Category: NN Chairman's Column
Published: Tuesday, 24 September 2013 09:41
In July the Waterways Minister announced that he had decided to delay the decision on the transfer of the EA Navigations to CRT. Both navigation authorities were in discussions that might have led to a merge in 2015. There are no details as to why the merger has been delayed and I have no insider knowledge. It is my view that first the funding needed to sweeten the deal was not available, and secondly, the merger was sufficiently controversial for politicians not to want to push it through. I do welcome the announcement because I think, and have consistently said, that CRT has enough on its plate in these early years and taking on the EA would be beyond reasonable expectations and risk.
But the downside is that it does leave EA Navigations in limbo for the coming years. The long-term commonsense need for new funding of the EA waterways remains, as it did for BW. EA has been consulting national user groups recently on the registration fee increase for next year, proposing to raise fees by above inflation, in part anticipating that the Government Grant in Aid will drop next year. This is a groundhog moment from the last years of BW: BW Licence fees went up year-on-year and DEFRA neatly cut back the GIA to match - and for good measure took any BW efficiency savings too. We should not forget this is why we still need the CRT concept, with ring-fenced government funding and a chance to find new money from other than boaters. In the meantime, EA is proposing a registration increase which is simply a further transfer of funding from Government to boaters; I have objected.
And in the meantime for EA? The users are broadly split into Thames, Eastern Rivers and the Medway, with little boating interchange between them. I observe that there is little support for the balance of the funding split between these areas, with the Thames perceived as a prima donna, jealously protected, and the others relatively under-funded. There needs to be wide user support for this budgeting split, something in which CRT is well-experienced. Also the expenditure for flood defence has perhaps benefited the EA navigations, and there is a real fear that this will become a burden or disappear as navigation is ring-fenced, and departmental budget protection kicks in. This needs to be sorted out so that when the transfer is again put comes back on the table, the right solution will have been found and be working.
Val and I have cruised the system more this year than for a long time, moving the boat from one side of the country to the other, and taking the long way round. It has been very pleasant, and the main waterway issue has been ‘how quiet it has been’. There have been hardly any boats out, and we have seen many hire craft tied up in the basins. We have enjoyed visitor moorings in towns where none were expected. This is very unusual for us, as we often cruise late in the day and don’t expect to find them empty. Where is everybody? I think that the green shoots of recovery have not yet flowed down to boaters and the price of diesel is biting.
Which takes us to the new CRT mooring rules and events on the K&A and in the SE. Elsewhere in this issue we bring you up to date with the plans, where minimum cruising distances, no return rules, overstay charges and community mooring permits are all in vogue. I hope we do not have different rules in different areas, as the confusion will affect boaters just going about in their lawful way. CRT is always confident about their interpretation of the Acts, so let us have some action so we can see what the courts think too. This will continue to be a major subject for comment by NABO.
I am pleased to say that membership numbers are holding up well after the increase in membership fees and I thank you for your loyalty to the Association. We do lose members, some saying we are too aggressive and some saying we are not aggressive enough. But those who write are most often going ashore because they are selling up, and there is little to be said other than best wishes for the future and thanks for your support. As always I welcome letters, and try and respond to them all; they give guidance to Council and help it to remain sensitive to the mood on the cut.
Melanie has told us that she wishes to step down from handling our membership administration next year. This will leave a big gap in our housekeeping. We need to build a new team to handle the essential work and think about the way we do things, maximising technology and minimising effort. Could you be part of that team? Please get in touch if you can help.
We are now approaching the AGM in November and thoughts turn to plans for next year. As always, we need your support to continue the work, and that means new faces. Please help to take the load as two long-serving Council members will not stand again this year. The best way is to come to Council and see the work in hand and find what you can do. Please don’t be shy. We cannot continue effectively without fresh energy and ideas. Put simply, six cannot do the work of twelve.
Category: NN Chairman's Column
Published: Saturday, 22 June 2013 15:46
Chairman’s column, NABO News 4, July 2013
Last month I mentioned the concern felt by NABO Council about the legality of some of CRT’s proposals on the Southern Grand Union. Since then a NABO team has met our legal advisors and reviewed the issues again. The advice to us is that nothing has changed and the Counsel’s written opinion from 2005 and 2009 is as valid today as it was at the time of writing. NABO has consistently used this content in guidance and opinion to BW/CRT in the various consultations and correspondence in which we have engaged over the years, most recently for the SE mooring review. It is a cause of frustration to me and Council that we have been unable to get clarity from CRT on several legal issues and all we get from them is the 1962 Act ‘as they think fit’. In recent years a few brave boaters have taken on BW: Nigel Moore for example, and we can see that BW has been found legally fallible in that case at some considerable cost. I do not imply that CRT has no powers to enforce the 1995 Act, indeed NABO has always called for its application and regretted the dearth of cases. This is both because of the obvious need and the lack of case interpretation for all parties to understand.
It is the ‘add on’ features, either in Terms and Conditions or the mooring proposals, which are controversial to us. CRT lawyers should not have the sole view on these matters. Our Counsel is just as expensive as CRT’s and they have a different view on some issues. It is most unlikely that NABO will ever take CRT to court; we do not have the resources or the status to do so. We have to find other ways, but it is clear that normal correspondence and doing the ‘right thing’ in consultations simply does not work. I think we have to be a little, how shall I put it, irksome? It is a great shame that we have reached this point on boater rights, when there is so much to support in the fledgling CRT and members are working hard to do this. But boater rights are at stake.
Turning to internal matters, I have to tell you that Andy Colyer has resigned from the Council due to work and family commitments. He will remain as Southern Secretary, looking after key issues on the K&A. Andy has served on Council for many years and we are very grateful for his wise input and support for the Association. In recent times, he attended many of the MSSL meetings and his knowledge of the waterways and the personalities contributed significantly to making the progress that it did. Thank you Andy.
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Philip Ogden, a member since 1992 and active in various roles, who has recently celebrated his centenary. He is currently our Assistant for the Disabled and he maintains an interest in the canals, living on the north end of the Grand Union. He still gets afloat from time to time. Please join me in wishing him well.
Since April when subscription rates were increased, membership renewals have become problematic. Our Treasurer warned us from experience of previous increases that this would be a difficult period, and he was right, because members are failing to amend standing orders and attempting renewals at the old rate. Both Melanie and I have spent many hours trying to stay on top of this. We used a new mailing system to email members to remind them, and my thanks to those who have responded. But we have a long way to go. Please, please read the notes elsewhere in this issue, and if they apply to you, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Having experimented with membership mails, I want to restart NABO bulletins to all members. This is not intended to compete with NABO News, but rather to tell members what Association officers are doing for you. There will be no essays on policy, just one-liners on this and that. If we don’t have your email address, then you will not get it, and there are 250 members in this group. Are you one of them?
A Good NAG
I attended another CRT Navigation Advisory Group meeting this week. There were five hours of constructive discussion and work on navigation issues, with experienced boaters giving input to listening CRT staff. Discussions included boater safety issues, HS1 and 2 impacts and progress, strong-stream warnings, out of hours phone numbers and responses, and of course pump-outs. It is really good to have a dedicated venue where boaters can spend time on navigation issues and make a contribution to the running of the system. I approve.
Val and I will be moving our boat from the east end of the T&M to the Shroppie during the summer. I hope to see many of you on the water.