The news that the transfer of the Environment Agency river navigations to the Canal & River Trust was to be put on hold until after the Government Spending Review (CB, August) has been confirmed by the Waterways Minister – and condemned as lacking imagination by the CRT Chairman.
As originally proposed, the EA rivers, which include the Thames, Great Ouse and Nene, were to have been included with the transfer of the British Waterways navigations to CRT in 2012. Two issues – the lack of a property ‘dowry’ to provide any commercial income, and problems dividing responsibility for combined navigation and flood control structures (in particular the Thames weirs, pictured) were blamed for this being seen as unachievable in that timescale. The EA transfer was, therefore, postponed until 2015.
Now, however, Minister Richard Benyon has announced that as this is “unlikely to be affordable in the current climate” at a time when the EA is having to cut its budget, it will be postponed until “after Defra’s finances improve”. Given that the spending review sets funding levels for three years, this means that it won’t be considered again until after the next election.
Speaking at the CRT annual meeting, Chairman Tony Hales said the transfer could have been “doable at no net cost” and that the failure to proceed showed “a lack of imagination”. While the minister maintained that the Government remained “committed” to the transfer, Mr Hales felt that lobbying of all the main political parties would be needed to ensure that this was so.
The Inland Waterways Association also criticised the “short-sighted” decision, which it said “defers the opportunity to raise additional funds and voluntary sector support that the transfer to the charitable sector would provide”.
See pages 12-13 for our news feature on the CRT Annual Meeting.