HC Deb 26 June 1996 vol 280 cc136-7W
Sir Anthony Durant

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will announce the Government's conclusions on the review of the navigation functions of British Waterways and the Environment Agency; and what proposals the Government have to improve co-operation between navigation authorities and planning authorities. [34855]

Mr. Robert B. Jones

My Department issued a consultation paper on 15 February 1995 reviewing the navigation functions of British Waterways and the Environment Agency—the latter were then the functions of the National Rivers Authority. The Government have considered the responses received to that consultation paper.

The Government recognise that there is room for improvement in the way in which navigation authority arrangements operate but consider that there is no single, obvious, right answer everywhere regardless of local circumstances. The Government therefore support the initiative taken by British Waterways and the Environment Agency to pursue jointly a programme of studies examining individual navigations in consultation with users and others. The studies will examine the present arrangements and the options for change in administering navigation. The Government have asked them to make preliminary reports to Ministers by October 1996. The results of the studies will provide a solid basis for Government decisions on individual transfers of responsibility from one navigation authority to another.

Meanwhile, the Government welcome and will encourage co-operation between British Waterways, the Environment Agency and other navigation authorities to draw better value from the waterway system and develop a more commercial approach and coherent strategy for development of inland waterways. Improvements will include streamlining licensing and charging and providing a better focus for marketing and customer representation.

The Government have published a paper setting out the results of the consultation exercise and the Government's conclusions and copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

The Government believe that planning authorities and navigation authorities should work together in the development of the waterways' potential benefits. The Government will shortly be issuing a consultation paper proposing that planning authorities should be under the statutory obligation to consult British Waterways where their navigations are affected by planning applications. This would give British Waterways the same status in the planning process as other statutory consultees such as the highway authority or the Environment Agency.