We now have a new government minister with responsibility for the waterways, in the person of Richard Benyon MP. Some people have expressed high hopes for MR Benyon, as he is a riparian landowner alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal and has an involvement with the Kennet and Avon Trust.
This week, Mr Benyon issued a statement about the waterways. Or rather, he got someone to make the statement on his behalf in the House of Lords. This could be interpreted as indicating that waterways are so low down on the government's priorities that they couldn't even find a few seconds for Mr Benyon to make his statement in the House of Commons himself!
His message gives a rather mixed message. He said that the new Government would continue to look at the possibility of creating a "third sector" model for British Waterways, as this may fit neatly with the government's so-called "big society" philosophy.
However, he warned that nothing could be decided before the outcome of the Government's Autumn Spending Revue, as the Government's main objective was to reduce the deficit.
He gave the same reason for his decision not to proceed with a new Government waterways strategy. (Can he be referring to Defra's "Waterways for Everyone" strategy? What are the implications if this is abandoned?)
Mr Benyon also suggested that any "third-sector" waterway body could include the Environment Agency's navigations (such as the Thames, the Nene and the Great Ouse). This suggestion has been welcomed by the IWA, which has campaigned for a nation waterway "conservancy" but is likely to be fiercely opposed by many boaters based on EA waters.
Today's Budget statement talked of most government departments facing financial cutbacks of 25% so there must be very little hope of any improvement in waterway funding for years to come. If BW is to evolve into a third-sector organisation or if a national waterway conservancy covering BW and EA navigations was to be created, just how effective would they be if they are not set up on a sound financial basis? A half-baked, cash-starved, third-rate new organisation would surely be the worst possible outcome for the secure future of our waterways?
The text of Mr Benyon's statement, as relayed by Lord Henley, can be read in full here.