This blog is premised on the belief expressed by the author of the Bristol Avon blog (see links) that UK rivers are 'owned by no one and belong to everyone'. Not everyone agrees. The devolved Scottish Parliament has recognised the rights of its wider population to access the rivers of their country (with associated responsibilities), bringing the nation into line with the rest of its European neighbours, and indeed, most other countries in the world. However, whilst the issue is being discussed in the Welsh Assembly Government as this is written, Westminster continues to demonstrate that the Mother of Parliaments views the historic rights of river navigation by its English constituents less favourably.
One of the best summaries I've seen recently is from the conclusion to the Welsh National Assembly report into access, a view that could be equally applied to England: 'The rivers of Wales are a natural "gift" that should be within everyone's right to enjoy. We therefore believe that all people should have the right of access to inland water in Wales. Access should not be based on the vagaries of permissions bestowed or ability to pay but on the fundaments of equity and social justice.'
Rather than keep referring to the wider debate on access to English and Welsh rivers, or the lack of it (...it's so easy to drift into!), the following notes provide some information on how your political servants may feel about the interests of their paddling constituents on the River Kennet.
The Kennet Conservative Paddlers Association were wondering why their Labour colleague had left the house early...
Michael Ancram MP (until the next election) (grey cag)
Conservative MP for Devizes, just about all of the upper reach of the River Kennet west of Chilton Foliat (near Hungerford) flows through his constituency. His position with regard to access by paddlers to the River Kennet in his constituency is probably largely irrelevant as much of the river is effectively unrunable, and the rest is of limited potential (see the post on "The upper reach of the River Kennet"). His position with regard to the wider access issue is unknown at the time of writing, but you could take a guess what "The Earl of Ancram" thinks, and it is worth noting that 2009 sees him taking over as President of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust.
In June 2009 he leant his support to the ARK "Stand up for the Kennet" campaign, but on 11.08.09 Michael Ancram announced that he would be standing down at the next election.
His successor will almost certainly be the new Conservative PPC Claire Perry.
Richard Benyon MP (blue wetsuit on the right)
Conservative MP for Newbury, his constituency includes the River Kennet from just east of Chilton Foliat on the upper reach, to just above Padworth Mill on the lower reach.
In 2008 Richard Benyon signed the anti-access Early Day Motion amendment by Martin Salter (see further down this post). His influence with regard to access to the River Kennet extends over his constituency boundary to the east, where the RDAA "Upper Benyons" and "Lower Benyons" beats are named after his family and are leased from the Englefield Estate, of which Richard Benyon is a declared financial beneficiary in his position as Chairman of the Directors of Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Limited. Richard Benyon is also a Vice President of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, and the shadow fisheries minister.
John Redwood MP (the other blue wetsuit)
Conservative MP for Wokingham, the lower reaches of the River Kennet run through his constituency from Padworth Mill, down to just before where the Sulhamstead 'loop' drains into Draper's Osier Bed Stream. The constituency line follows the centre of the river from here, and along the middle of the Kennet & Avon canal until turning north and thereby fully incorporating the river at the M4 motorway bridge. The River Kennet remains in the Wokingham constituency from here to about two-thirds of the way along the Southcote 'loop'.
His position with regard to access to the River Kennet is unknown at the time of writing.
Martin Salter MP (until the next election)
Labour MP for Reading West, with sections of the River Kennet running through his constituency from the Sulhamstead 'loop', including Barble Bar and Arrowhead, to the M4 bridge. The River Kennet re-enters the Reading West constituency at Southcote, and having turned northwards after the A33 forms the constituency divide until it passes under the A4155 and into the adjoining political territory.
Despite the fact that his constituency only fully contains relatively short sections of the River Kennet, and that much of the river that he regards as within the mandate of Reading West is a shared boundary (similarly, only a short shared section of the Thames falls into this jurisdiction), Martin Salter (center) has strongly opposed the right by paddlers to access English rivers, failing to understand that his proclaimed support of angling outdatedly continues under the presumption that the two interests cannot co-exist, and indeed, that a universal extension of access in England and Wales would be of benefit to a wide cross section of the population including anglers. He is a trustee of the Thames River Restoration Trust, an angling interest group charitable trust focusing on the Thames and Kennet.
On the positive side is the news that he's jumping before he's pushed.
The Reading West constituency will now be fought for by Naz Sarkar (Labour) and Alok Sharma (Conservative).
...maybe he'd heard the rain coming his way or perhaps he'd seen the light!
Robert Wilson MP (in the red wetsuit - his more senior colleagues obviously got first choice)
Conservative MP fror Reading East, where the River Kennet forms the boundary with Reading West from Rose Kiln Lane to the A4155, and thereafter flows through the short urban section until it joins the Thames.
