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Category: NN Chairman's Column
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Mike Rodd compares the attitudes of two navigation authorities.

Although being on a boat is a good place to self-isolate, if you are not a liveaboard, going to your boat is no longer an option. If you are already on board, CRT and the EA are asking boaters to stop all travel on the waterways, with the exception of accessing facilities. The suspension will be kept under review, applying initially until 14th April. During this period they are suspending the requirement to move every 14 days. These are challenging and changing times for all of us and we must all do what is best to ensure the virus is contained, and that you and I do not overload the NHS – which is doing an amazing job. Incidentally, CRT’s advice is at

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/safety-on-our-waterways/coronavirus.

It has been a busy time for meetings with the senior EA management and it is very important to acknowledge that, as they look to make their navigational responsibilities less dependent on the public purse and explore becoming more commercially viable, they are making every possible effort to consult all the boating and water-related organisations that are involved. While the outcomes are not yet clear, my own view is that the new senior folk, who have experience of making other organisations move towards becoming less government-dependent, are being very realistic in analysing potential funding sources. And they accept the responsibilities they have, to maintain their historically-precious infrastructures. I also have a strong feeling that they are determined to make themselves ready to become part of CRT!

It is also important to mention that the EA issued a call for tenders from relevant organisations to oversee the management of all the EA’s Thames moorings under contract. While not being specific about how this should be implemented, and indeed, about how the actual enforcement should happen, it is a clear signal as to how the EA plans to handle mooring enforcement in the future. This is based on the pilot exercises it has run over the past few years – parts of which were successful and welcomed by most boaters. By the time this edition of NABO News is published, the outcome of this exercise should be close to implementation.

I have to say this changing and widely consulting approach by the EA’s senior management is not reflected in the way CRT’s Board of Trustees seem to be heading. To organisations like ours, the CRT Board seems to want to be remote from the boating communities. Or at least, maybe they only want to talk to their friends at the IWA and now the AWCC (Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs)?  The latter is a recent development, in which CRT suddenly and generously decided to give the AWCC an automatic seat on its Council. This – to us and to other boater-based organisations – seems to have happened behind smoky mirrors, as none of the other (possibly larger) boater-representative organisations were even consulted. I have to repeat, though, what I said last month: that CRT’s senior staff are being exceptionally welcoming to our approaches.

One would have thought, though, that with the whole funding of CRT coming up for consideration, CRT Trustees would like to have all the support available on-side. It is also a concern to us that the IWA seems to be ‘protecting’ the All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group from organisations like ours. Unlike the practice in the past, as the secretaries to this important group of MPs, the IWA does not appear to see any value in asking other representative organisations to attend (as observers) the APPWG’s meetings of interested MPs.

Returning to the CRT Council, we are naturally delighted that our liveaboard NABO Treasurer, Helen Hutt, was elected as one of the four boating reps. However, the number of boaters who bothered to vote must be sending seriously worrying messages to the CRT Board of Trustees about how irrelevant most canal users feel that the CRT Council is to their interests. This is a double-edged sword, of course, but we in NABO feel strongly that the more we can do to influence CRT the better. Sadly, however, this view evidently is not the opinion of many boaters. It was also worrying that in the end only one ‘CRT Friend’ stood for election to the ‘Friends’ seat on CRT’s Council – and fortunately this was NABO’s ex-Chair Stella Ridgway.

As we mentioned in last month’s NABO News, your Council is very concerned about the impact on boaters of the current barrage of emotionally charged environmental initiatives. Thus, while a recent paper by the IWA is interesting and suggests ways ahead, it rather falls into the same trap as many others by implying how terribly polluting our boats are. There is much in this work that provides the eco-warrior with ‘ammunition’, whilst ignoring the fact that the overall pollution created by boats, compared with other forms of transport and accommodation, is minimal. Indeed, in London, the overall pollution caused by all the boats together is probably less than that derived from a handful of diesel-powered buses! Certainly, applying smokeless zone control requirements to all boats would reduce pollution, as would including emission tests during the four-yearly BSS inspection. However – as is always totally ignored by the eco-warriors – there are considerable ecological costs involved in extracting the required raw materials (many of them rare), needed to manufacture the electronics and batteries, and then the environmental cost of transporting them and installing them etc. What is also ignored is that boats’ engines have a long life and replacing them would simply increase their lifetime pollution costs. Some very bad science has been at work here! Boaters are among the most environmentally aware communities, so it’s senseless to attack them with lots of utter nonsense by encouraging regulations that are meaningless in the long term.

We have been following the work by the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) and British Marine on proposed changes to the existing Code for the Design, Construction and Operation of Hire Boats (The Hire Boat Code). While most of the proposals seem sensible and will have no major impact on us as private boaters, a couple of points are worth mentioning: first, I see, all too often, day boats that are clearly unstable, especially with all 12 passengers sitting (or often jumping around!) on the roof! Secondly, I think we are all often concerned by the behaviour of a small number of hire boaters. On both of the canals I frequently cruise, most hire boat companies do an excellent job of ensuring that their hirers know how to handle their boats. However, again on ‘my’ canals, there are notable exceptions – and clearly this needs addressing. Watching a DVD, followed by a quick handover, is totally inadequate.

Incidentally, although delayed now by two years, our campaign to continue the use of red diesel seems to be a lost cause. Can you see any boatyard having both normal and red diesel available? Or can you see yourself fitting an additional tank on your boat to keep them separate?

Finally, in these extremely difficult times for all of us, I wish you everything of the best and I hope you enjoy more self-isolation in your boat.