments such as DCMS and the Department for Transport.
Navigation Committee has recently become aware of funding-related issues on the Broads. The Broads Hire Boat Federation has lodged a formal objection to the 13% increase in boat tolls that the Broads Authority introduced for 2023/24. At the same time five local MPs have written to the Broads Authority expressing their concerns about the further 8.5% increase planned for 2024/25. Clearly navigation is of vital importance to the Broads and there is a need for sufficient funding to maintain safe and appealing waterways, and Navigation Committee plans to make representations along these lines. We were pleased to have a very helpful discussion with the new Chair of the Broads Society (an IWA corporate member) to understand more of the background.
Navigation Committee has been discussing for some time how best to monitor the condition of waterways, partly in response to concerns from members and partly in view of the likelihood that funding for maintenance will decrease. We are also keen to understand why the number of boats cruising appears to be reducing and whether the two are related. Look out for developments on this subject in the near future.
A highlight of the last few weeks has been the progress of the IWA Sustainable Boating Group in its work on making HVO available to leisure boaters at an acceptable cost. The Chair Bowman Bradley presented at the recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways on 28th November, together with Crown Oils. The same day representatives of IWA, RYA, the Cruising Association and Crown Oils attended a meeting with the Department for Transport. Both meetings were very positive in moving the agenda forward.
Lastly, a vacancy has arisen for a North East Region representative on Navigation Committee and I would welcome hearing from anyone interested in joining us.
Navigation Committee’s meeting on 12th July came two days after Defra’s long-delayed announcement of substantial cuts in grant funding to the Canal & River Trust (CRT) from 2027, which was inevitably the central focus of the meeting. Even before the future cuts, CRT is in a difficult financial position and there was much discussion of the visible impacts of the current situation (closures particularly on the Northern canals, reduced vegetation management, removal of litter bins). The need for the ‘Fund Britain’s Waterways’ action group has been amply demonstrated and Navigation Committee is keen to provide its support through helping to spread the message about the benefits of waterways and the threats they face.
Navigation Committee’s two subgroups on freight and sustainable boating play an important role. We were delighted to welcome John Spencer of GPS Marine to the meeting as the new Chair of the Inland Waterways Freight Group. The reconstituted group met recently to identify the key issues that prevent water freight playing a more important part in the UK’s transport mix and to agree its agenda. The focus will be on areas of immediate concern where IWA can lend support, and on the production of a report on how water freight can provide economic, environmental, and societal benefits. Anyone with relevant knowledge who is interested in joining the group would be welcome.
The Sustainable Boating Group has produced publications on electric narrow boating and environmentally conscious boater behaviour which will shortly be available, in addition to position papers on standards for electrical hook-ups and the environmental impact of dredging which are in discussion with CRT. The group will be reviewing IWA’s Briefing Note on Environmental Guidance for Boaters, particularly in the light of recent legislation which gives local authorities the discretion to extend the scope of their smoke control orders to include moored vessels. A working group to encourage the take-up of HVO has been set up with the Royal Yachting Association and the Cruising Association and a letter has been sent to the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero.
The use of waterways for transfer of drinking water to areas of most need was considered, following a recent workshop about the proposed Grand Union Canal scheme. This use is well established on the Llangollen and Gloucester & Sharpness Canals, but a new scheme would introduce a flow and require a water level rise, with impacts on the banks and on air draft at bridges and tunnels as well as possible surges, all of which are currently being modelled.
IWA’s HS2 lead Phil Sharpe continues to review HS2 developments and most recently has submitted written evidence to the Select Committee on subsidence risks, including the proposal of an alternative route to avoid the unstable Cheshire brine fields around the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Jonathan Mosse was approved by Navigation Committee and subsequently by Trustees as IWA’s new representative on the Boat Safety Scheme Advisory Committee. Adam Wyllie is representing IWA in a working group trying to mitigate the safety and inconvenience issues being caused by the discontinuation of small sizes of Calor gas bottles.
Lastly, an updated version of IWA’s Policy on Residential Boating has been approved by Trustees and is available on the Library page of the website.
Sue O’Hare IWA Deputy National Chair and Chair of Navigation Committee 16 July 2023
Navigation Committee’s recent meeting on 24th May reflected the concern in IWA as a whole about the funding situation for our inland waterways. It is very clear that there is an urgent need for the ‘Protect Our Waterways’ campaign. We must spread the message about the benefits of waterways and the threats they face from inadequate funding as far and as fast as possible.
Major points on the agenda included the recent liaison meeting with CRT’s National Boating Manager and the second meeting of the Environment Agency National Waterways Forum (NWF), both of which had funding as a thread running through them.
Navigation Committee’s liaison with the CRT National Boating Manager is part of IWA’s strong links into CRT at senior level. We have a representative on CRT Council (now Jonathan Smith) and Hannah Sterritt (Trustee and South West & South Wales Region Chair) has recently been appointed to CRT’s Navigation Advisory Group. The IWA National Chair and Chief Executive meet regularly with their CRT counterparts, and an IWA representative attends the CRT National User Forum meetings.
