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Navigating and living on the waterways of Great Britain & Ireland and news of canal developments.
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TOPIC: NOTES OF ENVIRONMENT AGENCY NATIONAL NAVIGATION USERS FORUM 19 FEB 20

NOTES OF ENVIRONMENT AGENCY NATIONAL NAVIGATION USERS FORUM 19 FEB 20 24 Feb 2020 11:29 #113978

  • Mike Gibbons
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I attended the Environment Agency National Navigation Users Forum on Wed 19th February on behalf of Andy Soper who was unable to attend.

The meeting primarily discussed the future EA Sustainable Business Plan and a number of additional areas. It began with a note on the upcoming Charging consultation. There was some concern about the delay caused by the pre-consultation sessions held before Christmas which produced some amendments to those already incorporated and there will be no further opportunity to review but EA says that they will adhere to the published timescale for consultation. The outcome will be discussed with all user groups of all types later in 2020 prior to adoption in 2021. The NNUF is next scheduled to meet in October 2020, the regional meetings will also discuss options that flow from the consultation and there are discussions about widening representation to a broader range of waterway users (we are in C&RT ‘wellness’ territory here in addition to towpath users and non-boaters), even to additional reps on the NNUF since some reps such as the River Wye rep already represent a broad constituency of users.

The DEFRA Clean Air Strategy response was also discussed and I raised (prompted by Andy Soper) why the response hadn’t been shared and where it was which was deemed a good point to ask! EA wasn’t able to tell us what they had said that they will send it with the minutes……….. There was general agreement that there were big issues for residential owners, low-income boaters and the problem of diesel engines would not go away.

The NNUF Terms of Reference were briefly discussed since they were updated only a couple of years ago. The EA view is that navigation and users remain at the heart of this Forum so that any additional groups which could be added to it must not separate boaters from other users because it wishes to demonstrate a broad stakeholder base was broadly agreed apart from one boater voice (which appeared to represent the ‘old guard’ in most discussions).

The Sustainable Business Plan was a series of small group and wider meeting discussions on various topics. It has to go to the Board in May and will then be discussed by all user groups. Basically, the ‘value’ of the EA estate is seen to rise from £1.9bn to £5.3bn over 25 years and key points were about the underestimating of the cost of flood repairs so EX is gathering evidence to support the boaters’ position. There was much talk by many members about better engagement with local communities which EA says is currently undervalued.

Discussions took place on Asset Management - the 1240 locks, landings, moorings etc which have been scored for condition. Locks are a particular problem on Anglian waterways and a few on the Thames, needing specific maintenance to reach good long-term standards. There are 52 locks to refurbish and 2 to rebuild (both Anglian) at a cost of £76 million over 5 years together with a need for £25 million per annum for all maintenance and this amount is being bid into the current government Spending Review to create a 5 year and 25 year programme of work.

The Climate Resilience discussion focuses on enhancing environment and biodiversity as little work has been done so want to put more attention into it to align this with 25 year EA plan and achieve net zero impacts by 2030. Discussions focussed on flood and drought with the issue of transfer of water resources using the water grid. EA wants to talk to actual communities including agricultural environment not just do a desk-based study, looking also at cleaner diesel engines, alternative forms of propulsion and need for dispensation for diesel users. There was some scepticism, for understandable reasons about more charging points for electric propulsion but acknowledgement that day boats and trip boats could make the transfer more easily.


On the topic of Commercial Approach, the highlights were about Moorings & Marinas, what EA should be doing; lessons from previous schemes such as BWML; current and future demand and where can new locations happen.
Currently there are 412 berths on 41 sites of which 83% are leisure use only, 7% residential and 10% mixed. Occupancy 89% which brings revenue of £475,000 - average per berth £1,336 - an area of potential significant increase. As for their Estates and Assets, the National Estates Team is aiming for financial sustainability which means a more considered approach than ‘burning the floorboards’ (splendid phrase!)

Digital Transformation - this topic looked at a digital online boat registration charging scheme by 2022 with an easy online booking system for moorings and campsites supported by a better website and app including improved Strong Stream Advice.

Operational Service focussed on being clearer on statutory duties and reducing discretionary spend by going national where efficient (not necessarily job cuts!) and liaising better. Again the ‘broader stakeholders’ were mentioned and an increasing focus on volunteers. The members said there was confusion on what is statutory and what is discretionary and what else other than boater surveys is to be done such as towpath surveys?

EA said, importantly, that inherent in EA work is that these are navigation waterways so clear that boats are the focal point but that understanding the towpath users can provide focus on possible commercial benefit. Use of volunteers need investment to realise full benefits. Support staff need to tie into communities and increase training & communications.

An interesting meeting - EA newer staff seem very determined to service boaters better. The Forum members seemed slightly split between slightly weary and more positive. I would hope that EA deliver what they promised in which case there were a number of good potential outcomes from this meeting.

Mike Gibbons
Chair

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