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UK Government Departments

Department for the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is the government department responsible for the two principal waterway authorities British Waterways  and the Environment Agency. We attend briefings called by the Waterways Minister and respond to consultations. They are under pressure to reduce direct government spending on waterways (amongst other things!).

 

Canal and River Trust (CRT or CART) - formerly British Waterways (BW) is the largest Navigation Authority and is responsible for 2200 miles of canals and rivers in England and Wales. A Council, made up of government, local authority, boating & waterway representitives, will appoint and monitor the eleven Trustees who in turn will manage the Executive Board. The four boating reps are elected from CRT licence holders. It is expected that Friends will have a vote for a Council member in the near future.Currently, no qualifying DBA members have nominated.  The Trustees have negotiated a 15 year (up from 10) government funding package, now with some protection for inflation and a £25M contribution to the pension fund deficit. The £460M non operational property portfolio of BW has been transferred to the Trust as an investment dowry. CRT will have the significant advantage that all of its efficiency savings will be retained rather than being shaved off future grants. It will not be a membership organisation but significant efforts will be made to attract public donations.

The principal advisory body to the CRTwas the British Waterways Advisory Forum on which the DBA had a seat. This has been  replaced by the National Stakeholders Forum and are represented by Nigel Lee. There will be 7 advisory groups advising the Executive Board and the most appropriate group for the DBA would be Navigation, however, currently we have no volunteers to take this on. The Council and the Trustees have not formed any advisory groups. It would appear from the lack of interest that few of our members actually navigate on CRT waters and thus this should be a low priority but if the CRT takes over the EA navigation operations in the future and subsequently any other smaller navigation authorities, then we must retain a seat at the table. In 2013 Richard Parry succeeded Robin Evans as CEO annd has taken a much greater interest in boating groups.  Cathy Lee and I met with Richard in January 2014 to explain DBA and its special needs.

 

Environment Agency (EA) is the second largest navigation authority and is responsible for the Thames, Medway, Ouse Nene and several other navigations . Many of these are barge waterways. Following public consultation and internal discussions between CRT and EA, DEFRA decided to leave EA navigations outside the new charity for now.  The EA operates a mix of flood, navigation and funding responsibilities. Unlike with BW there is no comparable investment dowry attached to the EA navigations which can be transfered to CRT. The principal consultative body is the National Navigation Users Forum which Andy Soper attends.  A major issue for our members is the high level of charges for boats on the Thames. It is a length by beam calculation with no upper limit for annual charges and increases have all been presented on a compound interest basis thus hitting the big boats harder. Boaters provide 20% of the total income of the EA vs 10% of CRT's income. There is no evidence to suggest that fees would be harmonised between EA and CRT waters if the EA waters were combined into the Trust - indeed it is more likely that fees would remain the same to maintain income and service standards would drop. As CRT licences include VAT yhis is a potential 20% hike that has to be absorbed or charged.Most of our lobbying has been to minimise increases while defending service standards and we achieved a discount charges above 80sqm to £10 per sqm.  Edward Burrell has ed a challenge to the EA's excessive charges for large boats and the principle of cumulative % increases through the Parliamentary Ombudsman. 

 

EA Thames have an extensive range of consultative bodies. The Thames Navigation Users Group (TNUF), attended by Andy Soper, consists of about 20 representatives of democratic river user organisations and meets quarterly chaired by the EA. Nine River User Groups(RUG) divide up the river into sections and their Chairs are members of TNUF. The RUGs have more local representation and local EA managers attend. There is also a regional Water Framework Directive Liaison Panel (WFDLP), attended by Andy Soper, and primarily concerned with water quality and is likely to extend its interests to include CRT waters. Although the liaising may appear extensive the EA tend to use TNUF and WFDLP as opportunities for transmissions rather than consultation, this is being challenged. A significant current issue on the Thames is the stealth policy by the EA to put the heritage and iconic lock house out to commercial lease and replace the resident lock-keepers with area reliefs on the grounds of cost effectiveness. They have been very reticent with their figures and the plan seems founded on fallacious arguments. The EA also talks about sustainable financing for the waterways, they mean the users pay more, and the Flood Committees continue to lobby for weirs to be paid for out of navigation budgets and not Flood relief money. We must work with others to ensure that government grants continue to help maintain the EA navigations for the benefit of all.

 

Department of Transport (DfT) through its agency the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) - 'the Coastguard' -  enforces the regulations for passenger, commercial and fishing craft and ships in tidal waters and also the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations for all ships. This would have been the department responsible for EU certification of UK ships under TRIWV (see below) had UK not derogated all of it's waterways and craft from the regulations. We continue to lobbyfor changes to the UK manning and safety equipment regulations that are onerous for barges over 24m.

 

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is responsible all taxation matters including VAT and Fuel Duty. The zero-rating of residential craft is a peculiar UK concession within UK. There are comprehensive articles in the Knowledge Base on VAT and barges.  DBA assisted Colin and Ali Stone in their court action to preserve this tax advantage when HMRC attempted to change the rules.  The EU tried to prevent Red (low tax) Diesel being supplied to boats.  Along with the RBOA DBA successfully influenced HMRC and the Tresaury to adopt the current self declaring approach - much to the annoyance of the boating trade.  Unfortunately the EU Commission is challenging the UK position we may have to buy and burn white diesel rather than full duty paid red diesel at some time in the future.

 

 

Other Navigation Authorities

Port of London (PLA)
Andy Soper represents the DBA on the recreational committee (PHRANG). DBA member David Beaumont also attends as leader of a lobbying group Organisation of Port of London Authority Customers (OPLAC).

 

National Inland Navigation Forum (ninf)
An infrequent meeting of national inland boating organisations to note, and agree if possible, individual positions on new proposals by Navigation Authorities.
 

Thames User Group Navigation (TUGn)

This is an informal meeting of EA users who meet to agree common ground in discussions with EA.

 
Others

There are nearly 40 other authorities of which 20 belong to the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) along with EA and CRT. For example, the River Wey is run by the National Trust, the Broads by the Broads Authority, the Basingstoke by two County Councils and the Chelmer and Blackwater by IWA. We have intermittent links with many of them  We are invited to AINA functions and consultations as observers.

 

Other Boating Associations

We have good links and work together with the

National Association of Boat Owners (NABO) - mainly inland and narrowboat focussed)

Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA) - UK residential focussed

Association of Thames Yacht Clubs (ATYC).

We are corporate members of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) but their interest inland has been poor in the past. This is now improving and we have good contacts both nationally and regionally. RYA provides the (expensive) Secretariat for the European Boating Association (EBA). Through our membership of CRT forums we have good links with a number of other clubs and Associations.

 

Other Waterway Associations 

Other waterway associations are listed on the Linked Organisations page. We support all broad beam restoration societies. We are close to the Kennet & Avon Trust and share links with them with Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais. They are keen for us to have a campaign rally in Newbury next year. Keith Norfolk (rep) and Bill Fisher (one of their trustees) link us with the K & A.

 

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is a mix of waterway restorers and boaters principally interested in BW waters and and is now seeking a new role in the wake of CRT which is driven by competition for funding.

The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland is the principal Irish club and similar to the IWA in interest. Brian Goggin keeps us up to date. We have supported their challenge to Waterways Ireland proposing swingeing increases i charges to use the waterways around Dublin.

The Parliamentary Waterways Group is led by interested MPs and holds both DEFRA and the Minister to account. We attend their meetings.

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