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Inland Waterways

Volume 490: debated on Friday 27 March 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make it his policy to assist British Waterways to encourage use of the canal network for (a) leisure and (b) freight transport in the summer months of 2009. (265200)

I support British Waterways in promoting the use of their waterways which deliver considerable public benefit. British Waterways’ national marketing campaign “Yours to Enjoy” highlights the easy accessibility of the waterways to deliver a wide range of public benefits related to recreation.

For example, the Kennet and Avon Canal which runs through the hon. Member's constituency, supports 1,000 leisure and tourism jobs. In addition to sustainable tourism such as hire-boating, the waterways also offer opportunities for green recreation close to home. Use of the towpaths for walking and cycling not only improves health but offers a viable and sustainable transport option which is sometimes overlooked.

Later this month it will be my privilege to reopen the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, following a major programme of repairs by British Waterways. This canal plays a significant role in the local economy and together with the leisure businesses it supports it is a major tourism asset for Wales.

Freight is more complex, relying as it does on the availability of both sources and destinations by water, the availability of suitable carriers and other considerations of costs and benefits specific to each traffic and waterway. I support British Waterways' efforts to develop niche freight opportunities on appropriate waterways, such as the larger rivers in Yorkshire and the East Midlands, and London's Olympic Park. I also support British Waterways' other activities to harness the network's potential to help us adapt to climate change, such as generating green renewable energy from wind and water.

For the longer term British Waterways is intending to consult on its future strategy this summer and the Government are intending to consult on a new updated version of “Waterways for Tomorrow” later in the year.