Chairman’s column, NABO News #4

Focus on the Thames and K&A

Chairman Mike Rodd has some good, and less good, news of these adjoining waterways.

I hope that you have all enjoyed some wonderful summer cruising days and probably now starting your pre-wintering work, getting your boat ready for the colder days ahead. We spent last week replacing the coach-lines on our boat. We’d had a leading national hire-boat company repaint our ‘new’ boat three years ago, when we bought it from the Cambrian Cruisers’ hire fleet. We were very pleased with the job they’d done – well, until the vinyl coach-lines started shrinking and going a nasty brown colour! I then found out from the distributors that the vinyl used was only a ‘3-year’ one, so I guess the deterioration wasn’t entirely surprising, but still not what you’re looking for, given the cost of a paint job!

It has been a pretty good year for us on the K&A Canal Trust (KACT) trip boats – with the good weather, the public passenger numbers have improved. However, in truth, the chilly winds blown in by the Brexit scaremongering seem to have affected our charter trip numbers.  But the K&A canal itself has had a bad year, with a large number of lock gate and swing bridge failures – some brought about by boater incidents admittedly, but the results of CRT’s obvious policy of ‘fix it when it fails’ have also been all too evident. I have to say, though, that when we have reported problems, we’ve received very good and rapid responses from CRT. A call to their emergency line is soon returned by the local person on standby duty. It does appear that right across the system, this is being a bad year for closures – but still, most of you seem to have done some great cruising.

Good news for Crofton

As I mentioned in our recent e-newsletter, we are thrilled to report that after four years of hard work, KACT has been awarded first round funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the project to restore the world-famous Crofton pumping station, which has serious problems with a failing building and associated complications, including some major asbestos issues. This award means that HLF has endorsed the outline proposals and has earmarked funding, giving us an immediate smaller award to fund the development of the project so that KACT can submit a second round bid next summer. The whole project will require total funding of close to £1 million. This means, though, that we have to raise nearly £200,000 in match funding, including additional funds to replace the rivets on the boiler which, we discovered a few months ago, is in trouble. That requires bringing in a specialist company, which will involve some £50,000 to cover work that even our skilled volunteers cannot do. But it’s all worth it – Crofton simply has to be looked after!  Did you know that the world-famous Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race would not have happened this year without Crofton – CRT’s electric pumps having failed yet again! (Maybe we should build another Crofton at Bradford on Avon for when those modern electric back-pumps next conk out).

Too many boats?

The K&A is also (together with London) one of the hot-spots for issues relating to non-compliant continuous cruisers. I have to admit that I grow weary of much of the well-planned and carefully crafted, highly publicised work by a small group claiming to represent continuous cruisers. That they only represent a small group of people without home moorings does need to be recognised – NABO has a large number of folk in this category and most have no problem in meeting CRT’s requirements – they do indeed continuously cruise!). So the noisy campaigns are particularly annoying, given the fact that most CC-ers on the K&A are fully compliant and the small number with special problems are generally well looked after by CRT. The recent (and totally misinformed) statements from a recently elected Tory MP have been less than helpful. The only thing I would add – from feedback from our members – is that CRT’s enforcement has to be more consistent.

The negative reports appearing in the social media about the K&A not being a good place to cruise, because of too many non-moving boats, lack of visitor moorings and failing locks and bridges, is partially true. But then one has to observe that many of the boats that don’t move, and/or consistently occupy visitor moorings, are by no means all liveaboards, but simply boats that are being dumped for weeks on end – reinforcing the need for proper enforcement. Also, the growth in hire-boat numbers over the last five years has been exceptional, and one has to be at Bradford on Avon Lock on a weekend to see the problem of too many boats simultaneously wanting to go down and moor in Bath.

CCing with kids

Your NABO Council continues to monitor all this and accepts CRT’s very minimal requirements of a ‘range’ of 25 miles a year and a move every 14 days of at least 1 km in an A to B to C pattern. We do not believe that new rules allowing reduced movement during school term-time would be appropriate – indeed, we do wonder how many families actually have problems like this. Introducing new conditions always has unseen consequences and we know that CRT already has flexibility within the Waterways Act to grant dispensation where required – and we also know they do just that where appropriate. And, let’s be quite honest, if you have schoolchildren, then surely the needs of the kids should come into consideration right from the start? Subsequently buying a boat, knowing full-well what the cruising requirements are, doesn’t suddenly make it CRT’s fault if there’s a problem getting them to school.

EA waters

We continue to monitor the EA/CRT situation very closely. We note that the EA has moved its National Navigation Users Forum to December 2016, as CRT’s Board isn’t meeting until November. We know that the CRT Trustees are, quite rightly, very concerned about the financial arrangements involved in any transfer of EA navigations to CRT. On the Thames, our members report an ever-increasing lack of lock-keepers, with many required to do ‘double-’ or indeed ‘triple-manning’. (These terms may seem amusing – unless you are a Thames user – as they don’t mean double or triple the number of lockkeepers, but conversely that each person is required to look after two or three locks simultaneously!). Of course, EA has also been attempting to attract additional volunteer lock-keepers – sounds rather like CRT, doesn’t it! The real issue here is not only the lack of lock-keeping, but also how this will affect all the flood prevention that the permanent lock-keeper do, funded from a different purse from the navigational responsibilities, of course.

Our members also report seriously reduced vegetation cutting on the Upper Thames – again, in line with the reduced funding of the EA. Also, it is clear that many local councils are taking very heavy-handed action in moving boats that are illegally moored on their property. While we can understand this action, one has to wonder where the boats will move to – the K&A perhaps?

Finally, an appeal to all, the NABO AGM approaches and, with several Council members retiring, there is an opportunity for new members to stand for election. It is not an arduous job – a Saturday meeting every six weeks or so, normally held at a boat club somewhere in the centre of the network, starting at 10.45 am and ending at 3.00 pm, with lunch provided. Essential travel expenses are met. We really do need some new folk to bring new enthusiasm and new ideas, please! And, the company is great, I promise!