District and Parish Councillors in Lichfield were given an early insight into the way that British Waterways will become a charitable civic society in April 2012. The presentation highlighted the key elements of how the new charity will be governed and the way that local authorities will be able to have a direct influence on the future of the waterways that make such an important economic and recreational contribution to so many local communities.
Making the presentation to the Lichfield District Council’s Parish Forum, Sally Ash, Head of Boating at BW gave a brief, but informative, outline of the essentials of how the new waterways charity (NWC) would be governed.
Sally explained that “An influential Members Council will guide the charity from the top. The Council will be made up of the wide variety of stakeholders of the waterways; local authorities will join others representing the interests of users such as boaters, anglers, walkers, cyclists, wildlife enthusiasts, environmentalists, etc. and businesses and employees who depend on the waterways for their livelihood”.
At the moment, British Waterways is divided into 11 Regions and each of these will have a Local Board which will have the responsibility of ensuring that the views of local authorities and users are properly represented.
These Local Boards will interface directly with NWC Regional management and participate in the allocation and planning of local budgets. Each Local Board will have a seat on the national Members Council. Spokespeople at DEFRA a have observed that the model is seen by many to be an important example of the Coalition’s Big Society.
This unique mix of a Members Council guiding national strategies and Local Boards influencing local management will be a mechanism for local communities and national stakeholder bodies to influence the way that NWC operates and how budgets are dispensed. One of the unique features of a local canal is that it is likely to be most revered by the local residents that use it. Those local users may not yet realise just how much of an impact it has on their way of life – the local economy, housing values, jobs, recreational amenities etc., but when the Local Boards start highlighting existing and potential benefits it seems likely that local awareness will dramatically increase.
Sally Ash pointed out that the early support of local authorities is going to be important to NWC. A point raised at a BWAF (British Waterways Advisory Forum) suggested that one of the early issues to be addressed is how BW’s Regional structure will interface with parliamentary and county boundaries. As an example, Staffordshire falls into no less than 4 BW regions, and in the event that Staffordshire adopted a specific strategy for the waterways, it would have to negotiate with 4 different NWC Regions. There is, however, a positive side to this for the county, in that any views held by Staffordshire could be advocated by no less than 4 Local Board representatives sitting on the national Members Council. Closer examination of this point might reveal a more equitable solution, for example, to consider moving some edges of the regional boundaries so they follow partial county boundaries where such anomalies exist.
Sally Ash ended her presentation by describing how some trial areas in the country had been set up to test the Local Board concept; one had been going for some time on the Kennet & Avon and another was to be started on the Lee & Stort. These trials were primarily focusing on devising local mooring strategies and now, with the help of Cllr Will Chapman of Alrewas Parish, she was looking forward to seeing several more taking shape in Staffordshire. From the floor, Cllr Chapman added that he had made a start on forming local groups in Alrewas, Fazeley, Stone and on the Caldon Canal and would welcome an opportunity to discussing these plans and others with colleagues in any Parish Council. A feature of each local group is that it would take into account the views of all users and he would like to hear from anglers, boaters, cyclists, walkers, etc. in these locations. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.