In recent meetings CRT has discussed the recent cost saving and income generation measures which boaters are likely to be feeling. The purpose of these measures is to address the current financial situation, and an unfavourable outcome to the grant review would have an even bigger impact. With the National Boating Manager we also discussed possible extension of the Gold Licence to the Middle Level Navigations, frustration about the lack of government support for the energy costs of continuous cruisers, the sale of Northwich Yard and leasing of Braunston Stop House, ongoing siltation in Gloucester Docks, and the headlines of the Boater Census.
The Environment Agency NWF heard about progress against the Navigation business plan, which is less than had been hoped because current funding is less than half of what was requested in the last Spending Review. A request was made for data on benefits of waterways to help EA build a business case for improved funding in the next Spending Review. IWA has put forward the ‘Waterways for Today’ report as well as other helpful reports, all available in the library section of the website.
Navigation Committee is continuing to consider ways in which we can record and communicate the declining condition of waterways and therefore the need for long term sustained funding. More positively, the Inland Waterways Freight Group will shortly announce a new Chair and increased level of activity. The Sustainable Boating Group is working on standards for electrical hook-ups, the environmental impact of dredging, the pricing of HVO, domestic energy strategy and reducing the need to run engines at moorings. IWA in Scotland is actively campaigning for ways to accommodate more boats on the Lowland Canals. Chris Howes has produced a guide to the tidal crossing at Denver between the Middle Level Navigations and the River Great Ouse, which will shortly be available on the website. A revised version of the Residential Boating Policy will be submitted to Trustees for approval. The Silver Propeller Challenge location at the end of the connected section of the Montgomery Canal has been moved to the end of the newly reopened section at Crickheath.
Lastly, we must congratulate Bowman Bradley on his appointment as Chair of the Boat Safety Scheme Technical Committee. Bowman was previously IWA’s representative on the BSS Advisory Committee and a replacement is needed. Please do get in touch if you are interested.
Sue O’Hare IWA Deputy National Chair and Chair of Navigation Committee
Navigation Committee’s first meeting of 2023 on 1 February had another busy agenda and this was followed on 28th March by our first live meeting for a long time, at the Roundhouse Birmingham. Major points included the recent liaison meeting with CRT’s National Boating Manager and the first meeting of the IWA representatives on the various Environment Agency (EA) stakeholder groups. We also reported on a useful meeting with the new Chair of AINA (the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities) and look forward to closer working with AINA in areas including sustainable boating and residential boating.
Topics discussed with CRT included waterway condition data, dredging, volunteering opportunities in reservoir maintenance, plans for water transfer projects, provision of electric hook-ups, and the sale of Northwich Yard. We put forward a proposal to extend the current Gold Licence covering CRT and EA waterways to include the Middle Level Navigations. On the River Trent we expressed concern about a proposed move to online-only booking for locks. We also supported the Trentlink group’s request for the reopening of the Stainforth & Keadby Canal, which provides the “safe” route between the tidal Trent and the North-East waterways avoiding the Humber Estuary. The canal had been closed since November 2022 following a bridge strike, but shortly after our meeting it was re-opened to boats pending permanent repair.
CRT reported the results of the first phase of its consultation on customer service facilities. Its proposal was based on IWA’s Policy on the Provision of Boaters’ Facilities and responses showed broad agreement. CRT also explained that a consultation on a 10-year pricing framework for licence fees was to take place in response to the financial pressures it faces. At the late March meeting the Committee finalised its response to this consultation by confirming its policy that boats with a licence issued on a continuous cruising basis should not be charged more for this and noting our concerns that further increases could drive boaters off the waterways. Our response will also emphasise the major financial contribution from boating and the importance of the government grant in enabling the wider public benefits of the waterways.
On EA waters the situation in each of the local areas is very different, but there are common themes including the lack of sustainable and predictable funding, the minor role of navigation within EA, the complexity of the EA organisation and resulting difficult communications, lack of reliable and publicly available data on assets and their condition, and pollution and its impact on navigation as well as environmentally.
The most concerning outcome from our CRT discussions was data supporting IWA’s contention that the condition of its waterways has been declining in recent years, this is especially ominous in view of the continuing uncertainty over the future government grant. IWA’s major campaign Protect Our Waterways is focused on proper funding for all waterways and Navigation Committee will be fully supporting it. Initial discussion took place at the March meeting on how we can record and communicate the declining condition of waterways and therefore the need for long term sustained funding.
While CRT may be in the spotlight at present, the problems of inadequate waterway funding are much wider. The latest EA Navigation update states that the financial settlement for 2022-2023 onwards was less than half the funding requested, for both revenue and capital. Scottish Canals needs £75 million to catch up with current outstanding maintenance.
