HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc462-3W
Mr. Todd

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps are being taken(a) to preserve canals and (b) to increase the use of canals for (i) leisure and (ii) commerce. [67916]

Mr. Meale

The Government value the social, economic and environmental benefits that inland waterways can bring and are keen to maximise the full potential of the canal network. We believe the waterways are a substantial asset and have an important role in a number of areas such as leisure and tourism, heritage, amenity, conservation, regeneration and transport.

We have provided financial help to a range of canal restoration projects through the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund, Land Reclamation Programme grant and the Environmental Action Fund. Projects are also eligible for funding from the various Lottery distribution boards, from local authorities and from Europe. The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council's report on their prioritisation of restoration projects will help to ensure that available funding is more effectively targeted.

The Government-sponsored British Tourist Authority (BTA) is actively promoting the waterways of Britain and Ireland. The campaign, involving partnerships with the main waterway industry operators, local authorities and National Tourist Boards, is promoted through most of BTA' s overseas offices. BTA' s brochure 'Waterways Britain and Ireland' presents waterway travel as an alternative, sustainable way of touring the British Isles.

The day-to-day management and operation of the inland waterway network rests with British Waterways, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and a range of other public and private bodies. The three main navigation authorities work closely with BTA, regional and national tourist boards and with the private sector to promote leisure and tourism opportunities on their respective waterways.

The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities, which represents around 30 authorities, is finalising a strategy for the inland navigations of the United Kingdom. This will include objectives for the navigation authorities to meet in relation to developing leisure, tourism and commercial opportunities on the waterways network.

The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council is undertaking a report to demonstrate ways in which the waterways in West Yorkshire can be developed for leisure, tourism and community use.

The Government are keen to encourage the greater use of inland waterways for carrying freight where this is a practical and economic option. We currently give Freight Facilities Grant for inland waterways schemes where freight would otherwise have gone by road. The Department will be re-examining the rules of the scheme to try to encourage more applications for inland waterways.

In addition, the Department is working to update planning guidance on transport which will encourage more freight to be carried by water. Local authorities in their development plans will be expected to consider opportunities for new developments which are served by waterways; and to give better protection to sites and routes, both existing and potential, which could be critical in developing infrastructure to widen transport choices, including water transport.

We intend to publish in the next few months the Transport White Paper daughter document on inland waterways policy, the aim of which will be to raise the profile of the waterways and increase their potential.

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