Chairman’s Column NN May 13

Irksome—I like it! Chairman David Fletcher relflects on the latest waterways happenings

We had a very full Council meeting last week, with more present that we have had for many a year. Rest assured the proceedings are very frugal, as any­body who has been to the Waggon and Horses will know. Please don’t be shy, come and join us because more are needed.

Trevor Roberts from the Community Boating Association visited us to see what we are up to and share some of his issues. I hope we can work together to our mu­tual benefit. You can read elsewhere about the organisation he works so hard for.

We have reviewed the NABO policy document to bring it up to date and make it more relevant to the current issues. For long-term members there will be no surprises, as the content reflects what we have been saying for many years. Please take the time to read the policies, and let us know your views.

National Navigation Forum

I recently attended the first meet­ing of CRT’s National Navigation Forum. This august body has no role in the management of the Trust, but follows on from the old BWAF as a communication body. There was a big attendance and hence this can hardly be a forum for debate, but we were spoken to at length about pro­gress in development of the CRT and given an opportunity to ask a few questions. It is another opportunity for CRT to get information out to established and new groups who are less familiar with it than we are. The point of this tale is that Robin Evans, who was one of the speakers, can be relied upon to say something to grab my attention. He was talking about the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which disgracefully creates the like­lihood of CRT not having the same opportunities for objection to devel­opments as the National Trust. He said that Government were learning that CRT can be ‘irksome’ if it (CRT) was not treated properly. It was an LOL moment. The boot is really on the other foot now. Irksome is in fa­vour, and I like it.

CRT oversteps its powers

CRT has lost a case in the Court of Appeal over riparian rights to moor on the tidal Brent River. It has been widely reported and I will not try to interpret it here. Suffice to say that the judgement includes some pithy comments that are worth reading. Two things for me to say: one is that interpreting the law is not an exact science and requires checks and bal­ances. It is very dangerous when one party claims sole rights on the law, rules by it and rejects any other view.

The courts are a great leveller and they have done some levelling here. The shame on CRT is that it has taken a boater acting for himself to do this. Secondly, I understand that there are significant costs for CRT as a result of this—and that goes back to the first part; the law is expensive as well as dangerous.

SE moorings consultation

The SE moorings consultation is closed and early indications are that CRT will press on. There is much de­tail to go through and we have put it into our response.

What really does worry me is that CRT proposes to use 1962 Transport Act power ‘as they think fit’ to im­pose blanket non-return rules on visitor moorings in the area. The ‘62 Act is the enabling act to set up BW (and British Rail) and clearly nei­ther BW nor Parliament expected to leave it to BW to just get on with set­ting powers forever. BW asked for, and were given, specific powers as private bills, most notably the 1983 and 1995 Acts, which are the Acts that get used for enforcement.

I don’t think that Parliament ex­pected in 1983 and 1995 that BW/ CRT could later take it upon itself to amend these later Acts as ‘it think fit’.

Returning to ‘no return’

In the build up to the 1995 Act, BW asked for ‘no return’ powers and these were not allowed. The more general ‘bona fide navigation’ pow­ers were given because they offer protections for boaters.

Here we are 18 years on and there have been only four court cases that have been relevant to these 1995 Act powers. CRT has already shown its readiness to cite the ‘62 powers in trivial circumstances. I reported their response to our comments on the latest licence terms and condi­tions in the January issue. Yes, the ‘62 powers exist, but their use in dis­criminatory situations, without any supporting justification, is not right and not the actions of the guardian of the canals.

It may look good behind a desk, but I suspect it will also not be ef­fective on the towpath. Such things need wide support to be effective, or matters will become ‘irksome.’

K & A Partnership still in camera

I am eagerly awaiting the K&A part­nership proposals for the mooring strategies below Devizes. These have been ‘in camera’ for quite some time and they need to be published.

There has to be room for new ideas and, if there is widespread sup­port for what they have to say, it may well have the best chance of success. Here’s hoping.