Consult (verb) NABO News editor considers consultation

This is the Editorial from the April NABO News

In  the April issue (of NABO News) CRT features promi­nently, not always for the right reasons: it seems to be increas­ingly confused between what consti­tutes consultation with its ‘custom­ers’—boaters like you and me—and what is a simple reporting of devel­opments. Many, if not most, boaters are still unaware of the detail of what CRT is about and what its policies are, so I welcome the boaters’ meet­ings that are taking place all over the country by Head of Boating, Sally Ash, and Trustee, John Dodwell.

Other routes by which CRT can contact boaters, include Waterways Partnerships, the National Users Forum (NUF), user groups and now ‘surgeries’. But is there a risk that this proliferation of ‘consultation’ will confuse rather than clarify the situ­ation? Waterway partnerships are locally focussed and advisory with little, if any, power over CRT policy. User group meetings are perhaps the most useful to boaters, as direct feedback to local waterway manag­ers, and there seems to be no good reason to replace them with ‘surger­ies’, if this is the intention.

But let’s be clear, while inform­ing boaters of new ideas and devel­opments is essential, it is not con­sultation. That requires a two-way process. On the positive side, CRT has sought boaters’ views via its consultation on visitor moorings in the South East, so credit will be due if the views are taken into account with any new policies on visitor moorings. NABO’s response to the consultation and CRT’s preliminary report appear in this issue.

Why was NABO, the only na­tional group representing boaters, not consulted when CRT changed booking arrangements for the Rochdale Canal, detailed in this issue? Furthermore, recent pro­nouncements on mooring permits, £25 overstaying or ‘service’ charges, community mooring permits and ‘no return’ rules seem to be being made without widespread consulta­tion. Changes that appear to be the proverbial sledgehammer taken to a very small nut in one area, risk being applied nationally before most boat­ers realise what has happened. The realisation by some boaters of their lack of influence over policy and the arbitrary imposition of new rules may be one reason for the current backlash on the internet, reflected in the letters I have received for this issue.

It is time for CRT Trustees to clarify the procedures that individ­ual boaters, and their organisations, can take to influence policy and to apply the procedures uniformly and nationally. The four Trustees elected to represent boaters have responded to earlier misconceptions of their role with a statement. They point out that they can take boaters’ policy suggestions and concerns to CRT Council, but they are presum­ably supporting CRT’s (im)position regarding ‘no return’ rules, overstay­ing charges etc.

CRT was launched with enor­mous goodwill from most boaters after years of ill will towards BW. It would be a huge pity if this were lost through confused reporting structures and a perceived lack of willingness to genuinely consult boaters—goodwill that,  if lost, will take decades to regain.


Peter Fellows