Issue date: 19th July 2013
IWA’s National Festival, which is taking place at Cassiobury Park, Watford, over 19th to 21st July was formally opened earlier today with welcome speeches from the Mayor of Watford, Councillor Dorothy Thornhill MBE and Festival Chairman Michael Stimpson, followed by a campaigning speech from IWA National Chairman Les Etheridge.
In his speech, Les Etheridge revealed that meetings are being sought with senior parliamentarians to try to safeguard the Environment Agency’s navigations by enabling their transfer to Canal & River Trust in pursuit of IWA’s long-held National Conservancy ideal, notwithstanding the Waterways Minister’s recent statement that matters were delayed owing to spending cutbacks. Les Etheridge also drew attention to the extensive lobbying currently being undertaken to provide the best safeguards for Britain’s waterways affected by the HS2 rail proposals.
The full text of Les Etheridge’s speech is as follows:
"Firstly, may I thank you Dorothy, as Mayor of Watford for opening our 2013 National Festival, here in Cassiobury Park, and what a splendid location it is.
Also whilst it has already been said, I must add my thanks to all the volunteers who make this event possible every year.
The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) advocates the conservation, use, maintenance, restoration and development of the inland waterways for public benefit. In short this means that we aim to do what is good for the inland waterways and all the many people who use them.
Since the 1950s we have been advocating that the inland waterways should be run outside of government control by a National Waterways Conservancy. Last year the creation of the Canal & River Trust was a first step towards achieving this. IWA had hoped that the navigations controlled by the Environment Agency would be part of the Canal & River Trust when it was set up last July.
The Government stated at the time that it was their policy that the Environment Agency navigations should transfer to the Canal & River Trust at a later stage, potentially in 2015/16.
Earlier this month the government made two announcements of significance to the inland waterways. Firstly the transfer of the Environment Agency navigations would not happen in 2015/16 but the transfer remained government policy. Secondly the Defra budget would be cut by 10%
Until last year both the British Waterways and Environment Agency navigations were part of Defra’s responsibilities. So a reduction in Defra’s funding in the past left both exposed to budget cuts. The position now is very different as Canal & River Trust has a guaranteed funding package covering 15 years whereas the Environment Agency’s funding is dependent on what Defra can make available. So the two major inland waterway navigation authorities both previously under government control are now headed in very different directions.
Canal & River Trust can plan for the future but the Environment Agency can’t.
Is that reasonable, sensible or justifiable? It clearly isn’t.
Combining the navigations in the new charity offers economy of scale and opens the door to new fundraising opportunities that are not currently fully available. Deferring the chance to take advantage of these benefits makes no sense when money is tight.
IWA has asked for meetings with both the minister and the shadow minister so that we can make our disappointment and frustration clear.
We will continue to campaign for the transfer to take place at the earliest possible opportunity.
The new high speed rail link HS2 provides threats to parts of the current inland waterway network and also restoration schemes.
IWA is working closely with other waterways organisations to ensure there is a common understanding of the issues. A project of this nature is bound to have impact and we are working to ensure the best possible outcome for the inland waterways in terms of protection, mitigation and, where possible, betterment.
The IWA marquee includes displays on HS2. Please do go and look at them and also take the opportunity to let us know your views.
As part of enjoying your time at the Festival I would encourage you to take a walk along the towpath. You will see lots of boats but there is much more for example nature, wildlife and heritage. You can marvel at the skills of the engineers who in the eighteenth century could ride on horseback across the country to plan and then deliver a project the equivalent of HS2. Protecting all of this is what IWA is all about.
Our inland waterways are very special so help protect and support them by being a member of IWA. There is a special offer for those who join at the Festival and my colleagues in the IWA marquee will be very happy to talk to you.
Enjoy the Festival.
Download photo of Les Etheridge
Find out more about The Waterways Festival
Notes for Editors