A Challenging Year. Stella Ridgway reviews the last twelve months.

My thanks go to this year’s Council members for their support and especially to Mark, Mike and Paul for attending meetings and covering for me. This year has been challenging for boaters in the North, with the North West being virtually cut off from the system. In July, there were 13 emergency or long-term stoppages due to water shortages, maintenance and pollution incidents. There are a lot of places where the canal bottom seemed too close to the top, either because it hadn’t been dredged or it had not been cleared properly after a stoppage. While most canals are now open, in the Peak District we are not getting the rain required so I anticipate a challenging year ahead. Some maintenance works were done during the stoppages, so the winter closures might not be as long in some areas.

Getting to know you

Stella Ridgway looks back over five years of engagement with CRT.

As the CRT Annual General Meeting is coming up, I thought I would reflect on the last year and, indeed, the five years since I started attending these AGMs. The Trust started out with Richard Parry going to boaters’ forums, meeting with boaters’ organisations and generally engaging ... and then this engagement evaporated. While Richard still goes to events (I know he attends most Roving Traders’ Events), we in NABO have had a void in formal communications for the last two years. The only engagement is the six-monthly Regional User Forums, the National Advisory Groups (the Licensing NAG was recently disbanded) and the National User Forum. The reorganisation, announced last November, finally came into effect in June and it is proposed that there will be meetings held quarterly around the regions to give us a chance to get to know the new Regional Directors. It is hoped that they will be able to establish best practice with regards to having boaters represented on Regional Advisory Boards. NABO held an initial meeting with Jon Horsfall, the new Head of Customer Service, and has scheduled another meeting for September, so we hope to have met by the time you read this. The focus for this next meeting is ‘working together’, which seems to be a recurring theme at every meeting the Trust has; ‘using boaters’ knowledge’. But if the Trust wants boaters and boating organisations to help, it should acknowledge publicly the assistance and advice provided by NABO, other organisations and the Boaters’ Reps on Council. Boaters give their time and expertise through their representation on NAG and various sub-groups.

In the Chair

Beasts and Breaches

Well winter seems like it is really cross, it keeps storming out and then storming back in shouting “and another thing”. We have six inches of snow again, although we are not iced in this time. Last week was fun going for water, with frozen snow on top of ice. Our poor engine did not like it at all; she overheated twice. Who said boating life was boring?

We are still waiting to meet Jon Horsfall, the Interim Head of Boating; having had to cancel our meeting. However, there is a Council meeting on March 21st and I am hoping that there will be further clarity on the reorganisation. We can then rearrange the meeting and get quarterly meetings in the diary.

Licence Review: both the previous Head of Boating and Head of Customer Service have left the Trust and one wonders why, given that they were instrumental in organising the survey. The major changes are the removal of the 10% reduction for prompt payment, although they have introduced a 2.5% discount for all those who pay by Direct Debit, to help those boaters on limited incomes who maybe can only pay monthly - this is possibly a fairer outcome. Just as we were digesting that, the breach happened on the Middlewich Arm. This will cost thousands to repair and the contingency fund will probably be used.

Another item that has been introduced on a trial basis is a ‘reasonable adjustment’ form to complete when asking for changes to your cruising pattern. It has been designed to comply with the Equality Act 2010. I am now working with the Trust to ensure that it complies as, in its current form, it appears intrusive and does not explain the need for some of the questions. The draft form is available at https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/refresh/media/thumbnail/35483-capability-to-cruise-questionnaire.pdf. If you have any comments, please email me and I can compile them for the Trust.

With the breach at Stanthorne closing the Middlewich Arm and the Marple Flight now being out of action until the May Bank Holiday at the earliest, Bosley Flight is passable with care and by liaising with the contractors on site. But the capacity to cruise the northern canals is severely limited. So take care over Easter; if you are cruising enjoy yourselves and hopefully the weather will be a bit better.

Happy Boating

 

Stella Ridgway

Can you hear us?

Stella Ridgway is looking forward to meaningful discussions with CRT, rather than just being fed information.

CRT was in its infancy when we moved onto our boat. You may remember Richard Parry held road-shows and regular meetings with boating organisations, and seemed to genuinely want to listen to boater’s views. Admittedly, he was taking over an organisation that had deliberately not spent its budget, and had a policy of closing canals rather than maintaining them. The challenge was to bring boaters along with the new organisation.

If only the trust would listen

Stella Ridgeway responds to the letter to boaters from Richard Parry

Why is it boaters feel so disenfranchised by CRT? Why is it that CRT staff, who are paid to enrol people on the towpath as Friends, now don’t bother to approach boaters? The constant PR push over the last couple of years celebrates initiatives that rarely involve boats. Instead, walkers, cyclists, anglers and canoeists are targeted and welcomed in increasing numbers - come in, it’s a free resource. The latest rebranding only cost £60k, honestly! New expensive signs have sprung up, seemingly overnight, alongside the canals and are directed at those who already know where the canal is – not the 7 million who supposedly don’t.  Millions spent on new cycle routes, walkways, canoe routes ‒ yes it’s grant funded, but where are the grants to repair the listed locks and bridges?