MP questions reveal extent of BW system decay

Issue date: 8 April 2010

Michael Fabricant MP for Lichfield, was asked by IWA to question the Waterways Minister to confirm the assessment made by British Waterways of its waterways network infrastructure and the elements of its waterways network infrastructure not categorised as principal assets.

Waterways Minister Huw Irranca-Davies explained in his response that British Waterways categorises the condition of its principal and most significant non-principal assets using a five-point condition grading system of A (very good) through to E (bad) in order to establish priorities for maintenance work. The latest information available as at 31 March 2009(1) is as follows:

Grade description (Percentage)

                             A : Very good    B : Good    C : Fair    D : Poor    E : Bad    Assets assessed
Principal assets    3.6                   22.3            54.1        17.6         2.4               10,516
Significant non-principal assets                        
Towpath               19.1                 26.7            35.2        15.3         3.7               2,718 km
Bank protection    10.8                 33.2            38.4        12.7         4.9               5,220 km (both sides of canal)
Lock gates           13.8                 21.9            40.9        15.8         7.6               3,362

Michael Fabricant went on to ask the minister on IWA's behalf if his Department would provide funds to British Waterways to restore to good condition its assets assessed as (a) already defective and (b) at risk of becoming defective; and if he would make a statement.

The Minister replied: 'The level of grant funding for the waterways will be a decision for the next Spending Review and will need to balance long-term sustainability of the waterways with the overall fiscal position at the time. Government grant are, however, not the sole factor in determining what is spent on the waterways-efficiency savings, third party funding and commercial income are also very important.

Spend on maintenance of the network is a priority for British Waterways who take a risk-based approach in using the funding available to maintain the network. They concentrate on those assets in the poorest condition and that have the highest consequence of failure e.g. in terms of safety or the impact on the wider network.'

IWA is concerned that the system is deteriorating substantially due to lack of finance and consequential cut backs on spending on maintenance.

IWA is also concerned that the figures cited are not as good in terms of condition as they appear on first glance - as the grades actually are interpreted as follows.

A - Very Good Sound construction. Cosmetic defects that will have no effect on stability
B - Good Minor defects but structurally sound
C - Fair Minor defects that may develop into structurally significant defects in the long term
D - Poor Structurally significant defects leading to potential loss of stability in the medium term
E - Bad Failed or in an incipient state of failure (about to collapse in the short term) 

So even fair condition assets may be defective sufficient to interfere with a persons ability to use the facility - as such 

54% of BW Towpaths are 'defective in some way'

56% of BW banksides are 'defective in some way'


64% of BW lock gates are 'defective in some way'