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.

CRT announced redundancies just after last year’s AGM; it appeared to be the longest consultation on record as new posts were not confirmed until June. Although the licence review was released as predicted, the London Mooring Strategy was not and it appeared that the Trust was just a bit lost. Certainly the logo fiasco needs learning from, as it has alienated the very people, the boaters, that the Trust needs onside as it repositions itself as a ‘waterways and wellbeing’ charity. The decision to make management decisions more regional has resulted in winter moorings also being organised regionally this winter, with some bizarre decisions; there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme nor reason about some. So disbanding the Mooring and Licensing National Advisory Group seems to have been premature. The year finishes with a further 200+ roles ‘at risk’, as CRT moves central roles to regional posts. I hope that these do not take a year to be sorted, as the director’s roles did.

In July, I expressed the need for the Trust to listen to boaters, instead of bundling us together with all the other ‘customers of the towpath’ and engage with boaters, boaters reps. to Council and boaters’ organisations. While we have had some very good discussions with the Boating Team and the Head of Customer Service, there no longer seems to be an overarching brief to put boaters front and centre in the ‘non-boating’ areas of the Trust. So marketing, PR and the Press Office no longer feed information through to the Boating Team, nor does the Boating Team have oversight. Thus you have the recent mooring debacle on the K&A where the normal 14-day rule for continuous cruisers was suspended, until there were enough complaints from boaters that it had to be addressed with a U-turn.

Council and boaters are still not being included in decision making. Even though the Boating Team might take our suggestions on board, other parts of the Trust do not, resulting in boaters feeling even more disenfranchised. The Executive Team wants and needs boaters and their organisations to get onside with the wellbeing agenda to encourage the Government to continue the grant. I am afraid that this year the alienation of boaters has been rather more successful and it will take a great deal of work to make this right. The lack of inclusion of boaters and Council in decision making is an ongoing theme in Council and is at the top of the elected reps.’ agenda - so watch this space to see if this is listened to and acted on. Let us hope that with the new regional structure we can have a good collaborative relationship. (For those old enough to remember, this is a return to the BW structure of 20 years ago).

The Environment Agency has completely ignored all submissions on their licence review and is increasing its registration charges by between 5.75% and 10% for the next three years. Unfortunately, not everyone on EA Waters is on gold-plated pensions. This increase may impact CRT in the future and certainly any amalgamation of the two waterways needs careful monitoring.

Finally, my thanks go to former Chair, Sue Burchett, and to General Secretary, Richard Carpenter, who resigned this year. We thank them both for their service.