Generally NABO is positive about the proposals although very unhappy about the way the consultation has been undertaken.
We only read about it in IWA's bulletin, having had previously been assured that such consultations would not take place without proper agreed procedures in place. We went to the CRT's list of consultations, and there is no mention of it there either. Who has actually been consulted is still a mystery to NABO and many of our members are extremely angered by the process. We would strongly recommend that the consultation is re-run if it is going have any real significance.
This present consultation demonstrates clearly that CRT must get away from local-only consultations where possible changes could affect all boaters. In all such cases CRT surely should benefit from local and national feedback? In this present case having had the deadline extended by 3 days, NABO received over 20 submissions, many from members who, although making use of the Link, are actually are based in other parts of the country.
Thus whilst NABO is generally positive about the proposals it remains deeply concerned that many boaters who are potentially affected have not had an opportunity to express their views.
We certainly believe that access to the whole of the L & L canal should be open & unrestricted, and hence the proposed withdrawal of some of the present restrictions, such as the freedom of movement between Hancock’s swing bridge and Stanley top locks, is welcomed. We recall that when the link was planned it was intended to be boater-operated throughout, and figures of 7000+ "boat movements" per annum were expected. What exists today is sadly a pale shadow of that and anything we can do to promote the use of the link is welcomed.
We do have some significant concerns:
· Moorings on the Aintree-Eldonian length are very limited and we see the main possibilities as Litherland "Tesco" and at Eldonian Village. We see no reason why these should be less than 14 days (and certainly not 24/48hr, otherwise there is no point). The services at Eldonian, closed for a very long time, need to be re-opened.
Scope for other mooring sites is probably quite limited, and unfortunately any moorings will need to be secured, i.e. fenced and with a BW key access, and preferably offside.
· Online booking: Although superficially seeming attractive this will be very inconvenient for many boaters who either do not have internet access, or are in the many places on the network where access is simply impossible. We could not therefore support CRT charging £5 for telephone bookings for those not wanting to use the on-line system. This is blatantly discriminatory. We also feel that the current telephone booking system is very efficient as dates can be allocated and accepted immediately.
· The booking system proposed prior to the planned availability of online booking seems to require at least 2 months' notice be given! This is completely unacceptable and the link should be as near as possible "turn up and go". If booking is mandatory then a booking charge is unacceptable (c.f. the Anderton Lift, where booking is optional, and a charge applies.) With such a limited number of passages a telephone-based booking system should be manageable.
· 3 year advanced bookings: Does anyone really plan to be on a specific lock flight on a specific day in three years' time?
· The proposed reduction to 7 nights: Is there any evidence that cutting the free time to 7 days is justified by (over) occupancy? The experience of many of our members is that the Salthouse moorings rarely seem to be full.
· Considering how few passages CRT make available, we do not agree with block bookings being available at all. First come, first served.
· Operating days: One of the options (Mon-Fri) seems to imply fewer operating days than the others. No reductions, please, but otherwise we have no strong views on which day is non-operating maintenance day, but a weekend day seems sensible. Given the reduction in the length and duration of the managed passage (ie Stanley-Salthouse rather than Aintree-Salthouse), there should be no great issues with having both-way passages on the same day, be that (say) morning "up" and afternoon "down", or even more regular granular than that. It's only really the Pier Head tunnels that need some managing.
We disagree with reducing the cancellation period to 5 days (from 72 hours) – 48 hours would be better, still leaving time for new bookings. "Freedom to navigate" should be the rule, wherever possible. Please give thought to allowing flexibility for outward passage from Salthouse Dock, depending on availability of passages, without penalty. Changing to a Monday to Friday passage would require more flexibility with the length of stay and/or number of boats per passage. We believe the "disappointments" are more often due to the limits on the boats per passage than Salthouse Dock being full. No mention is made of moorings in Albert Dock.
· Solely for the purpose of lock operation, a pontoon mooring should be provided above Princes lock. We think it is a serious and vital omission from the scheme when initially built.
· Finally we do not understand why no passages (even bookable ones) are allowed between the end of October and Easter? NABO does not accept the notion of a "boating season", as our boats are licensed to travel all the year. We do accept that occasionally passages might have to be cancelled due to extreme weather or necessary winter maintenance work.
Dr Mike Rodd FIET CEng
Chairman, National Association of Boat Owners