A Month of Meetings.

Chair Anne Husar reflects on the month

Such is the lot of a chairperson as the calendar fills with some face to face but mainly online meetings these days.

Convenient if chancy with the capricious wifi at our mooring, they remain a great way to maintain NABO’s reputation for keeping current boater issues on the agendas of those who need to be involved. Here are a few items of note from our meetings as well as others that have been publicised.

Our regular meeting with Matthew Symonds of CRT revealed that they expect the next Boater Satisfaction survey to not give any better results than the last one but there were no suggestions as to ideas CRT were thinking of trying to improve on this. The ever decreasing facilities that may well feed in to this was discussed with ideas to prevent fly tipping from NABO dismissed as too expensive or simply wouldn’t work. Surely with boaters’ and the environment’s welfare at heart, where there’s a will? There will however be additional collections from the refuse areas that remain ‘if necessary’ and there’s some possible good news on new sites found at Stone and Leeds. The issues at Bathampton on the K&A remain unresolved, CRT stating that this closure is not to save money but because of fly tipping. Presumably other bin removals also do not save CRT money, not just this one, so isn’t it disingenuous when CRT say that this is the reason?

Funding issues included the success of fundraising which apparently has now attracted over 40,000 Friends, with a high proportion of those being boaters. The oft promised fundraising strategy will now possibly put in an appearance during spring or summer. In the meantime, wealthy donors are being targeted with £2.9m invested to grow donations with the benefits being seen in the next five years. This at least will be a change from targetting boaters, the continuous cruiser surcharge item being brushed away with the terse comment “look at the FAQ’s”.

The possible closure of canals followed naturally on from the funding issues. No specific canals having been identified to be at risk, rather that, in the future, if a large problem occurs for which there are no reserve funds to fix, this will then lead to closure. Jeopardy all over the system.

Remembering the many vegetation issues from last year, the question was asked, what will change to improve things for boating this year. Well, some contracts have been renewed, some cancelled, some new ones made but there will be more reliance on volunteers performing this role. The recent West Midlands CRT forum mentioned 614 trees had been dealt with in their region alone, 400 of these cleared by volunteers. Maybe it’s time for us all to equip our boats with some useful gardening tools before we set out?

NABO had previously arranged for CRT’s dredging programme to be publicised on their website to give a warning to boaters but this was nowhere to be found. It will be chased up, as will lengthy angling matches that we asked to be notified as an ‘advice’ notice in the stoppages.

Dredging was also mentioned at the West Mids Forum; out of a £10m maintenance budget set for this year, £0.45m was all that had been allocated for a bit of spot dredging near Walsall. Rather hoping this isn’t reflected all over the system. I feel we could benefit from a BBC type fact checking service when reading the report of CRT’s recent meeting at Westminster. CRT state that around 60 people turned up to listen, some were MP’s but the rest were members of the House of Lords and others from ‘partner organisations’ so, in fact, not many MP’s from the 650 in the House.

But it’s these incredible ‘wellbeing’ figures in the ‘millions, for example the billions of pounds of economic benefits, the 888 million people apparently using the towpaths or the £1.1 billion of savings in NHS costs, that assuredly raise eyebrows whenever they are used? Surely credibility is important when a case is being made for more funding from the government?

Certainly CRT credibility is needed when Fund Britain’s Waterways are out there campaigning for more government financial help. The movement has now over 120 member organisations and over 50,000 signatures on the petition to present to Westminster in May. Shortcomings in waterway management can be identified in all the navigation authorities involved across the UK but without adequate funding, we could lose what is so precious to all of us.