London's waterways are a precious community resource

by Assembly Member Murad Qureshi, Chair of London Waterways Commission Many of the concerns raised by the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) on the canals as highlighted in their recent blockade of Camden Lock are the very reasons that the Mayor set up t

by Assembly Member Murad Qureshi, Chair of London Waterways Commission

Many of the concerns raised by the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) on the canals as highlighted in their recent blockade of Camden Lock are the very reasons that the Mayor set up the London Waterways Commission (LWC) at the beginning of last year.

With myself now chairing a Board that covers not just the canals of London but the Thames and many other smaller rivers and streams in our great city, the waterways of London have strategic importance as a resource for transport, leisure and tourism and are a principal component of London's public realm.

They contribute to biodiversity and landscape value and the vitality and distinctiveness of many parts of London. They are a resource for London and their use is encapsulated within the Blue Ribbon Network (BRN) and enshrined within the Mayor's London Plan.


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In the first year of coming together we have made a submission to the revised London Plan protecting our canals, rivers and streams to maintain and enhance the status of the BRN. We are also dealing with the waterways issues on the Olympic site in the East End (like the freight opportunities presented during construction and all the recreational and biodiversity potential of the site as part of the Olympic legacy) and we do constituency work for those whose interests have not been represented over the years along London's waterways (like residential boat owners and commercial operations).

This year we are dealing with the strategic issue of boatyards in a survey being conducted and inspired by the protected wharf scheme established by the London Plan.

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Besides all that we are not losing sight of campaigning issues. I was happy to join the national campaign organised by 10 national groups representing tens of thousands of waterway visitors and users to stop the revenue cuts to British Waterways by DEFRA.

Many different types of canal user such as anglers, cyclists, canoeists, rowers, horse riders, runners, walkers, environmentalists and local community representatives joined me. The aim of the demonstration was to back the boaters and demonstrate the strength of feeling against this threat to the maintenance and future development of the waterways network.

The protesters urged MPs to sign the Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, put down in the name of Labour MP Charlotte Atkins.

The protests during that weekend added public emphasis to the lobbying of hundreds of MPs in recent months.

As someone who grew up in Little Venice, l have never taken for granted the unique environment that the canals offer Londoners for leisure and recreational pursuits. Even though they are on the back of major increases since 1997, these cuts will result in the decline of facilities in London and the rest of the country.

The public protests showed DEFRA the enormous depth of feeling against this threat to the historic waterway network of the UK and the love for our rivers and canals felt by a vast number of users.

Well-maintained and accessible waterways have improved the lives of millions who live close by them or who use them for leisure.

Furthermore, while defending British Waterways against such cuts, I welcome the new inquiry announced by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee at the House of Commons into the work of the British Waterways, as a DEFRA sponsored public corporation.

I for one will be particularly interested to learn how BW's commercial activities, including its property portfolio, assist its stewardship work. The committee invites all interested parties to address these matters in writing and to take part in a public hearing at the National Waterway Museum in Gloucester on Monday April 16, and l am sure it will generate a lot of interest.

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