What is behind the new charity?
In July 2012, as part of its reform of public bodies, the UK Coalition Government transferred the responsibility and assets comprising the British Waterways’ network of navigable canals and rivers in England and Wales from the public sector into a new charity named Canal & River Trust (C&RT) as a sort of ‘national trust’ for the waterways.
The new charity is governed by a Board of Trustees made up of individuals who have been selected because of their working experience in areas pertinent to the new charity. The Trustees are guided by a Members' Council comprised of representatives of key users of the waterways chosen to provide specialist advice and guidance. In the spirit of the new charity, the Trustees and Members are unpaid volunteers.
Additionally, 12 Waterway Partnership Boards made up of users with extensive and specialised local knowledge of their region have been set up with the responsibility of looking at issues at a community level.
Why did British Waterways need to be changed?
The waterways have been transformed in the 40 years since British Waterways was set up and they are now better used and busier than ever. They also, however, face enormous challenges which were not envisaged under the 1960s legislation which established the organisation.
In recognition of this, in May 2009 the Board of British Waterways launched a new strategy recommending that it be moved into the ‘third sector’ as a way of closing its funding gap and giving stakeholders greater involvement in the running of the network.
Does this mean that the Waterways will be privatised?
Not at all. All of the activities previously managed by British Waterways will be taken over by the Canal & River Trust. The charity will be in a much better position to protect our waterways heritage whilst strengthening the link between the waterways and local people through through the regional and national bodies.
As part of the transformation, the UK Government has transferred the old British Waterways property estate to the charity and that will contribute substantially to the upkeep of the waterways. The proerty transfer has been done is such a way that it will be protected in perpetuity for future generations.
How will the new charity be funded?
The charity will be funded through a combination of Government grants, income from boat licences, third party grants and other commercial activities. The main change would be through the establishment of a guaranteed, long-term contract with Government that will give greater certainty over funding and offer a route for growing income from tax relief and charitable sources (e.g. donations, legacies etc). An ‘asset lock’ on the property endowment will protect it from the whims of future government;
What will the funding contract with Government be?
In January 2012, DEFRA announced that the funding deal will have the following components:
The Government has already announced that the £460m commercial property endowment historically built up from surplus network property and used by British Waterways to fund the network infrastructure will be transferred to CRT for the same purposes, along with the rest of the network in England and Wales. In order to get the Canal & River Trust off to the best possible start, Defra will also commit grant funding of some £800 million over the next 15 years (from 2012/13 to the end of 2026/7).
The Canal & River Trust will inherit British Waterways’ responsibilities for maintaining heritage sites, wildlife habitats and open spaces, so that all can enjoy them for generations to come. It will help realise public benefits such as green travel to work, health and well-being, support to the inner cities and rural regeneration.
- Core grant of £39m per year (index linked to inflation from 2015/16 onwards)
- From 2015/16, an additional grant of 10m per year (reduced gradually over the last five years of the grant agreement, tied to three performance measures):
- satisfactory condition of principal assets
- satisfactory condition of towpaths
- satisfactory flood risk management measures
- A £25m one-off grant to be spread across the next few months, and a capped ‘last resort’ Government guarantee in relation to the historic public sector pension liability;
- A review will take place in 2021/22 to examine the case for the Government’s funding of public benefits from the waterways beyond 2026/2027.
- The CRT will also be required to publish annually a range of data about the public benefits it delivers, to enable stakeholders and the public to hold the charity to account.
- The government has transferred the £460m commercial property endowment to be used to fund the infrastructure network.
There is also a plan -subject to the next spending review and the agreement of the charity’s trustees - to transfer inland waterways managed by the Environment Agency to the new charity from 2015/16, .
What are the objectives of the new charity be?
The charity will protect and promote our inland waterway network and ensure that our unique waterway heritage will always be a valued part of local landscapes and communities. In delivering this responsibility, it will
- Own, operate and manage Inland Waterways in the United Kingdom for public benefit, use and enjoyment:
- for navigation
- for recreation or other leisure-time pursuits of the public in the interests of social welfare with a view to improving their conditions of life;
- for the improvement of commerce and industry generally
- Protect and conserve sites, objects and buildings of archaeological, architectural, engineering or historic interest on, by or associated with the Inland Waterways of the United Kingdom (“the Inland Waterways”).
- Conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Inland Waterways through the conservation of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest on, by or associated with the Inland Waterways.
- Promote, encourage, undertake and assist in the restoration of the Inland Waterways (whether or not owned managed or operated by it) for the public benefit.
- Educate the public about the Inland Waterways, their history, development, use and operation by all appropriate means including the provision of museums.
How will the new charity be run?
The creation of a new Members Council of representatives took place March 2012. Where electoral colleges exist, for example boat owners, appointment was decided by election held during February 2012; other members representing other user groups were also appointed. This process will bring in a range of interests such as boaters, anglers, heritage, environment, local authorities etc – with oversight over a Board of Trustees with the responsibility for the running of the organisation and for the appointment and oversight of directors. As is the case with most charities, the Trustees and Members Council appointees will not be paid.
At the Regional waterway level, local waterway partnership boards have bee set up to give local waterway communities and people - for example local authorities, user groups, charities, individuals, etc. with a vested interest in the waterways - a greater role in the running of our waterways. The chairs of these local boards will have a seat on the Members Council. n..
What will be the scope of the new body?
The core of the new charity will be made up from British Waterways’ existing network of canals and rivers in England and Wales. Defra has stated its intention to explore the potential inclusion of other river navigations currently under the management of the Environment Agency. The main target for this is the Thames, a move which is currently scheduled for 2014/2015.
In the future there is no reason why the Trustees of the new charity could not agree to accept the responsibility or ownership of other waterways, subject to viability, if that was the choice of the guardians of the target waterway.
What about the waterways BW currently cares for in Scotland?
The Scottish Government has decided not to include its waterways in the new charity but details of how this will work have yet to be decided.
For more complete information about the charity and how you can help, visit its website.