IWA has seen documents that reveal EA is prepared to make long-term closures of navigation assets.
The minutes of an “EA – CRT Proposed Transfer meeting” held on 20 October 2016 to discuss the potential transfer of Environment Agency navigations to Canal & River Trust (obtained through a Freedom of Information request and passed to IWA by a concerned waterway user), state:
“….discussed closed assets in Anglian and legal challenges they have had. It was agreed that an option which may need to form part of the discussion with government’ is the possibility that we may have to close some navigations in the future (on health and safety grounds) if we’re unable to fund the repair and maintenance of the assets.” At the same meeting, CRT stated that “This is not an option that CRT are comfortable with proposing as “keeping navigations open is our raison d’etre”.
Read the full minutes of the meeting.
Subsequent correspondence with EA at the highest level has done nothing to allay IWA’s concerns and EA has done little to reassure IWA with their statement concerning "no immediate risk" to these waterways.
Three locks in the Anglian Region are already closed with EA stating that it is unable to reopen them due to current funding restraints. EA admits that this is the inevitable consequence of its underfunding problems, which IWA has been campaigning about for many years.
It is only a matter of time before further navigation assets are closed, potentially on waterways that are well used and provide links or through routes to other waterways, a situation that IWA regards as unacceptable.
IWA is campaigning for the waterways run by the Environment Agency to be transferred to Canal & River Trust (a charity set up in 2012 to take on the management of the waterways previously run by British Waterways).
Subject to a satisfactory funding package, the transfer would enable those waterways to benefit from improved maintenance through long term asset management plans, third party funding opportunities and the economies of scale to be gained from being part of a larger navigation authority. At present, the river navigations run by EA are deteriorating due to lack of maintenance and IWA believes there is now a very real danger of long-term closures. EA admits that this is the inevitable consequence of the ongoing underfunding in its budget from Defra.
IWA’s view is that whether or not there is a transfer of these navigations to CRT, they need to receive increased funding from Government in order to halt the progressive deterioration that is currently taking place. Anything else is simply unacceptable given the benefits that waterways provide to the nation in terms of health benefits, recreation, tourism and regeneration.
See details of the EA waterways and structures which are currently closed.
On 14th February 2017 in answer to Written Questions from Northampton South MP, David Mackintosh, the Waterway Minister stated “If there is a safety risk to members of the public then repairs will be undertaken to remove the risk or the asset will be closed.” This response is of particular concern to IWA as it overlooks EA’s statutory obligation under Section 8 of the Anglian Waterways Authority Act 1977 to maintain the main navigable channels and navigation works for recreational navigation.
Some further Written Questions, again from David Mackintosh MP, were responded to by the Minister on 20th February. The statement from the Waterway Minister that “No navigations on Anglian Waterways have been closed permanently since 2006. For health and safety reasons, and to protect the general public and those who use the waterways, the Environment Agency has temporarily closed some assets such as locks and landing stages, that have made some waterways difficult to access for some craft.” overlooks the fact that the closure of some locks has in effect made whole lengths of waterway inaccessible.
IWA is also concerned about the statement “The Environment Agency will consider the restoration and re-opening of closed navigable waterways depending on the amount of future funding available and the importance, such as the level of use, of the waterway to be re-opened.” In IWA’s view “the level of use” should not be a significant factor in whether or not a waterway is reopened, particularly on those waterways with a statutory right of navigation. Level of use is only indicative of the situation at a particular moment in time, and is something that can change, for example through the creation of new facilities and moorings, in the future.
On 21st March a Parliamentary Question was asked in the House of Lords by Lord German. The response, from Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said nothing new and further questions are in the pipeline in order to elicit more information.
The full written questions and answers can be seen on the links below.
Inland Waterway - East of England 14th February 2017
Inland Waterway - East of England 20th February 2017
Inland Waterway - Repairs & Maintenance 21st March 2017