News - June 2011
Response to Defra's Consultation Document on the Future of the Inland Waterways in England and Wales
The Shropshire Union Canal Society is a not for profit charity which has worked to promote the wellbeing of the Shropshire Union system for over forty years. During this time, the Society's volunteers have carried out a continuous programme of restoration work on the Montgomery Canal, and enhancement work throughout the Shropshire Union system. We have close to 1,000 members, many of whom live in close proximity to the Shropshire Union system.
As a Society, and as a charity, we have specific concerns about the proposals outlined in the consultation document. We have confined our response to the questions relevant to our concerns.
Question 3: charitable purposes
(2.6.4) Navigation is of paramount importance. The inland waterways were developed for navigation, and their historical integrity stems from that. To maximise their potential for public benefit, we feel that the charitable purposes must emphasise the importance of protecting and maintaining navigation, and they must also emphasise the importance of protecting and maintaining historical structures and artefacts. Maintenance of navigation is also crucial to the leisure boat industry, including hire boats and trip boats. Without boats, inland waterways lose a lot of their charm and, indeed, their potential to generate income, so the maintenance of navigation must be at the core of the charitable purposes.
Question 9: local partnerships
(3.3.1) We are concerned about the proposal for an All Wales Partnership. It may well make sense from a political standpoint, but we feel that it will create unnecessary complications on the ground. The proposal affects both the Montgomery and Llangollen Canals, but especially the Llangollen Canal as it winds in and out of England and Wales, crossing the border several times. We feel that it would be much better to have a management unit that respects the historical unity of the Shropshire Union system.
Questions 15, 16 and 17: local community involvement and volunteering
(3.4.2) Many small waterways charities, such as ourselves, must be wondering what effect the New Waterways Charity will have on our ability to raise funds and attract new members and volunteers. It may not be all bad. Many small organisations are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be for boaters and often it does not occur to local people to join, even though they may use the canal on a regular basis. With the right marketing, the New Waterways Charity may be able to reach a wider population and draw in some of those dog walkers, anglers and so on.
(3.4.3) In 2008/9 British Waterways recorded 16,000 volunteer days on its network. Many of those volunteers will have been recruited by small waterways charities such as ourselves. The New Waterways Charity must seek to attract volunteers from the wider population if volunteer numbers are to increase.
Question 24: reclassification of waterways
We feel that the Government should review the classification of remainder waterways as well as commercial waterways, so that those remainder waterways or sections of remainder waterways which are now used for navigation can be recognised and reclassified as cruiseways. This would give the reclassified waterways various statutory protections, for example protection from adverse decisions about water supply or bridges.
Question 28: public funding and the Impact Assessment
(4.6.1 and 4.3.23) All the analyses we have seen recognise the fact that the cost of maintaining the physical infrastructure of the waterways is well above the public funding committed to the waterways in recent years, and that this funding gap is going to increase. We firmly believe that to give the New Waterways Charity the best chance of a sustainable future, the initial Funding Agreement or Contract with the Government should be sufficient to bring the infrastructure to an optimum condition, and that a long-term Funding Agreement or Contract should be sufficient to enable the Charity to maintain that condition.
The inland waterways network is akin to a National Park. It is effectively owned by the public and maintained for the benefit of all kinds of users, and should continue to be substantially funded from the public purse in the same way that our parks and open spaces, both local and national, are funded.