Issue date: 2nd December 2011
Since Parliament resumed after the Summer Recess, IWA has been active in liaising with MPs who are waterways supporters, over the proposals for British Waterways to cease to exist next April with its network and statutory obligations transferring to the Canal & River Trust (CRT).
The Waterways Minister, Richard Benyon MP, had said that there was some ‘wiggle room’ over the £39m per annum offer to the CRT, and the Government response to the representations it received on its New Era for the Waterways consultation announced that the Government was in negotiation with the CRT Transition Trustees. The Trustees themselves are on the public record as saying that the current offer of £39m per year is not enough.
IWA has been consistently supportive of the move of the British Waterways network into the third sector, with consistent qualifications – the most serious being that the Government must ensure that the CRT is financially viable. IWA has been vocal in its concern that the offer is inadequate. In this critical time for the negotiations, IWA has been seeking to expose and place on the public record the cost of certain major liabilities and has focused particularly on bridges, BW pensions and dredging, in order to more fully understand the exact nature of the funding gap that might exist and to ensure that our supporters in Parliament are made aware so that they might make representations to the Minister.
IWA has therefore been working with MPs to table Parliamentary Questions and has elicited the following information.
Bridges: It will be clear to many waterway users that the condition of many bridges across the network is one of substantial and on-going disrepair and as such is a source of major concern. IWA sought a wide range of information about the cost of maintaining bridges that cross BW's inland waterways network. Some information was not provided due it not being kept or due to “disproportionate cost”. But key material to emerge was that BW estimates that to keep its bridges in England and Wales at ‘steady state’ ( ie to prevent further deterioration) would cost £3.3m per annum. In 2010/11 BW spent £1.15m on major repairs and an additional £205k on routine maintenance. Some way short of what it should be spending if it had the money, and far below what is required to bring them into a well maintained condition.
BW Pensions: IWA's questions revealed that in March 2010, the BW pension deficit was £65.6m. IWA is arguing that the Government should retain past pension liability allowing the CRT to begin life with a clean sheet on pension liability in respect of retired former state employees.
Dredging: In response to IWA questioning, Defra has confirmed that around 287km of the network requires dredging and the cost of that would be about £40m. In 2011/12, BW plans to dredge 45km at a cost of £4.2m. IWA has already determined elsewhere that in order to maintain a ‘steady state’ approximately £8m is required to be spent on dredging each year in addition to the £40 m needed to address the backlog.
Current expenditure is therefore thought to be half that needed to maintain the network from further deterioration, and will not be capable of remedying any of the current backlog.