It is hard to believe that almost 10 weeks have passed since the Clear Access, Clear Waters Charter was launched in Westminster. In this blog, Places to Paddle Manager, Ben Seal updates on what parliamentary work has taken place in the last few weeks.
In the immediate weeks following the launch, we were overwhelmed with the positive reaction we received to the Charter. On social media and news, the videos and posts generated some of the biggest interest we have seen at British Canoeing. We received numerous messages of support, not just from paddlers but also people from outside the sport who had seen Clear Access, Clear Waters and wanted to see how they could be involved.
While it was really disappointing, but not surprising, to see the negative reaction from our colleagues in the Angling Trust, our message remains very clear; that fair, sharing of waterways is the way forward and is the future. It is clearly in all our interest to work collaboratively, rather than in opposition.
In the last 10 weeks, we have seen more than 40 letters sent to MPs from paddlers – but with 533 English constituencies, it leaves plenty to go at!
Notably, the likes of Philip Hammond MP, Anna Soubry MP, Patrick McLoughlin MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Caroline Spelman MP, Chris Williamson MP (and others) have all agreed to, or have already written to the Secretary of State for Defra.
Further to letters, we are hearing of paddlers being inspired to visit their MP and taking the Clear Access Charter to them. Mike Mitchell a valued volunteer and coach in Herefordshire received a very warm reaction from Jesse Norman MP at a recent constituency surgery. There is simply no better way of seeking the backing of your Member of Parliament, than to explain what access means to you, face to face.
It is so very important that we keep up the pressure and really turn up the volume on our Clear Access, Clear Waters campaign. Now is our chance to do our bit.
In the final week of January a written question was submitted to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport by Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party, asking the Government what progress has been made on access to waterways. This again came from a local waterway volunteer, Clive Edwards, writing to his MP. We eagerly await a reply from the Sports Minister.
Just this Week, John Grogan MP raised access to English water in questions to the Sports Minister:
“Canoeing has not been mentioned tonight. I can reveal exclusively that, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and colleagues from across the House, I will be tabling an extremely important motion about canoeing tomorrow.
In Scotland, people can canoe wherever they like. In England and Wales, there are 42,000 miles of inland waterways, but people have uncontested access to only 1,500 of them.
That is unfinished business from the right to roam legislation. In many countries in the world people can canoe, and canoeing is also a great Olympic sport. I would like Ministers to have a look at that issue”.
We are hoping that very soon, an ‘Early Day Motion’ will be tabled by John Grogan MP, which will be an ideal opportunity for your MP to sign and show their support.
Shortly before Christmas, we learned of an amendment to the new Agriculture Bill, which would pave the way for landowners, farmers and estate managers to have to recognise the rights of paddlers on water, linked to future subsidies. This is a really key area for us to explore and subsequently the Places to Paddle Team produced a paper for Defra on post-Brexit Environmental Land Management Scheme proposals.
Work to meet other MP’s is ongoing and meetings are planned in February & March to continue to build our support. Meetings are in the diary to brief key members of the shadow cabinet in the coming weeks.
Inevitably Brexit is casting a shadow over all parliamentary work at present, so seeking any significant progress in the present climate will be challenging. But we are resolute in our aim; to raise the profile of Clear access, Clear Waters with those who have the ability to affect change!
And for that, we need YOU.