Thank you for your letter of 29 July enclosing a further one from your constituent ............. I apologise for the long delay in replying.
We recognise that not all stretches of inland water are suitable for water based recreation and that on those that are, there are sometimes conflicting uses. Access agreements are aimed chiefly at those stretches of water which are currently popular for a number of uses and where there is a potential for those uses to come into conflict. They are also aimed at those stretches of water where, if usage was to increase, potential conflicts could arise.
We believe that two key factors will help to ensure that access agreements are effective:
- the principle that access should be granted by a land owner in consultation with all those with an interest in using that access. The granting of access and the consultation process should be facilitated by a designated body; and
- access should be underpinned by an agreed national code of conduct which sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the users and the owners of the access.
Access agreements should contain a clear description of the times of year and states of the water when certain activities may not take place and a clear indication of any ingress and egress points created, or existing, along the stretch of water. The agreements should be drawn up after consultation with all those parties who have an interest in the stretch of water. As well as the landowner and any recreational users or potential users, this may include local authorities, businesses, and community and conservation interest groups.
The agreement of access to and along stretches of water will benefit all water users and address issues about the legality of using a stretch of water. The setting up of a designated body to facilitate the setting up of agreements will help to ensure that all those with an interest in a stretch of river will have equal voices in the debate on access.
Also, widespread support for voluntary agreements has been demonstrated in the past. During a study, an impressive 99% of 400 landowners contacted said they were willing to consider voluntary access agreements. Many, however, are put-off from pursuing agreements because the governing bodies of canoeing in England do not support the use of agreements.
The Environment Agency has published information on its website about how to get permission to use new stretches of water. This includes advice on what type of agreement might be needed, how to find out who owns the land that a river crosses, and how to approach landowners to seek an access agreement.