Parliament gives some clues to future of waterways...

During the EFRA Question Time that took place in Parliament on 24 June 2010

First a statement by Richard Benyon, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs;

“I am pleased to be appointed as Waterways Minister as I am familiar with the public benefits the waterways provide and I am making this statement to set out how I intend to take forward inland waterways policy for England and Wales. The Government considers civil society has a very valuable role to play in delivering public services as part of our commitment to creating a Big Society. We will therefore be continuing to look in detail at whether a third sector model would be appropriate for British Waterways, including the possible inclusion of the Environment Agency’s navigations as the other navigation authority grant aided by Government. My department will be engaging a wide range of stakeholders in this work (and liaising with the Scottish Government). However I must make clear that, given the Government’s overriding objective of reducing the financial deficit, no decisions on such a change will be taken until after the forthcoming Spending Review. In the light of this I have also decided not to proceed now with a new Government waterways strategy and I will review the situation following the Spending Review.”

Then a question from Tristram Hunt to the Secretary of State, Caroline Spellman:

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab) asked: What plans she has for the future of British Waterways. The response was:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I made a statement on Monday 21 June on inland waterways policy for England and Wales. The Government consider that civil society has a valuable role to play in delivering public services as part of the big society. We will be looking in detail at options for a third sector model that will be appropriate for British Waterways, including the possible inclusion of Environment Agency navigations. No decisions will be taken until after the spending review.

Tristram Hunt responded: The Minister will know that Stoke-on-Trent is blessed with many things, and among them are the great canals of England: the Trent and Mersey and the Caldon canal, where we recently had the Hanley regatta. In order to become a proper third sector organisation, British Waterways needs an appropriate financial settlement following the comprehensive spending review and a longer contract with Government to replace annual grants. Can British Waterways’ property endowment be put in a charity-locked mechanism, so that the Treasury does not sell it down the canal, and we can be assured that, as an example of the big society?

The Speaker responded: “Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that we have the gist of his question.”

Richard Benyon replied: “I am grateful for all those questions, and I look forward to debating this matter with the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues to whom it is important. I know that he is particularly interested in the heritage of our waterways. The answer to his question is yes. For the third sector model to work, British Waterways will have to have access to its estate, or a large proportion of it, for it to gear up funding for sustainable funding in the future. I can assure him that it will not proceed unless it is locked in in that way. Those are the negotiations that we are taking forward with British Waterways.”

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