IWA revitalises and strengthens support for waterway restoration

IWA revitalises and strengthens support for waterway restoration

19 December 2016

IWA has two core ambitions – the protection and restoration of our nation’s waterways.  Protection is ably managed through our branch network and through our Navigation Committee led by Gren Messham, and has enjoyed a number of successes this year, most notably with regard to progress on our EA transfer campaign and attendance at the HS2 Select Committee, where we obtained beneficial route alterations at Fradley.  Our representations regarding the siting and potential navigational hazards at the proposed Boston Barrier have secured a public inquiry and we are successfully keeping pressure on Canal & River Trust to improve the accuracy of its winding hole data.

Restoration of our waterways and IWA’s desire to see abandoned and non-navigable waterways returned to navigation, plus the creation of new routes which will usefully link existing waterways, is hugely important as we plan our objectives for the coming ten years.

Earlier this year, a review of the country’s restoration projects highlighted some concerns for the sector.  As a result, IWA is stepping up the level of support we offer to the restoration movement and also working to improve the full nationwide coverage we give to restoration projects, as only IWA can do.  

As a first step, we established a small working group of experienced individuals to provide high level input to our trustees, and as their recommendations were developed their work was shared within IWA, and the final recommendations were accepted by trustees at their most recent meeting.  The group included John Dodwell (former IWA general secretary with a long term involvement in many aspects of the waterways and a current CRT trustee), Neil Edwards (IWA chief executive and former IWAC* member who helped prepare IWAC’s restoration reports), Michael Limbrey (chairman of IWA Shrewsbury & North Wales Branch and chairman of Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust), Mike Palmer (chairman of WRG, former IWA trustee and IWAC member) and Jonathan Smith (WRG director, former member of IWA’s Restoration Committee and current IWA trustee - elected in September 2016).  
[*IWAC = Inland Waterways Advisory Council, the government’s former advisory body on waterway matters]

The working group recognised the imperative for IWA to move beyond what had been provided previously as the restoration movement and factors surrounding its success, such as environmental guidelines and sources of funding, have changed immeasurably over the last few years.  We should be more proactive and utilise our expertise and high level lobbying experience to promote the restoration movement and help resolve its issues.

At the moment the waterway restoration sector comprises around 100 restoration schemes.  Some projects are currently ‘resting’ or are in a defining and scoping phase, while others have seen some major construction progress over the last few years.  This number of projects in such different stages of progress calls for a sophisticated response from IWA, and so the working group recommended the launch of a Restoration Hub, supported by full time employees, and with three main elements to its structure:

  • Supporting: The Hub will answer enquiries from restoration groups and act as a co-ordinating point for all restoration enquiries, provide up to date guidance on restoration issues, and develop a broad range of online resources on IWA’s website including tools such as Health and Safety training videos and case studies.  The Hub is already fielding a good number of detailed enquiries from IWA branches and waterway groups and, over time, will track trends and identify patterns to further tailor IWA’s support and feedback to those in the restoration sector.  The Hub will expand its panel of experts who can be called upon to advise, offer experience, knowledge and time to restoration groups encompassing skills such as fundraising, environmental management, engineering, and project management, amongst others.  The expertise will be sought as the need arises and former members of IWA's Restoration Committee will be invited to offer their skills.  As this expertise will be co-ordinated by Jenny Black (IWA's Volunteers Co-ordinator) and her team at Head Office, we aim for enquiries to be managed speedily and effectively.
  • Enabling: Practical assistance will continue to be provided to restoration groups through WRG Canal Camps.  Site visits, where requested by restoration groups, will be coordinated and organised by Jenny and her team and attended by restoration experts who have been chosen for the specific skills and experience required by each scheme visited.  We are also improving the support provided after these visits, with written follow-up reports and further direct involvement as appropriate.
  • Championing:  IWA is a face and voice for the waterways restoration movement at a national level.  We will be selecting Restoration Champions to provide visionary leadership and to inspire, motivate and energise projects at a local, regional and national level.   

We are also creating a new high level panel of people, representing the waterway restoration network across England and Wales, who will support the restoration movement across the country. The Panel will encourage, promote and enable waterway restoration, galvanising the attention and support of the media, influential politicians and key stakeholders at a national level and giving strategic advice on specific issues faced by restoration groups.

The Panel is intended to be a small group of people who have either extensive experience in waterways restoration management or relevant disciplines at a senior level. They will be people who can guide restoration policy and prepare written direction and authoritative reports. The panel chairman will be accountable to trustees and the chief executive and the panel will be appointed by trustees.

An exploratory meeting to discuss the Panel’s work and plans will be chaired by John Edmonds, former chairman of IWAC, in late February.  Invitations to prospective attendees will be sent out shortly.

IWA will continue to work closely with navigation authorities, particularly CRT with whom we jointly arrange forums for restoration project officers and workshops for restoration groups’ communications volunteers.  Together we also organise the movement’s annual restoration conference, the next of which will be held on 1st April 2017.

National chairman, Les Etheridge, commented: “Our recent research reinforced just how important restoration is to IWA’s members and volunteers. We are determined to continue IWA’s historic leadership in this sector over the coming years as we look forward to bringing more miles of waterway back into water and restoring heritage structures back to former and perhaps even new levels of glory.”

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