EA inaction takes boaters back to 1950s protests

March 2017 - It seems boaters on Environment Agency waters in Eastern England are having to go back the campaigning cruises of the 1950s in an attempt to shame the Agency into keeping navigations navigable, Peter Underwood reports.

The latest is an attempt to navigate the Old Bedford River by boaters from Project Hereward – although it is not the first.

Veterans of several attempts over the years to navigate the Old Bedford river, John Revell and his boat Olive Emily will be joined by Chris Howes and his boat Lily May for a fresh attempt in early April, possibly in the company of a third vessel.

The venture follows the most recent attempt on the Old Bedford by John Revell last November, which was defeated by low water levels and a lack of dredging by the Environment Agency.

the company of a third vessel, yet to be confirmed.
These efforts are being made as the inability to navigate some local waterways not only mars the enjoyment of local boaters, but significantly hampers the development of a tourist industry that could be very important to the Fens economy.
Chris Howes explains “Following a recent question in Parliament, we have been assured at the highest level of the Environment Agency’s Anglian Region that de-silting has been undertaken and with the E.A.’s support we are hoping to make it all the way to Welches Dam Lock.

“Despite several attempts having been made, we are not aware that anyone has successfully managed to complete this journey since 2009, but as the Old Bedford river remains a statutory navigation, we are hoping that with the E.A.’s support we will succeed this time”.

The attempt on 4th April will start around 11.30am at Salter’s Lode, PE38 0BL. Onlookers, supporters, and strong bodies prepared if necessary to haul the boats through any unmaintained sections, are all welcome !

The Old Bedford river was dug in 1630 as the first of Cornelius Vermuyden’s endeavours to drain the Fens.

It connects the Horseway Arm of the Forty Foot Navigation with the River Great Ouse just below Denver Sluice. It has been navigated for over 350 years, since the ‘Pretended Act of 1649’.

Navigation was first impeded by the building of a sluice at Welney in 1973, and the connection with the Forty Foot was interrupted when the Environment Agency closed Welches Dam Lock by inexplicably piling across the face of it.

Project Hereward is campaigning to restore the lock and connecting Horseway Arm. The Old Bedford River remains in water but navigation remains difficult through ill considered water level management and a lack of de-silting and weed clearance.

According to the IWA, Waterways in the Anglian region are under threat of closure as the Environment Agency is considering closing rivers to navigation on ‘health and safety’ grounds instead of securing proper resources from Defra for their maintenance.

IWA says it has seen documents that reveal EA is prepared to make long-term closures of navigation assets.

The minutes of an “EA – CRT Proposed Transfer meeting” held on 20 October 2016 to discuss the potential transfer of Environment Agency navigations to Canal & River Trust state:

“….discussed closed assets in Anglian and legal challenges they have had. It was agreed that an option which may need to form part of the discussion with government’ is the possibility that we may have to close some navigations in the future (on health and safety grounds) if we’re unable to fund the repair and maintenance of the assets.” At the same meeting, CRT stated that “This is not an option that CRT are comfortable with proposing as “keeping navigations open is our raison d’etre”.

Subsequent correspondence with EA at the highest level has done nothing to allay IWA’s concerns and EA has done little to reassure IWA with their statement concerning "no immediate risk" to these waterways.

Three locks in the Anglian Region are already closed with EA stating that it is unable to reopen them due to current funding restraints.

EA admits that this is the inevitable consequence of its underfunding problems, which IWA has been campaigning about for many years.

It is only a matter of time before further navigation assets are closed, potentially on waterways that are well used and provide links or through routes to other waterways, a situation that IWA says it regards as 'unacceptable'. ​

Photo: John Revell and his boat Olive Emily (right) will be joined by Chris Howes and his boat Lily May for a fresh attempt on 4th April 2017, possibly in the company of a third vessel, yet to be confirmed.

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