Statement from new Waterways Minister – hedging bets?

The following written statement made today by Defra minister Richard Benyon MP with regard to inland waterways in England and Wales sort of sits on the fence

but NABO feels that at least we have a Minister who understands many of the issues.

The statement reads, “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."

British Waterways welcomed the statement, which recognises the important role of Britain’s canals and rivers and outlines the UK Government’s support for exploring a third sector model for the waterways.  BW Chairman, Tony Hales, comments:

“We have been convinced for some time that moving the country’s historic canals and rivers into the charitable sector is key to securing their future.  We believe that it is the best option to closing the funding gap that they face and harnessing the enormous passion that millions of people feel for them.  While we appreciate that no decisions can be taken until after the autumn spending review, we take this very much as a good sign and look forward to working with Defra, the Scottish Government and our other stakeholders to work up the proposals in more detail.”