EA admits rivers threat due to cash curbs
AN ADMISSION BY the Environment Agency that its Anglian rivers face the threat of indefinite closures due to unaffordable repairs has brought the proposed transfer of the agency’s waterways to the Canal & River Trust into sharp focus.
The threat was highlighted by the Inland Waterways Association, whose attention had been drawn by a boater to a comment in the minutes of a meeting between CRT and the EA.
It was stated 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”. But that “This is not an option that CRT are comfortable with proposing as ‘keeping navigations open is our raison d’etre’.”
IWA National Chairman Les Etheridge said that “threats of closure to currently navigable waterways while in the government’s care are simply unacceptable”. The association pointed out that it had been “warning for many years that just such an action was going to be the likely result of years of persistent and deteriorating underfunding”.
Although the EA comments referred specifically to the Anglian rivers such as the Great Ouse (pictured), Welland and Nene, IWA reaffirmed its support for a transfer of all EA waterways including the Thames to CRT as the “best solution” – which is “conditional on sufficient funding”.
That ‘sufficient funding’ has been one of the main stumbling blocks on the various occasions such a transfer has been discussed in recent years, as unlike CRT the EA has no commercial property portfolio to provide an income – so CRT will not and cannot accept the rivers without a ‘dowry’ being provided by the Government. However the latest discussions (which the above meeting formed part of) have now reached the point where detailed work on asset condition is drawing to a close, and the two authorities hope to come up with a proposition ‘within months’. This could lead to a possible decision by the Government on whether it has the resources to provide what is necessary as early as this summer.