The Inland Waterways Association is relieved that Government has today stepped back from the brink regarding any immediate sale of British Waterways’ Property portfolio.
The announcement in the ‘Operational Efficiency Programme: Asset Portfolio’ document ended recent speculation that there were immediate plans to sell BW’s property to fund the National Debt. http://www.hmg.gov.uk/media/52715/oep-assetportfolio.pdf
Speaking on behalf of IWA, Clive Henderson national chairman said:
‘We have been lobbying Government, privately and publicly, ever since rumours of this sale surfaced. That has included the orchestration of a political lobby in the Commons and the Lords. We have also given vociferous support to the online petition, that has achieved an unprecedented public response in only a matter of days. We are delighted with the public’s support for the campaign.
This decision supports all the economic arguments. British Waterways’ property contributes some £45m per annum towards the £125m the company needs to maintain its inland waterways network, and to have sold the assets would have had dire consequences for the waterways, not only from a maintenance point of view but also in terms of British Waterways vision for becoming a third sector organisation.’
He went on to say.
‘We are pleased that in issuing this statement Government has indicated its support for looking seriously at alternative models such as the third sector. IWA has long advocated a more independent ‘National Waterways Conservancy’ that has the best interests of the waterways at its heart, as a means of better managing the waterways. As such we see value in British Waterways’ third sector ideas. This announcement provides scope for more movement in that direction.
A change in status should enable British Waterways to develop its property income stream in a more effective manner, freeing itself from some of the limitations on borrowing and investment that it is currently shackled with. This would allow it to focus more on active restoration and regeneration as well as generating more income. We would therefore support further investigation of this approach.
Whilst today’s announcement is in the main good news, there is an urgent need to gain greater clarity about Government’s intentions. Government is looking at a wider set of options. It wants to look at opportunities for private sector involvement. It is however, unclear what role the private sector could have in investing in the property of a third sector organisation, and that cannot include interference with the revenue stream. Any third sector organisation vested with running the waterways will need that dowry. We cannot therefore be complacent about this announcement. Additionally, we still have a funding gap. The SOS2010 campaign still needs support as we enter the period running up to the election. We need to demonstrate how lack of funding is affecting spending decisions and maintenance. We need to ensure that our support for the waterways remains firm. I would therefore encourage everyone to continue to publicise and seek support for the online petition at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/protectourcanals/ . It’s clear that this process is monitored by Government as a pulse on the mood of voters, and together with patient but firm lobbying can bring results’.