His position with regard to access to the River Kennet is unknown at the time of writing, but he didn't join his fellow MPs to the west in signing the EDM amendment to restrict paddling access to Rivers, which may be something to do with the chunk of the Thames that runs through his constituency, or may be to do with the fact that this first time MP only entered Parliament with a majority of 471 votes.
For a recent Parliamentary debate on English rivers with specific reference to the Kennet see the Hansard report for 13 May 2009 (column 256WH which started at 14:30 that afternoon).
Access further afield...
If you want to know whether you can count on your local MP to support your right to paddle on rivers in England and Wales, the best way is to ask them.
As an indication of their likely response the following notes will give you a heads up on those MPs who might be considered either pro- or anti-access.
In early April 2008, John Grogan, MP, tabled the following Early Day Motion (no. 1331):
RIVER ACCESS FOR NON-POWERED CRAFT
“That this House urges the Government to extend legislation on access to the countryside in England and Wales to allow canoeists and users of non-powered craft similar access rights to water as walkers have to the land; notes that in Scotland such access, accompanied by a code of rights and responsibilities for all concerned, has been successfully implemented; and believes that increased access to waterways would lead to greater participation in canoeing, resulting both in obvious health benefits to the nation and in increased chances of future Olympic success.”
It was signed by 101 MPs (although three later changed their minds and signed an opposing amendment to the motion).
Binley, Brian (Northampton South)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing West)
Burns, Simon (West Chelmsford)
Dorries, Nadine (Mid Bedfordshire)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Lancaster, Mark (North East Milton Keynes)
MacKay, Andrew (Bracknell)
Spring, Richard (West Suffolk)
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Walter, Robert (North Dorset)
Donaldson, Jeffrey (Lagan Valley)
McCrea, Dr William (South Antrim)
Robinson, Iris (Strangford)
Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim)
Short, Clare (Birmingham, Ladywood)
Anderson, David (Blaydon)
Battle, John (Leeds West)
Blackman-Woods, Roberta (Durham, City of)
Burgon, Colin (Elmet)
Clark, Katy (North Ayrshire & Arran)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon Valley)
Cohen, Harry (Leyton and Wanstead)
Connarty, Michael (Linlithgow & East Falkirk)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Cummings, John (Easington)
Davidson, Ian (Glasgow South West)
Dismore, Andrew (Hendon)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood & Middleton)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Etherington, Bill (Sunderland North)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Francis, Hywel (Aberavon)
Grogan, John (Selby)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral West)
Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton North)
Iddon, Brian (Bolton South East)
Illsley, Eric (Barnsley Central)
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Jones, Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Mackinlay, Andrew (Thurrock)
Martlew, Eric (Carlisle)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley)
McDonnell, John (Hayes and Harlington)
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Mitchell, Austin (Great Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura (Crawley)
Morley, Elliot (Scunthorpe)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
O'Hara, Edward (Knowsley South)
Olner, Bill (Nuneaton)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn (Dover)
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Riordan, Linda (Halifax)
Singh, Marsha (Bradford West)
Skinner, Dennis (Bolsover)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Taylor, David (North West Leicestershire)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington South & Finsbury)
Truswell, Paul (Pudsey)
Turner, Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown)
Vis, Rudi (Finchley & Golders Green)
Walley, Joan (Stoke-on-Trent North)
Wright, Anthony D (Great Yarmouth)
Wright, Tony (Cannock Chase)
Alexander, Danny (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey)
Baker, Norman (Lewes)
Beith, Alan (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton & Wallington)
Browne, Jeremy (Taunton)
Davey, Edward (Kingston & Surbiton)
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gidley, Sandra (Romsey)
Hancock, Mike (Portsmouth South)
Harris, Evan (Oxford West & Abingdon)
Harvey, Nick (North Devon)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hemming, John (Birmingham, Yardley)
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle)
Keetch, Paul (Hereford)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye and Lochaber)
Kramer, Susan (Richmond Park)
Leech, John (Manchester, Withington)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Opik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire)
Pugh, John (Southport)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Stunell, Andrew (Hazel Grove)
Swinson, Jo (East Dunbartonshire)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol West)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff Central)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Towards the end of April 2008, Reading West MP Martin Salter tabled the following amendment to the motion:
“leave out from `Government' to end and add `to continue its policy that any increase in access to canoeists and non-powered craft being voluntary access agreements only, which have been proven to work in both England and Wales; believes that the users of all canoes and non-powered craft on inland waterways should be subject to the same restrictions as anglers, and the same penalties for infringements; further believes that the Environment Agency should have the power to close any waterway to any craft in the interests of protecting sensitive aquatic environments; and considers that, not withstanding the forthcoming Olympic Games, it should be remembered that angling is a sport which has four million participants in England and Wales with an annual economy of £3.5 billion and which has had great success in the recent World Championships'.”
