IWA Press Release

Issue Date: 14 October 2010


The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) welcomes the Government’s announcement today that British Waterways is to be turned into a charitable body. It believes that if this is launched so that the charity is financially viable it can be a great example of how an important component of our national heritage can be successfully managed by civil society consistent with the Government’s aspirations for Big Society.

This announcement follows strong and persistent lobbying by IWA for a new kind of charity based waterways organisation formed from a merger of the two main government funded navigation authorities as a form of national inland waterways conservancy, to which at some future date, other navigations might be able to join.

Clive Henderson, IWA National Chairman, said:

‘This is great news. Over 50 years ago IWA co-founder and visionary Robert Aickman proposed that a National Waterways Conservancy be created as an all purpose authority for the waterways. IWA continues to hold that vision and today marks a first step in its delivery.’

However IWA will be seeking assurances from the Government over its contribution to ensuring that the charity is financially viable and how management by civil society can be made to work so the charity is genuinely a new organisation.

He added:

‘A great deal of work is now required so that the charity can have a successful launch and we expect to play our part. First, it must be financially viable from day one. The National Trust was not an overnight success and started from small beginnings. The new charity does not have the opportunity to grow over time – it has to be up and running immediately – and engaging with the public, securing new revenue streams, will take some time.

The waterways also deliver public benefits for which there is no, and there can never be, an income stream. The Government needs to fund those public benefits for the nation. So we will be looking for assurances that the charity will have the benefit of the British Waterways property portfolio, and a properly costed long term service contract from Government.’

‘The Government’s wants management by civil society. We have already submitted our views on how the charity could be managed with decision making both at the top of the organisation and at the local delivery level with the community properly and fully engaged. We look forward to ongoing discussions with Government over how this can be made to work.’

Finally, he commented on inclusion of the Environment Agency navigations:

‘We have made no secret of our aspiration that the charity should manage both the British Waterways and the Environment Agency navigations. We know that Government has not concluded its deliberations over that and we know that some in the waterways community have strong reservations. I understand those reservations and recognise that there is a balance of argument, including the issue of dealing with liabilities, and that a big bang of transformation of British Waterways activities into a charity and absorption of the Environment Agency navigations, at the same time, is a challenge. But I believe that it is a challenge worth rising to. The advantages of a merger of the two major publicly funded navigations are that it would provide:

•    A strong focus on the core mission of running these previously publicly owned waterways in the best interests of the community, with improved scope for a genuinely new body through cross fertilisation.

•    A simplification of the management of the waterways to the benefit of business and the public.

•    An ability to gauge and respond quickly to changing customer needs.

•    Better value through the economies of scale to be achieved through the creation of a single organisation, and a co-ordinated system with, for example, a single navigation licence.

•    The development over time of a national identity, like the National Trust, The National Parks, and the national museums; increasing usage, volunteering and charitable donations.

I believe that these advantages are such that ways need to be found to overcome problematic issues and that with imagination and radical thinking this can be achieved.’


For more information please contact Jo Gilbertson or David Padfield on 01494 783453


Notes For Editors

The Inland Waterways Association is a registered charity, founded in 1946, which advocates the conservation, use, maintenance, restoration and development of the inland waterways for public benefit.

IWA works closely with navigation authorities, national and local authorities, voluntary, private and public sector organisations. We campaign and lobby for support and encourage public participation in the inland waterways. IWA also manages the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation for the public benefit, through its subsidiary Essex Waterways, (www.essexwaterways.com) having stepped in to prevent its closure in 2005.

IWA actively supports waterway restoration, and through its waterways restoration volunteering organisation, Waterway Recovery Group (www.wrg.org.uk), organises and subsidises over 20 week-long waterway restoration working holidays for volunteers of all ages throughout the UK each year, as well as conducting multiple work parties around the country on most weekends. This particularly enables young people to participate in the preservation and restoration of our heritage, and in doing so learn construction and heritage skills.

More than 500 miles of canals and navigable rivers have been re-opened to public use since the Association was founded in 1946. The Association is working to restore a further 500 miles of derelict inland waterways.

IWA is organised into 34 local branches covering geographical areas of the country, through which volunteers coordinate activities as diverse as policing planning applications through the waterway corridor, organising festivals and events to raise public awareness, providing engineering expertise, raising money for restoration schemes, and providing education on the value and benefits of their local waterways.

There is much more information on our web site.   www.waterways.org.uk