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No transfer of EA waterways to CRT

The transfer of Environment Agency waterways to Canal & River Trust control will not now take place, at least for the foreseeable future. 

In a letter to CRT in January, the Department for Food, Agriculture & Rural Affairs said it was “not minded” to go ahead with the transfer, after terms could not be agreed on the limits of control and financing. 

The proposal for CRT to take on navigational responsibility of the Thames, the Anglian rivers and some other waterways has been under discussion ever since the trust was launched in 2012.

Recently talks have accelerated, and there was hope an agreement would be made this year. IWA sources said the Environment Agency was thought to be in favour of handing over its navigational responsibilities to CRT. 

But Defra seemed sceptical, with a spokesperson announcing: “The Canal & River Trust’s outline proposal has not matched our ambitions in two key areas - value for public money and efficient management of the waterways." 

However, he added that talks have not been broken off. 

“The Government remains open to a revised proposal from CRT, and the Environment Minister, Thérèse Coffey, has offered a further meeting with the Trust,” the statement concluded. 
Defra strongly denied a rumour we had earlier reported, that one reason for the breakdown was that it “has its hands full with Brexit”. 

CRT said it was disappointed, with a trust spokesman saying: “We remain convinced that the transfer would be in the wider public interest. It would deliver the real essence of value for taxpayers, and benefits for the users of these waterways while securing the long-term future of the navigations themselves.”

 The Inland Waterways Association also echoed CRT’s sentiments. “We are extremely disappointed to hear from the Environment Agency that Defra has been unable to agree CRT’s recent proposal for taking over the navigations run by EA. 

"IWA believes that a transfer of EA navigations remains the best way to ensure the future of these waterways with the minimum impact on the public purse.”

The River Thames Society, for its part, welcomed the decision. It has argued against the transfer of control and for the retention of one management body for the non-tidal Thames. 

RIver Thames Society chairman Peter Finch said, “We very much hope the long period of uncertainty is finally over, that all resources can now be devoted to river maintenance and improvement, while we continue to press for increased core funding.”

A CRT source said talks continue with Surrey and Hampshire County councils on its proposed takeover of the Basingstoke Canal, the next most likely candidate for transfer.

Tuesday 30 January  | Bobby Cowling  | 4.00pm, Tuesday 30 January 2018

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