It was signed by 38 MPs (the three MPs whose names are in italics are those who changed their minds from earlier support).
Benyon, Richard (Newbury)
Bercow, John (Buckingham)
Burt, Alistair (NE Bedfordshire)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Gove, Michael (Surrey Heath)
Gummer, John (Suffolk Coastal)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Maclean, David (Penrith and The Border)
Mates, Michael (East Hampshire)
McIntosh, Anne (Vale of York)
Neill, Robert (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Penning, Mike (Hemel Hempstead)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford and Stortford)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin)
Swire, Hugo (East Devon)
Viggers, Peter (Gosport)
Walker, Charles (Broxbourne)
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Davies, Dai (Blaenau Gwent)
Taylor, Richard (Wyre Forest)
Betts, Clive (Sheffield Attercliffe)
Chaytor, David (Bury North)
Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham)
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Farrelly, Paul (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Gibson, Ian (Norwich North)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
Howarth, George (Knowsley North and Sefton East)
Hoyle, Lindsay (Chorley)
Humble, Joan (Blackpool North and Fleetwood)
Kemp, Fraser (Houghton and Washington East)
Laxton, Bob (Derby North)
Miller, Andrew (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
Salter, Martin (Reading West)
Starkey, Phyllis (Milton Keynes South West)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge)
Williams, Mark (Ceredigion)
Williams, Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire)
In June 2009 John Grogan tabled another pro-paddling EDM, no. 1577 titled "INCREASED ACCESS TO WATERWAYS IN ENGLAND AND WALES"
That this House applauds the British Canoe Union for staging an excellent 2009 European Canoe Slalom Championships in Nottingham, 28 to 31 May 2009, and celebrates the notable success of Team GB in taking four medals in total, two gold, one silver and one bronze; welcomes the BBC's live coverage on a busy sporting weekend; notes that over 2.5 million paddlers in Britain only have access to 1,400 miles of inland water in England and Wales, which is less than four per cent. of the total 41,000 miles of waterways over three metres wide; further notes that while the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2002 only incorporates land, the Scottish Land Reform Act 2003 and its supporting Scottish Outdoor Access Code includes waterways, ensuring that paddlers have the same rights as walkers and access to all of Scotland's waterways; and calls on the Government to set a realistic target for increased access to waterways in England and Wales by the Olympic year of 2012.
It was signed by the following MPs.
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing West)*
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Robinson, Iris (Strangford)*
Simpson, David (Upper Bann)
Davies, Dai (Blaenau Gwent)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)*
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Austin, John (Erith and Thamesmead)
Battle, John (Leeds West)*
Caton, Martin (Gower)
Clelland, David (Tyne Bridge)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)*
Corbyn, Jeremy (Islington North)
Crausby, David (Bolton North East)
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)**
Dismore, Andrew (Hendon)*
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood and Middleton)*
Drew, David (Stroud)
Etherington, Bill (Sunderland North)*
Grogan, John (Selby)*
Heyes, David (Ashton under Lyne)
Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton North)*
Illesley, Eric (Barnsley Central)*
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)*
Jones, Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak)*
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley)*
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff North)
Naysmith, Doug (Bristol North West)
Riordan, Linda (Halifax)*
Ryan, Joan (Enfield North)
Smith, Angela (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Southworth, Helen (Warrington South)
Taylor, David (North West Leicestershire)*
Turner, Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown)*
Vis, Rudi (Finchley & Golders Green)*
Beith, Alan (Berwick -upon-Tweed)*
Breed, Colin (South East Cornwall)
Hancock, Mike (Portsmouth South)*
Hemming, John (Birmingham, Yardley)*
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield)*
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh)
Leech, John (Manchester, Withington)*
Pugh, John (Southport)*
Stunell, Andrew (Hazel Grove)*
Williams, Stephen (Bristol West)*
Willis, Phil (Harrogate and Knaresborough)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff Central)*
Social Democrat and Labour Party
McDonnell, Alisdair (Belfast South)
* Also voted for John Grogan's EDM 1331 in 2008
** Also voted for the Martin Salter tabled amendment to EDM 1331 in 2008
With a General Election getting slowly closer in the UK some of the above named may be removed, and indeed, following the exposure of MP's expenses in May 2009 some have already stood down. It is less likely that the newly found sense of accountability to the public will last long enough to change the status quo, so paddle on!