|Richard Benyon Pic by Bob Naylor©|
Waterways Minister Richard Benyon has released an open letter today on the British Waterways move to become a waterways charity
22 September 2011
In March, I launched a consultation on moving British Waterways in England and Wales into a New Waterways Charity. We received over 350 responses – the majority supportive. Over the summer, we discussed the responses with the new charity’s transition trustees, who will bring the new charity into being. I have now announced our intention to proceed.
I am grateful to the organisations and individuals who submitted responses. They show the commitment and enthusiasm that people up and down the country have for the waterways – both as a national network and as a local amenity. As a result, we have made several improvements to our proposals:
- We will set the initial size of the Council at 35 members. The Council will grow over time. For example, as other waterways join the charity.
- From the very start, the Council will have directly-elected members. Private boaters, boating businesses and employees of the new charity will all elect their representatives to the Council. Over time, the proportion of directly elected members will increase to 50% of the total.
- Each of the Waterways Partnerships, working closely with the charity’s 11 management units, will develop a localism strategy, so that local communities, enthusiasts, donors and volunteers are all engaged. The Waterways Partnerships will have fair and broad representation from a range of interests.
- We will create an All Wales Partnership, so that the Welsh voice is heard distinctly in Wales. There will also be a Partnership to cover the waterways museums.
- The Chairs of the Waterways Partnerships will all have a seat on the Council, and will meet at least annually with the Board of Trustees. The Chairs will meet as a group as often as they wish.
- We have published an improved draft of the charity’s purposes at http://www.defra.gov.uk/consult/files/110912-waterways-summary-responses.pdf.
- We will make the transfer of the waterways subject to a Trust: the waterways will be held and operated for the public good in perpetuity on behalf of the nation. Free pedestrian access to the towpaths will be protected.
Some respondents were concerned about the funding of the charity; others made suggestions for maximising donations and making efficiencies. The Government will transfer to the new charity the property assets of British Waterways in England and Wales, as a ‘dowry’ (valued at about £380m). At a difficult time for the nation’s finances, this represents a great start for the charity. In addition, I have committed the Government to a long-term funding agreement. We shall be discussing the terms of this with the transitional trustees later in the autumn.
Once we have created the charitable company, we will transfer the functions through a Transfer Order, subject to parliamentary approval, and the assets through a Transfer Scheme. On 12 September, I published a supplementary consultation paper, which seeks views on this. The consultation is open until 24 October and can be found on our website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2011/09/12/waterways-1109/. I hope that many of those who gave us their views the first time round will also respond to this consultation. We will issue a response later in the year.
When I launched the first consultation in March, I mentioned my great pride in the Kennet and Avon Canal in West Berkshire – and my passionate commitment to a prosperous future for the inland waterways in the charitable sector. The progress made in the past four months has taken us much closer towards achieving that vision. Over the next few months, we will be looking for members of the Council and the Waterways Partnerships. The charity will then start to take shape. It is an exciting time for the waterways and their many supporters.