“This Government has an excellent record in delivering access to land for recreational purposes in England; and we are keen to see access opportunities extended further wherever possible and practicable. We therefore share canoeists’, and other user groups’, aspirations for more and better access to inland water and have been working, through our agencies, to deliver this over a number of years.
The Government recognises that some people consider that only the creation of a statutory right of access to inland water would deliver access where it is needed. While we acknowledge that people hold this view, the Government’s strong opinion is that it is not appropriate for a number of reasons.
Research we have undertaken has shown that there is not a demand for access to all inland water, and it is therefore impossible to justify legislation to deliver this, which would undoubtedly be complex, controversial and costly. But there are certain “hotspots” where demand exceeds supply, and certain types of canoeing – eg white water and touring – which are not sufficiently catered for.
Our conclusion from the evidence is that demand for access would more effectively be met by a targeted approach, which involves identifying where access is needed, and then creating access agreements with the landowner and other interested parties. Pilot projects undertaken by the Environment Agency have shown what can be achieved. Another benefit of this approach is that it results in access arrangements that are clear and can be codified so that everyone knows what can, and cannot, be done under the agreement. We believe that this sort of arrangement would be welcomed by landowners and by most water users.
To help identify the demand for water access we have asked the Environment Agency to work with other stakeholders to draw up strategic plans. Draft plans for two of their regions – the South-West and East of England – should be published for consultation by the end of the year. The Agency is also prepared to work with user groups to help identify specific sites where an access agreement might be put in place.
Creating access via agreements will undoubtedly require goodwill and hard work on all sides and nothing will be achieved overnight. But we firmly believe that this is the right approach. Given the commitment of all interested parties, particularly water users and landowners, this managed and targeted approach should, over time, result in a significant increase in the amount of inland water accessible to all water users.
The possibility of legislation to create new access to rivers in Wales is a matter for the National Assembly for Wales. The Assembly Government’s current approach on this matter is very similar to that being pursued in England – ie that voluntary agreements and other practical work on the ground should assist in securing more and improved public access to rivers in Wales.”