PRESS RELEASE: Dodging the issue? Parliamentary answers fail to reassure IWA on EA waterway closures

Issue date: 13th March 2017

Ministerial answers in Parliament have failed to convince campaigners that the Environment Agency will keep open all its Anglian waterways, even where it has a duty in law to do so.

The Inland Waterways Association, the charity working to protect and restore all of Britain's 6,500 miles of canals and rivers, has asked Waterways Minister Thérèse Coffey for reassurance that proper funding will be available to prevent further waterways being closed and to reopen those already closed.

In response to questions asked in the House of Commons by David Mackintosh MP in February, Dr Coffey – the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra – said: “If there is a safety risk to members of the public then repairs will be undertaken to remove the risk or the asset will be closed.”

IWA points out that this ignores EA’s statutory obligation under Section 8 of the Anglian Waterways Authority Act 1977 to maintain the main navigable channels and navigation works for recreational navigation.

Dr Coffey went on to say: “The Environment Agency will consider the restoration and re-opening of closed navigable waterways depending on the amount of future funding available and the importance, such as the level of use, of the waterway to be re-opened.”

In response, IWA says that “the level of use” should not be a significant factor in whether or not a waterway is reopened, particularly on those waterways with a statutory right of navigation. It also maintains that the level of use is often low only because waterways have been so poorly maintained in the past as to make navigation extremely difficult or even impossible for all but the smallest craft, such as canoes.

IWA national chairman Les Etheridge said: “Dr Coffey has expressed a keen interest in our waterways on a number of occasions since taking office, so we can only think that she has been incompletely briefed by EA officials as to the seriousness of the present funding crisis, which we have been warning about for years.”

“We know EA’s navigation teams are doing what they can under difficult circumstances. What IWA is doing is making clear to the minister that, regardless of whether EA waterways are transferred to the management of Canal & River Trust, they need to receive increased funding from Government to halt the progressive deterioration that is currently taking place,” he added.

IWA has delivered a comprehensive listing to the Waterways Minister of current closures on EA waterways, some of which date back to 2006 and redefine the concept of “temporary closure”.

ENDS

Photographs

Harlem Hill Lock on the River Ancholme – closed in 2012 for an inspection and not yet reopened.  Photo by Lois Parker

Higher resolution versions and alternative images available on request.

Press Contact

For further information please contact Alison Smedley, Press Office, The Inland Waterways Association, by emailing alison.smedley@waterways.org.uk or phoning 07779 090915.

Notes for Editors

Further Information

Background information to the issues surrounding this campaign, and details of the waterways that have already been closed, can be found on IWA’s website.

The Inland Waterways Association

IWA is The Inland Waterways Association, a membership charity that works to protect and restore the country's 6,500 miles of canals and rivers.  IWA is a national organisation with a network of volunteers and branches who deploy their expertise and knowledge to work constructively with navigation authorities, government and other organisations.  The Association also provides practical and technical support to restoration projects through its expert Waterway Recovery Group.
IWA - Keeping our waterways alive.
www.waterways.org.uk

Photo: Harlem Hill Lock on the River Ancholme – closed in 2012 for an inspection and not yet reopened.  Photo by Lois Parker

Higher resolution versions and alternative images available on request.