05 December 2006

Responding to the Brighton Report

You may remember that a couple of months ago I posted on how the English access situation sucks. Well today Tamsin Phipps, of the River Access Campaign sent out a template to all canoeists, through the UK Rivers Guidebook, to help them lobby their local MP's. So get writing to your local MP by using the template below and with a bit (more like lots and lots) of luck all things access may start to improve.

Dear MP (MP NAME),

RE: River Access in England and Wales for Non Powered Craft

Did you know..
One of the biggest issues that face British Canoeists is the lack of access to the rivers of England and Wales. Canoeing, for the fifth year running, has been recognised as the fastest growing watersport (RYA Survey 2005). The sport is socially inclusive, ecologically sound and a fun, healthy activity for people of all ages and abilities. Canoeing also plays an important role in local economy.

The latest situation
The Environment Agency (EA) commissioned the University of Brighton to look into the feasibility of voluntary access agreements, the report “Putting pilot voluntary canoe access agreements in place” was published on October 3rd 2006. The British Canoe Union (BCU) has raised grave concerns over the report, the manner in which it was undertaken and its implications for the sport.

On behalf of DEFRA the Environment Agency asked Brighton University to test and demonstrate the processes involved in negotiating voluntary agreements and to secure voluntary canoe access agreements on four rivers in England (Mersey, Teme, Waveney and Wear). These rivers had featured in an earlier feasibility study carried out by the Countryside Agency.

What has the study actually achieved?
Very little indeed, 72kms (45 miles) have allegedly been "given" to paddlers, but in reality over 25 miles already had access agreements in place (the EA had sponsored a Canoeists Guide to one of the rivers). So in two years, hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent to potentially gain a meager 20 miles of access, “secured – in principle”.

What is more, these voluntary access agreements tend to be highly restrictive and complicated.

There are over 41,000 miles of rivers (over 3 meters wide) with no access! At this rate gaining access to rivers is too slow. Voluntary access agreements are certainly not feasible or a practical strategic solution.

The report has shown in no uncertain terms that the work carried out was fundamentally flawed.

Just a few reasons why the study is flawed
• There was virtually no consultation with the British Canoe Union, the National Governing Body of the sport, representing the interests of over 50,000 paddlers. The Environment Agency do not understand a National Governing Bodies role I.e. not a statutory body or police force
• In the light of the Scottish Land Reform Act and CRoW as well as following example from other European countries, Canoeists are right to expect a more realistic approach to access.
• Emphasis has been placed on supply and demand being broadly in line. The supply of “water” includes lakes etc and bears no resemblance to the demand for moving water on rivers.
• Rather than finding an innovative solution this study fuels the angling versus canoeing debate.

What are we campaigning for?
New legislation such as the successfully implemented Scottish Land Reform Act 2003, that codifies responsible access to land and water. It protects the environment and activities of canoeists, anglers, other users and landowners who are all required to adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Canoeing is not seeking a conflict with anglers and other river users. It wants to successfully co-exist to the wider benefit of the whole community, as canoeists do in Scotland, all over Europe and the rest of the world.

Why more rivers access?
Increase participation in sport and recreation
A legal right of access to rivers would provide phenomenal recreational opportunities for a whole group of people including canoeists, swimmers, and boaters with, knock-on benefits for public health. The recreational aspects of canoeing could coincide effectively with government’s “everyday sport” and Welsh Assembly Government’s “Climbing Higher Strategy” if only river users had more access.

Olympic success
It is not just recreational paddlers that would benefit. British Canoeing has an outstanding record in the Olympic Games. Our athletes achieved three Olympic medals in Athens and in London 2012 we want to achieve 4 Olympic Medals including possibly 2 gold. A legal right of access will directly help to improve the UK’s Olympic standing.

Contribution to the economy
In addition to increased opportunities for recreation and elite sport, increased access to rivers would mean more money for rural communities. Research has shown that canoeing contributes about £750 million a year for the economy of England and Wales as well as supporting over 15,000jobs.

Support for the campaign?
As my MP I am also asking you to support the campaign. There are many ways in which you can do this. Perhaps you would ask Parliamentary Questions on our behalf? Sign EDMs that will happen in the next session of Parliament and ask questions of DEFRA.

One question that could be asked is:
If the Government is a firm believer in championing outdoor activities why then is it taking so long to move on the access issue? Could you please explain why your Government has chosen to approach Costal Access with legislation but continues to look at access to rivers through voluntary arrangements? Is not land and water intrinsically linked?

Where can I find more information?
Visit www.riversaccess.org

I trust you appreciate the valuable contribution that canoeing makes; to the health of our nation, to the economy, Olympic medal success and to the community.

Legally protected access would remove conflict from the situation and provide clarity and certainty for those visiting our rivers.

Thank you for your support.

Kind regards,


Get campaigning.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

No comments: