As the need to respond to climate change becomes ever more apparent and pressure increases to use electrically driven transport instead of diesel, it is worth noting that the fuel use advantages of barges would still apply. Based on work undertaken by a research group recently set up by IWA to examine sustainable boat propulsion, it is clear that installing electricity storage and electric propulsion in barges is feasible and would be much simpler that developing electrically driven heavy goods road vehicles. We welcome the applicant’s recognition of the potential for use of electrically propelled barges [PSS 1.11] and note this is a realistic aspiration, as a number of shipyards are already producing hybrid commercial tugs and ferries.
To clarify the situation in relation to the local waterway network, we would highlight the fact that the proposed quarry site is alongside the Wakefield Branch of the Aire & Calder Navigation (A&CN), providing access in a westward direction to the Newlay Concrete plant located immediately alongside the Calder & Hebble Navigation (C&HN) at Ravensthorpe, understood to be a principal destination for the quarry output [PSS 1.12, 1.13 and 6.2.8]. The route through to Ravensthorpe is available to barges carrying a payload of approximately 80 tonnes (capacity being defined by the size of locks on the C&HN west of Wakefield). In an easterly direction, self-propelled vessels of up to 350 tonnes capacity can operate on the A&CN via Castleford to Leeds (also referenced as a potential proposed destination [PSS 1.13 and 6.2.8]), as well as to numerous other major centres between Castleford and Goole, with an onward high capacity waterway link via the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation (S&SYN) to Doncaster and Rotherham. Access to Birkwood for self-propelled vessels is limited by the space available for turning such vessels near Wakefield and larger capacity vessels (over 500 tonnes) can operate from Birkwood using a tug and barge combination, thus eliminating the need to turn the barge.
We note that some respondents have suggested that the waterways are not suitable for freight use. We would like to highlight the fact that, although currently under-used, all the waterway reaches mentioned above – C&HN as far as Greenwood Lock (west of Ravensthorpe), A&CN and S&SYN – are designated as commercial waterways by the 1968 Transport Act, Under the Act, these waterways are ‘to be to be principally available for the commercial carriage of freight’ and the Canal and River Trust has a statutory duty under the Act ‘to maintain the commercial waterways in a suitable condition for use by commercial freight-carrying vessels’. The waterways are therefore eminently suitable for carriage of freight.
Other consultees have suggested that use for freight traffic would cause congestion on the canal or adverse effects on canal wildlife. We note that in the past these waterways have carried much greater tonnages than proposed here and waterway congestion due to the proposed traffic is very unlikely. As mentioned earlier, the capacity of the waterways is recognised in the Core Strategy. Adverse effects on canal wildlife are also unlikely. In fact, research has shown that boat movements can have a beneficial effect on maintaining biological diversity in canals. Due to lack of water flow, disused canals tend to become overgrown, often with a single dominant plant, and further neglect can lead eventually to loss of the water channel altogether. Provided the waterway is of appropriate depth, boat traffic, especially with deeper draughted vessels, can help to maintain a clear channel allowing light to penetrate and support a wider range of plants and their dependent food chains.
Of course, recreational and residential vessels also use these waterways and are welcomed by the Canal and River Trust. IWA strongly supports multi-functional use of the waterways by vessels of all types and by towpath users and we welcome the commitment to protection of towpath users where the conveyor would cross the towpath (PSS 3.3]. Our experience from our membership, many of whom are recreational boaters, is that presence of freight vessels is an added attraction and interest feature of a waterway and the same is true of many towpath visitors. Any modifications required on a waterway to ensure that freight vessels can operate safely alongside recreational and other smaller vessels are generally very minor and readily achieved. IWFG has prepared a set of recommendations to navigation authorities on such matters and IWA meets regularly with the Canal and River Trust to discuss these and other navigation issues. Thus a forum for resolving any concerns of existing waterway users is already in place. Operators of freight barges are required by the Canal and River Trust to be suitably qualified and to be considerate to other waterway users. Our view is that the proposed use of the waterway for freight would be welcomed by most other waterway users and would not cause any adverse effects on them.
Therefore, on the grounds that the applicant plans to use sustainable waterway freight transport, has identified destinations and feasibility of serving these destinations by waterway and is supportive of a move to use of more sustainable electric barges when practicable, the IWFG strongly supports this application.