Open letter from Tony Hales

Published: Wednesday, 20 October 2010

BRITISH Waterways Chairman, Tony Hales has produced an 'open letter' concerning the future of the waterways, which we publish in full:

Dear waterway supporter

The Government has today made an important announcement about the future of the inland waterways in England and Wales, in probably the biggest shake up of our canals and rivers since nationalisation in 1948.

Out of State control

The plan, to move the waterways out of State control and into a new independent national charity, builds on the proposals I launched at the House of Commons in May last year and on Robert Aikman's vision for a ‘National Waterways Conservancy' half a century ago. When we called this proposal ‘2020', we thought it would take a while to achieve.

The fact that the Government now wishes to adopt it as policy, replacing British Waterways with the new charity by April 2012, is a tremendous achievement and I have congratulated the waterways minister, Richard Benyon MP, on his imaginative and positive response.

The waterways have been utterly transformed for the better in the time since British Waterways was established in 1962 and they are used and enjoyed by more people, in a wider variety of ways, than ever before. This transformation owes its success to the contribution of countless staff, volunteers and enthusiasts. Moving the waterways into a charitable body recognises the need to build on that enthusiasm and marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in their history.

Attract new funding

The Board and directors of British Waterways believe that this is absolutely the right next step for the nation's magnificent waterways. The move will attract new funding for waterways maintenance, safeguard investment and give everyone who uses and enjoys the waterways a greater role in how they are cared for. I don't underestimate the challenges ahead in making it happen, but history has shown that the waterway movement, when it pulls together, can achieve great things.

There is still a lot of work to do to: develop the new governance model; agree a long-term funding contract with government and; put in place transitional arrangements. Defra will examine the inclusion of the Environment Agency's navigations, as part of a coherent plan for the waterways it funds in England and Wales, and the Scottish Government will decide whether Scotland's waterways will be in the new body. British Waterways will continue to work with government officials and waterway stakeholders to ensure good continuity, a smooth transition and a successful launch for the new body.

How we can do it

The question for us all now is not whether we should form a new waterways charity, but how we can do it. Open dialogue and involvement will be vital to making this happen and I know that Defra intend to consult with waterway stakeholders as they develop the content of the Public Bodies Bill, through which the new charity will be set up.

I cannot overstate what an enormous opportunity this is for the waterways, and for all those who feel passionately about their future. We must all make sure our views are heard and I look forward to many interesting and constructive debates during the next six months.

Yours faithfully

Chairman, British Waterways