Two major consultations are running in the area of water resources, one on draft best value regional plans for five (largely English) regions and one on management plans for individual water companies. Amy Tillson has been working on IWA’s national response to these consultation to complement responses from Regions. We are also registering IWA’s interest in the River Thames Scheme, a major new scheme in Surrey with the aims of improving flood protection and the environment, but also with possible implications for navigation.
Two particular areas of Navigations Committee’s remit were progressed at the late March meeting. Firstly, waterways freight which has always been fundamental to IWA thinking, under a proposed new chairmanship of this group it was confirmed that our support would continue for ongoing freight initiatives which often struggle to get established and maintain viability. We also agreed to initiate a new Environment Group to progress this important area in relation to navigation, as an example the Sustainable Boating Group’s current work in showing that better dredging will reduce the power consumption required by cruising boats will benefit from a consideration of the linked environmental criteria.
Ongoing Navigation Committee activities include the oversight of relevant campaigns (community moorings, freight, HS2, sustainable boating) and the review and updating of policies. We have agreed updates to the IWA Policy on the Provision of Boaters’ Facilities for approval by Trustees, and the Vegetation Management and Residential Boating Policies are in progress. Navigation Committee confirmed its longstanding support for continuous cruising and for residential boating in general.
Sue O’Hare IWA Deputy Chair and Chair of Navigation Committee
Following the sad loss of Steve Warwicker in June 2022, I was honoured to be asked to take over as interim Chair of Navigation Committee. It is proving to be a busy, enjoyable and fulfilling role, with a great deal of work going on, and I thought it was time for an update.
Firstly we have refreshed the membership of the committee to make sure there is representation from each Region and from Scotland. We have welcomed new regional representatives Iain Duncan (North East), Jonathan Mosse (Scotland), Andrew Strawson (South West & South Wales) and David Struckett (West Midlands), with a continuing vacancy for Eastern Region. Amy Tillson (IWA Campaigns Officer) and Paul Greenhalgh (volunteer) are now members and Jessal Murarji (IWA Honorary Consulting Engineer) has joined as a corresponding member.
Trustees have confirmed the remit of Navigation Committee and the committee has spent some time considering the areas to be prioritised. In line with the concerns expressed by many IWA members, we will be focusing in two main areas: waterway funding and waterway condition. The Canal & River Trust is very much in the spotlight at present pending the outcome of its Grant Review, but the Environment Agency and other navigation authorities face similar financial challenges. IWA provides the secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways and helped arrange the meeting on CRT funding on 2 November 2022. This led to the Westminster Hall debate on the future of the waterways on 22 November 2022, which I was pleased to attend on behalf of IWA. The APPGW will next be turning its attention to Environment Agency waterways.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the condition of waterways is declining, in terms of asset maintenance, vegetation management, dredging and water resources. In order to support a campaign we are seeking to collect an evidence base, including data made available by navigation authorities and data collected independently by IWA.
In terms of relationships with navigation authorities, we have broadened our agenda to include the Broads Authority, the Middle Level Navigations and Scottish Canals. We have reinstated regular liaison meetings with the CRT National Boating Manager and the Environment Agency National Navigation Team. I am representing IWA on the new Environment Agency National Waterways Forum, with Verna Smith as my deputy. IWA continues to have representatives on the Stakeholder Engagement Groups for the Anglian Waterways (Chris Howes), the River Medway (Mike Marsh), the River Thames (Verna Smith) and the River Wye (Jonathan Mosse); this group of IWA representatives will be meeting shortly to share information and agree a common approach. IWA was recently consulted by the Broads Authority about appointments to its Navigation Committee. A meeting is to be scheduled with the new Chair of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities.
One of Navigation Committee’s responsibilities is to provide support for Branches and Regions with local matters where specialist advice or a national perspective is needed. A good example was a recent approach by Lydney Yacht Club for support with the regeneration of Lydney Harbour. A second was support to the North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch in its successful objection to a proposal by CRT to add “restrictors” to the balance beams of the listed Hazelhurst Lock on the Caldon Canal. Other current matters include Bridgwater Docks, the River Great Ouse at St Ives, the North Walsham & Dilham Canal, the Tennant Canal, and the tidal Trent.
Another Navigation Committee responsibility is to respond on behalf of IWA to relevant consultations. We are currently considering the consultations on the five draft best value regional plans for water resource management in England and parts of Wales, as well as the proposals for the Lowestoft Flood Risk Management Project Tidal Barrier.
Ongoing activities include the oversight of relevant campaigns (community moorings, freight, HS2, sustainable boating) and the review and updating of policies. We are considering possible additions to the list of Silver Propeller Challenge locations for 2023. The most recently updated policy is the Policy on Moorings on Navigable Waterways, which is available with the other IWA external policies on the Library page of the IWA website.
Navigation Committee has a vital role and a broad scope and only IWA can do all this. If you would like to get involved please do get in touch. You would be most welcome.
Sue O’Hare IWA Deputy Chair and Chair of Navigation Committee 7 December 2022
LOVE YOUR WATERWAYS
Britain's waterways are vital; together we can campaign for them now and for the future.
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