Environment Agency News Update

Issue date: 17th October 2011

IWA attended a special meeting of the EA’s National Navigation User Forum on 23rd August in London. This was advertised as a harmonisation forum but it soon became clear that this meeting was a ‘softening up’ of stakeholders in preparation for large increases in cruising licenses for EA waters.

As part of the introductions Stuart Taylor, EA navigation manager, introduced Andrew Gullog who from September will be working for Stuart in charge of the “Navigation Project”.  This was the first users had heard of this project. It is apparently to look at how EA manages its navigations up until 2015 when there may be a transfer to the newly created Canal & River Trust. Issues such as detailed ownership of assets, etc. are a part of this project. EA current thinking only seems to go out to 2015, but any decisions on how navigations are to be funded might well endure beyond this date if the government backs down on its wish to transfer to NWC. There are also separate debates going on within EA on what constitutes a navigation asset. This is critical for the Thames where changes in the way flood risk management is funded means that the weirs on the Thames may not get flood defence funding. IWA was not informed as to the situation is on East Anglian waterways, but understands that weirs on the Medway are already funded from the navigation budget.

The position on EA funding is essentially that a 50% cut in Grant in Aid has been imposed.  EA is therefore looking at the principles of how boaters are to be charged and the intimation is that registration fees should cover running costs for the particular navigation whilst GIA and other income could cover capital investment. EA stated that its priorities to 2015 are to:

  • Keep waterways in their current state
  • Deliver as good a service as they can

EA ambitions were presented as:

  • Use more volunteers
  • Restructure focussing on front line staff
  • Realise commercial income opportunities
  • Secure contributions from other beneficiaries
  • Move to customer based charges

To users' general surprise the EA is likely to put on hold consideration of harmonisation of registration charges. This caused concern from users - IWA and the Great Ouse Boating Association having to raise concerns. The rationale apparently is that large increases in registration fees are necessary and some would be even more severely affected if harmonisation were attempted in parallel. Furthermore if merger into C&RT is to take place in 2015 then this would necessitate further harmonisation. More worrying was the strong hint that each of the three waterway areas were expected to be treated in isolation with each expected to raise its running costs. In IWA’s opinion, this will be fine for the Thames with its very large customer base but this would be bad news for East Anglia and potentially disastrous for Medway. Figures were presented to show what proportion of running costs is currently raised by registration fees for each of the three areas. Shortfalls in East Anglia and particularly the Medway were proportionately considerable.

IWA is aware that EA may seek to impose registration costs of 8 and 10% over each of the next three years.