Government opens 'supplementary consultation' on British Waterways becoming a charity

Six-week process intended to clarify whether it should retain its statutory powers and remain subject to the Freedom of Information Act

A bridge in Braunston
A bridge in Braunston

The government has opened a six-week supplementary consultation about whether British Waterways should retain its statutory powers and continue to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act when it becomes a charity.

As a public body, British Waterways currently has statutory powers relating to the classification and maintenance of the waterways. It is also subject to the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations, which give the public the right to access environmental information.

The supplementary consultation began this week after some respondents to the initial 12-week consultation asked for more detail about the legal transfer of powers.

The supplementary document says the eight transition trustees of the new charity have said the FoI Act would place an "unfair and discriminatory burden" on the new charity because other charities are not subject to it. The trustees include Lynne Berry, former chief executive of the volunteering charity WRVS, Jane Cotton, deputy chief executive of Oxfam, and Tom Franklin, chief executive of Ramblers.

They have suggested implementing a "transparency policy" that would "follow the spirit of the provisions" of the FoI Act and the Environmental Information Regulations by committing the new charity to measures such as a formal policy of response to information requests.

The supplementary consultation was published alongside details of the response by the  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the initial 12-week consultation, A New Era for the Waterways.

Defra’s response reveals that more than 350 organisations took part in the initial consultation. The most popular name for the new charity was the National Waterways Trust.

The next two most popular from a suggested list were the Waterways Trust and the Waterways Trust for England and Wales. The Scottish government has said it wants its waterways to remain in public hands. Government funding for the new charity will be negotiated this autumn.

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