A month of meetings

Mike Rodd reports on the work of an active NABO Council.

At last – back on our boat for a week – it was wonderful; and good to see the hire fleets starting to operate again. Of course, being based in Wales, we were always slightly out of line with England, but at last the lifting of the two sets of lockdown restrictions overlapped! And with the spring blossoms bursting through, even though a bit chilly still, it was a lovely time to be out on the water.

The NABO Council is busier than ever – everywhere we look, we see matters that need our attention – but thankfully, with a full Council again and with the very energetic new folk joining us, the load is well spread and we are coping – even if our teleconference-based meetings are getting very long.

We wait, of course, with bated breath for CRT’s next version of the proposed new Terms and Conditions for private boat licences. I hope that by the time you read this, we will know where we are, although the report given at the National Users Forum seemed to indicate that there would be few changes – except (to our delight) that the T&Cs would be far more readable! As we (and our lawyers) have consistently said, we are positive about many of the proposed changes. But there are some proposals that we (and again, our lawyers) believe are contrary to the underlying Waterways Act and the T&Cs simply cannot be allowed to create such a conflict. To this end, you will have seen that our colleagues in the NBTA (National Bargees and Travellers Association) are also taking legal advice, and we have agreed to assist them.

We are equally concerned that our extensive analysis of CRT’s application of the General Data Protection Regulations seems to have been ignored. Having examined CRT’s documents, we are alarmed that they are out of line with their legal responsibilities – and the T&Cs emphasise this. Are you happy, for instance, that they can reveal your (and your boat’s) details to someone who knocks into your boat? Or that one of their staff can enter your boat if they think it does not meet BSS requirements?

Sadly, the section of the EA responsible for their waterways (such as the non-tidal Thames) also seems hell-bent on going ahead with changes to mooring supervision and control, even though almost the whole of their boating community is opposing them. Personally, my deep worry is that this approach to outsourcing a core responsibility will also appeal to CRT (who already use the same approach for a few of their London mooring sites) and we will then see a similar approach applied throughout the waterways. For example, would you be happy, when approaching a time-restricted mooring, to phone in your details and the time of arrival etc., and then be monitored to ensure that you move on as required, with the threat of a £150 fine if you overstay? It is telling that, in the early stages of its application for the Thames contract, the car-parking company noted where it was planning to operate – and with their complete lack of knowledge of the territory, they cited some sites where it isn’t possible to moor and some that are not even on the river!

One aspect of CRT’s work that has been drawn to your Council’s attention is that whilst CRT seems to be (quite reasonably) seeking to balance its budgets by selling off some of its properties, these do appear to include some places with heritage value, and that must be of serious concern to all canal users. We are pleased to note that since we and others raised this issue, CRT has established a Heritage Advisory Group, with many members who really understand the importance of our waterways’ heritage. We will continue to watch this space very carefully.

I and my Council colleagues try to attend as many CRT forums and local events as possible, but one concern for all of us is that most of these events concentrate on the non-canal work that CRT is undertaking. This is all good and worthy stuff, I am sure, given that CRT believes the key to achieving further government funding to be promoting the canals as a cornerstone of the nation’s health and wellbeing. Fortunately (at least for my sanity), at one such event a member of the relevant regional board (who happens to be CEO of the UK’s largest hire boat operator) did stand up and say it was important not to forget how essential boats and boating are to the waterways. This applies not only in terms of the income generated (not just boat licensing, moorings etc., but supporting the many waterways-based businesses), but also because the greatest attraction of the canals is seeing the boats.

As with the T&Cs proposals, we wait to see the outcome of the so-called ‘London consultation’. We have provided a full submission – essentially asking that they should start by just implementing what they promised after the previous consultation, undertaken just a few years ago.  Nevertheless, it is alarming that they are already going ahead with implementing some new proposals. So, for example, we have the situation on the River Lee where restrictions are suddenly being placed on existing moorings, so as to create ‘safe spaces’ for rowers. Or creating eco-moorings in places in London. All well and good – but do these regulations even vaguely consider the costs involved in converting boats to all-electric? Once again, we have a supposedly environmentally friendly development that ignores both the underlying science and the economic consequences.

On a positive note, I should add that, at the National Users Forum, the very best and most professional presentation (in my view) was that delivered by the CRT team responsible for making sure that there is enough water in our canals. Key to this work, and something I was not fully aware of, is that each and every case where water is abstracted for use in the canals is subject to a new abstraction agreement with the relevant authority. All these agreements have had to be re-negotiated over the past few years. Over fifty have now been completed, with many others still subject to final agreement.

I have to say that I am continually frustrated by having to work with organisations with sections where the leadership appears to want to discount – and indeed often completely ignore – any input from their prime customers, such as boat licensing and its control. This appears odd – especially as we are approaching a time when both CRT and the EA will need support from their most passionate users. It just seems plain crazy to ignore them in the meanwhile.

But the sun is shining, we are coming out of lockdown and Covid cases are down, so let’s get out and enjoy the waterways – at least while we can!