The Canal & River Trust (CRT) has put in a formal request to the Government to transfer the Thames, Nene, Great Ouse, Medway and other Environment Agency (EA) rivers to CRT which has met with a mixed response from user groups.
The idea has been discussed numerous times in the past, and was to have taken place when CRT was formed from the former British Waterways in 2012. But the plan was scuppered by the twin problems of the lack of any EA property ‘dowry’ (unlike the considerable commercial portfolio which came from BW and provides some £50m a year in rentals), and the complexity on some rivers of disentangling navigation from other responsibilities (such as flooding) which would stay with the EA. A subsequent proposal which made some political progress fell foul of the 2017 general election, but CRT’s latest attempt has reached the point of a submission to Defra.
The Inland Waterways Association has written to 100 MPs urging them to back the plans, on grounds of:
• Economies of scale for a larger organisation.
• Better maintenance of EA waterways (whose condition IWA has been concerned about, as a result of Government funding cutbacks).
• New funding opportunities which are not available to a Government body.
On the other hand the National Association of Boat Owners opposes the move, and has written to MPs arguing that:
• CRT has yet to demonstrate that it is able to maintain or improve its waterways.
• Splitting the EA’s functions would be inefficient
• CRT couldn’t adequately future-proof the funding for its greater responsibilities