IWA Meet Minister Over NWC 'Concerns'

Issue Date: 18 February 2011

IWA's Campaigns team led by national chairman Clive Henderson met with the Waterways Minister Richard Benyon MP on the 15th February to discuss concerns over the New Waterways Charity.

Whilst IWA has been consistently supportive of the general approach to the formation of a national Waterways Charity, and welcomes the decisions that the charity should receive the British Waterways property portfolio in full and that a long term government contract will be put in place for funding. IWA is concerned that the arrangements must be right for the charity to succeed and that is why IWA’s support has always been subject to certain qualifications.

IWA maintains that these qualifications are fundamentals without which the charity will struggle, perhaps terminally, namely:

  • The charity must start life with a viable funding package.
  • The best prospects for the charity are served by inclusion of the Environment Agency waterways.
  • The governance arrangements must be right to ensure that British Waterways undergoes the necessary changes to reflect its change in status and so that civil society in its widest sense really does have the opportunity to contribute to the sound management and operation of the waterways network.

IWA told the Minister that it was deeply concerned about the Spending Review 2010 funding arrangements announced on 20 December. The cuts were far deeper and earlier than expected and without indexation. IWA said that it had asked British Waterways how it intended to deal with reduced grant under Freedon of Information and the anticipated reduction in capital spend was very worrying. The charitable body was going to be launched with an extremely fragile funding package gravely jeopardising its prospects. 

IWA speculated that the funding might be a stumbling block for future trustees to accept, thus preventing the launch of the charity.
 
On the Environment Agency navigations, IWA has made it clear that it sees significant benefits in their incorporation into the network that the charity will inherit. IWA maintain this is necessary for several reasons:

  • Firstly, it helps cement a national identity for the waterways, ensuring that some 70% of the navigable waterways in the country become integrated under the NWC umbrella.
  • Secondly, IWA believes it makes sense to place all of the nationally funded navigations into the same organisation for reasons of simplifying funding arrangements on the public purse (why continue to fund EA navigations separately?).
  • Thirdly, Injecting the EA navigations signals that this is not a BW project or a ‘rebranding’ under another name, but something genuinely new.
  • And lastly, IWA believes that it is necessary to have a strong brand that can be marketed as the national waterways organisation. Without the EA’s inclusion, this proposition is substantially diluted and public confusion will exist about the extent and nature of the organisation.          

On governance, the soundings so far do not convince IWA that the energy and input from local communities will be harnessed. The proposals as understood by IWA are a barrier to localism.

IWA closed by saying that the future management of the waterways offered opportunities for a successful Big Society flagship project. But only if its concerns, as outlined at the meeting, were properly addressed.

This was not a meeting when IWA could expect a response to its representations. Richard Benyon had agreed to meet IWA before the Defra consultation has been issued to give him and officials an opportunity to reflect on the arguments. The Minister listened intently to the substance of our concerns, commenting and questioning throughout the exchanges. We will see to what extent Defra takes on board our concerns when the consultation document is issued.