The River Thames has a very long history of navigation being managed, much of it regulated by ancient acts of parliament. In more recent times there was the Thames Conservancy Agency, Thames Water, the National River Authority (NRA) and since 1996 the Environment Agency (EA) which merged several units from the Department of the Environment
There may now be another change as there is a body of opinion that feels that British Waterways (BW), who manage many canals and rivers should also manage the Thames. After investigation, eighteen months ago a decision was made to keep the status quo.
Last year a select committee of the House of Commons was charged to look at inland navigation and there is an opportunity for users to make their views known. The Inland Waterways Panel of the RYA are now suggesting to the RYA Council that they recommend changing the management of the Thames Navigation to British Waterways.
This may or may not be the right decision and the Thames Valley Region of the RYA believe personal members and member clubs should should be able to make their views known.
Accordingly 7 members of the committee attended a large emergency meeting, held at the Thames Motor Yacht Club, on 20 February 2001 to hear presentations by The EA and BW. A very interesting meeting and it is unusually to have two large organisations doing this; they both went went out of their way to praise their opponent and avoid any criticism.
The BW were represented by their Chief Executive Dr David Fletcher assisted by Paul Wagstaff; he made no promises but concentrated on their achievements with the 500 miles of rivers and 1500 miles of canals they manage, and the success at raising funds to develop them. There was also a video that had been produced for their AGM.
The EA were represented by their Chiefs Executive Baroness Young assisted by Board Member Professor Mc Glade and their Recreation Manager Eileen McIveer. The Baroness stressed that they were committed to developing the Thames for recreation and admitted they had warts which needed improving. She had only been in the job for under four months which was a disadvantage.
I had gone to the meeting thinking that it would be better keeping with devil you know. Generally The EA are considered to have done a good job at managing the Thames in an integrated manner but British Waterways gave the better presentation and it was generally agreed that British Waterways had done a super job at revitalising and developing the canals, and I was ready to change my mind.
We had a question and answer session, with views from the floor. We then had a response from Dr Mark Warner, a RYA Council member, who previously voted for the status quo but now argued passionately for British Waterways. BUT then Michael Shefras, the chairman and a public member of some EA committees, argued equally passionately for remaining with The EA.
We didnít fully believe either side; there was concern at splitting the Thames navigation from the other functions like flood control, and concern that BW would be too commercially oriented for much of the Thames development. I hadnít been converted. On a show of hands about 4-1 were in favour of remaining with The EA. The meeting had lasted three hours.