As Europe begins to emerge from the toughest period of COVID 19, NIWE is offering a regular scan of European positions and developments in terms of the policy challenges facing inland waterways.

In terms of the wider economic, social and health picture, there are better and more detailed sources to draw from as the Summer and, hopefully, an easing of the COVID crisis, comes into play. Also, there is wide reporting of the common, Europe-wide serious impact on tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors which waterways rely on for their commercial and revenue health. For us, as waterway promoters and operators, it is the movement towards re-opening of services and activity within NIWE members’ inland waterways that we will report on as the picture, with luck, improves.

In the Netherlands, from 1 June, many NL waterways opened again but for limited numbers of craft and activity. Rijkswaterstaat (RWS) reports being much busier now in terms of waterway activity, as 85 ‘Fairway’ owners / authorities require a standard approach to ‘unlocking’ re-opening of locks and bridges etc. There are, of course, great challenges for transport companies due to COVID effects.

In France, many waterways opened from 11 May. As with a number of other EU countries, three weekly reviews continue and, from 2 June, travel anywhere in France was permitted, with more waterways open as of June. Leisure boating and cruises are now also allowed, since the review on 22 June. Strong EU/FR ‘sanitary’ proposals are being put in place, which will help to encourage and allow movement. Remaining boat size restrictions are not impacting on FR internal traffic, though levels will remain low for a while. Importantly, from 22 June, a digital company started to promote nationwide tourism. There is an €18bn government injection into the tourism sector which will have a strong sustainable tourism focus. Voies Navigables de France (VNF) is working to ensure waterways feature strongly in this investment.

In Belgium, there is a combined approach (Wallonia, Flanders, Brussels Region) to the management of this crisis. Local private leisure boating has been permitted from 29 May, with pleasure boats able then to pass locks. There was a wider opening from 15 June, including permission for short leisure cruises. from 15 June, pleasure boats have been allowed to cross borders. De Vlaamse Waterweg also reported that freight traffic had continued unaffected.

the greater recognition and awareness of the positive wellbeing and health benefits to be gleaned from waterway walks, green/blue settings and assets. etc. This needs to be built upon in the coming months.

In Norway, a wider relaxation of restrictions took place from 15 June, in line with other countries. There remain great challenges for the overall Tourism and Culture sector.

As a ‘cross border’ organisation, Waterways Ireland must follow rules set out by both the UK/NI and Ireland. There was a general opening up 18 May (IE) and 29 May (UK/NI). Service Blocks etc. had been closed but are now following the 5 step (opening up) process. WI operational staff are working where needed as usual but ‘non-essential’ staff are furloughed or working from home. Longer distance travel has been allowed post 7 June. Big economic impacts on waterway businesses and tourism.

Waterways Ireland noted one positive for NIWE member organisations to build upon as re-opening continues: the greater recognition and awareness of the positive wellbeing and health benefits to be gleaned from waterway walks, green/blue settings and assets. etc. This needs to be built upon in the coming months.

As for the Canal & River Trust, From 1 June most navigations in England re-opened, all from Jun 8, subject to some exceptions. Longer journeys are allowed but not overnight stays on boats (yet) unless ‘liveaboards’ so this is restricting navigation – CRT is working with the on the context needed for wider relaxation of rules. Boats on Welsh canals must follow the latest advice from the Welsh Government.

Towpaths in England and Wales are open, but visitors must follow the government’s advice on social distancing. Volunteer Lock Keepers are now starting up, workshop and construction activities have been ramping up from 8 June. The Trust’s important engagement activities are slowly starting up. Most office staff working from home, but many also remain furloughed. Risk Assessment sets out CRT’s general approach to the risks. There are eight Protocols; six of these cover risks to staff (including volunteers), the other two mitigate risks to the public in using the waterway network.

Overall, EU borders have (mainly) begun opening up from 15 June, but there is not a settled common position on the need – or not – to quarantine on either arrival or on return. This is due to differential rates of infection in different countries, such as slower drops in infection and consequent transmissibility potential. Travellers and operators will need to remain flexible on this, bringing continued uncertainty in some markets and leisure sectors.