NE Waterway User Forum, Castleford, 20th September 2016
I attended this meeting last night on behalf of NABO. I didn’t think it was quite as well attended as in previous years – around 45-50 in total including the numerous CRT staff. I suspect this may be down to the changed start time of 1700 instead of 1800 with some people still at work.
The meeting followed the pattern set in the last few meetings, with a number of set piece presentations, mainly by CRT, with no Q&A’s encouraged. Rather, there seems to be a keenness for attendees to take part in networking after the general presentations, which in my view is less than satisfactory. I may be in the minority, but, although networking has its place, I much prefer to hear debate in open forum, whereas relying totally on networking means that inevitably many people don’t get their chance to put their point to CRT management.
A large part of the CRT presentations was taken up by a “where are we now” PowerPoint review of how CRT was brought about, its history, aims and ambitions and how it was progressing towards its goals. It was a very bullish outline, and one of the conclusions was “after 4 years nothing has gone wrong and we are in a good place”. This review was very largely a waste of time in that the same points have been made frequently over the last few years at these meetings, and it gives a distinct impression that CRT are not really interested in open debate.
There was frequent mention of “Customers” and I find it difficult to identify what this term actually means. Do they mean only “paying Customers” or do they including non-contributing visitors? A great emphasis was placed upon the need to have all the strategies in place to reach the targets previously set, for achievement by the year 2022 when the next round of discussions with the Government will take place, and it was also emphasised that to make sure the targets were reached these strategies should all be working successfully by next year so that they can demonstrate 5 years of satisfactory progress prior to 2022.
There was also a presentation by Leeds City Council & their contractors about the progress of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, during which the meeting was told that there will be a previously unannounced minimum 2 week stoppage next year during April/May or even June which effectively will prevent any passage through Leeds, or indeed also stop any visiting boats from reaching Leeds City Centre. It was also said that the timing of this stoppage, which is in two different locations – Knostrop and Crown Point – will be dependent on any slippages either by weather or any other cause. This will make it extremely difficult for people to make any plans for next season and is especially difficult for any commercial enterprises such as hire boat companies in the region. This unexpected news did cause some angry response from those present, and despite it being suggested that it should be discussed in the networking session after the presentations, it did raise a number of lively contributions from the general meeting! It seems that the line of communication from CRT to the people they are fond of describing as “customers” had broken and CRT were left in no doubt that users should be kept more in the loop in future about such important developments.
Other presentations included a very positive view of NE volunteering which certainly showed that there was great interest and involvement by many local organisations together with individual volunteers. This had been boosted by the terrific efforts of the volunteering community during and after the floods last year.
The engineering review highlighted the work presently under way to replace the two bridges which were washed away during the floods. Elland bridge will be open to road traffic by December this year, having reopened to boat passage in June, and Crowther bridge, which again reopened to boat passage in June, will be completed and open to road traffic by March 2017.
On a more general note, during the season there had been a “Bankside Customer Consultation” and a key finding was that the greatest majority questioned still thought that the Government was responsible for the upkeep of Inland Waterways. CRT will aim to make at least 75% of people aware that this is now the responsibility of CRT