Mark Tizard, Anne Husar and Peter Fellows respond to a recent CRT statement.
CRT inherited a portfolio of properties from BW, some of which are needed for its operations. In a statement, it says that others were specified as investments to provide an income stream to fund ongoing maintenance. It also claims that it has to manage these investments commercially to generate as much income as possible as a condition of the Government grant agreement. To do this, it regularly sells assets if it thinks their potential to grow income has fallen and then invests the proceeds in new assets with higher growth potential. It denies it is ‘selling the family silver’ and reports that the investments now contribute more than £50 million each year to CRT funds. This compares to approximately £40 million a year from boating and mooring revenue. The statement goes on to say: “We do still own waterway-related properties like marinas and boatyards and some waterside properties with potential for development…”.
NABO commented: A fundamental point is missing from this statement: right at the top of CRT’s primary charitable objects, when it was set up by the Government, is that it should ‘protect and conserve for public benefit sites, objects and buildings of archaeological, architectural, engineering or historic interest on, in the vicinity of, or otherwise associated with Inland Waterways.’ This perhaps explains why CRT has refused to respond to a recent freedom of information request for a list of the listed (i.e. heritage related) buildings that it has sold. Take away the heritage and you take away the canal experience for boaters and visitors alike. It is difficult to imagine the National Trust selling off listed former operational buildings that it had been bequeathed, to invest in a non-operational asset like a shopping mall. Since NABO and other associations raised concerns about the potential sale of the listed Braunston Stop House, CRT seems to be on the defensive. By strange coincidence, it has recently set up a Heritage Advisory Group.
What CRT’s statement neglects to say is that it fully realises its responsibilities to maintain canal heritage buildings, even though they may not generate a ‘good return’. These are unique monuments from the UK’s industrial past. They are not investment properties and shouldn’t be seen by CRT as such. We all lose out if they are sold off, not just canal enthusiasts.