In attendance at this meeting, called by CRT, on the 3rd of February 2014, were the Chairs and representatives of NABO (Mike Rodd, Mark Tizard), IWA (Les Etheridge and Paul Roper), RBOA (Alan Wildman), AWCC (Paul La Blique) and ACC (Steve Jay and Louise Yeoman). From CRT were CEO Richard Parry, Directors Vince Moran and Simon Salem, and Boating Manager, Sally Ash.
Richard Parry gave a set-the-scene talk of likely income and expenditure budgeted over the next 3 years. Without going into specifics which was agreed should be kept confidential, it was noted that the Trustees had approved dipping into reserves for 2013/2014, to be recovered from additional income from Government in 2015. The figures show no new revenue as a result of Partnerships, even in 2016/17.
Vince Moran gave a detailed presentation on planned maintenance spend by region over the next couple of years. This showed a general decrease the number of at risk category D and E assets and an anticipated spend in maintenance spending, excluding the release of any unspent contingency funds. This included an increase in planned and spot dredging but it was again confirmed that dredging was the one thing that was dropped should additional funds be needed elsewhere in the system.
There followed a general discussion:
General comment from NABO’s Mark Tizard was that whilst the Trust’s planned £M's spend and commitment to improve the infrastructure was clear, actually the vast majority of boaters took this as a given - "that's what I pay my license for" was a typical comment. What concerned the majority of boaters were the simple non-expensive things like greased lock paddles, locks that were manageable in their use (i.e. not too stiff) and access to the towpath moorings - i.e. depth of water and state of banks. These were the things that were currently under the maintenance radar but cost relatively little (use of volunteers to grease paddles, etc??) but with a little bit of focus could generate much good PR for CRT. A good example was the cutting of offsite vegetation. Paul La Blique (AWCC) made the comment that more and more people were becoming interested in the heritage aspect of the canal system.
The Associations queried the function of the Partnerships. It was understood by the Associations that the Partnership’s primary purpose was fundraising and developing relationships with local authorities, large companies etc, and it was felt that they should not meddle in operational issues, such as having boating or moorings sub groups etc. Richard Parry acknowledged that these were early days for the Partnerships and felt that they were useful for wider engagement and that their cost was minimal. It was noted that CRT had not factored the receipt of any income as a direct result of the work being done by the Partnerships in the next 3 years.
Communications with users
It was broadly felt these were mixed, largely based on the approach taken by individual waterways managers, and it was acknowledged by CRT that this needs to be worked on. Simon Salem mentioned they were about to have a press campaign aimed at brokers and potential continuous cruisers, regarding the positives and negatives of living on a boat, highlighting the difficulties in complying with CC guidelines etc. RBOA was in favour of this campaign.
CRT sees volunteers as essential to their future and want to increase all aspects of it, including say, "Adopt a towpath" schemes. NABO’s Mike Rodd mentioned that he felt that the local Canal Societies urgently needed to be brought on board via joint programmes and that many still felt alienated by CRT. It was also felt that some consideration should be given to how to attract younger people into boating.
Relationships between CRT and the Boater-representative Associations
All Associations thought this had been an opportunity lost by CRT. Mike Rodd was very eloquent on this subject , backed up by IWA and others. It was agreed by all that CRT has an opportunity to engage with boater organisations, but it was felt that CRT had not paid sufficient attention to getting them on board. By making use of the expertise the Associations have available they could help shape difficult decisions and policies and that they are prime route to boaters to explain any agreed changes. It was felt strongly that the Associations should be used to help shape policy, gather boater's opinions etc.
Both ACC and NABO had contacted CRT to recommend that a welfare officer/manager be appointed. Richard Parry confirmed that this was one of the options under consideration and that meetings were planned with the Waterways Chaplaincy to explore further options.
Elephant in the room - Moorings
The Associations agreed there was dissatisfaction amongst boaters with many aspects of Visitor Moorings such as penalty charges, water depth, non-return rules and the way VMs were being discussed by engaging with small groups, for example the SE Partnership Sub-group, but not with the National boating groups. Louise Yeoman, from the ACC who is on the SE boating group, was very eloquent and was able to give examples and demonstrate to CRT Directors that there was a real issue here in the way this was being managed and how information from NAG was being presented/interpreted. Latest information was that the SE was considering recommending some 65 new sites that were proposed for 24/48hr and 7day moorings. Richard Parry took on board the general feeling and confirmed that this group of Associations should be reconvened in March specifically to discuss Visitor Moorings and that in the interim, no decisions would be made regarding changes to Visitor Moorings before this meeting. Sally Ash was asked by Richard Parry to distribute any current discussion papers and proposals.
Paul La Blique, who is on Navigation Advisory Council (NAG), said he would be happy to have a meeting to explain current NAG's thoughts and to hear those of the Associations. ACC, NABO and RBOA took an action to meet with Paul in advance of the proposed March meeting.
Note: The above notes were prepared by NABO and have not been approved by other attendees.
4th January 2014