North West

David Fletcher at CRT’s North West forum

 

I attended the forum in May at Anderton, being the second of two meetings for the region. The NW is a big area, from Kendal in the North, Audlem in the South, western halves of the Pennine routes and bits of the Llangollen in the West. The meeting was chaired by the Regional Director, Daniel Greenhalgh, and supported by many of the team. Daniel explained that the region has had a very busy year with multiple major issues, such as the Middlewich breach, repairs to Marsh lock on the Weaver, the Melling culvert failure, Marple lock 11 collapse and rebuild, water shortages, deaths in Manchester club-land and the internal rebranding and reorganisation.

Going forward, he said there would be seven Area Operations Managers, handling the day-to-day issues, who would be the prime point of contact for major issues. There would also be a Reactive Operations Manager to deal with emergency situations such as leaks, blown cills, or broken paddles. He acknowledged that the response on service issues has not been good and this arrangement is designed to improve the situation. Daniel said that he welcomed reports and comments from users on service issues.

We had a couple of presentations on corporate topics, like the rebranding, wellness objectives, engagement and the like. All very interesting, but heavy going when you want to talk about water points and sluices that have vanished, or the many boats that are stuck behind a major stoppage. A member of the project team talked about current and future works; there is a big problem at Saltisford lock where the cill has blown. During repairs, the stop-plank brickwork collapsed, re-flooding the lock – fortunately during the night when nobody was around. The area is now flooded and cannot be dewatered without some novel approach, and there is no forecast available yet on a remedy. The troubled work on Finsley Gate on the L&L is promised to be completed by 18th June, just before a festival nearby. Hurleston 4 (bottom) lock repair was cancelled last winter because of artesian groundwater below the lock and a redesign of temporary works was required. The lock is usable with supervised passage for normal width narrowboats, and the plan is to start the repair in November to rebuild the towpath side-wall. The Lune Aqueduct on the Lancaster canal and the Palmerston Street embankment in Macclesfield will be relined this winter. There will also be a £1.5m dredging programme on the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals.

There was a question about the towpath at the Chester Wall, which has been closed for years because Chester Council and CRT cannot agree on ownership, costs and liabilities. CRT has done some work in good faith, removing vegetation and clearing the rock of debris, but it now thinks that Chester is being unreasonable in denying ownership and liability for the rock, which supports the city walls. (CRT has a point. I don’t want them to have liability for this either).

I asked about erosion of boaters’ facilities, highlighting the loss of the Middlewich water point and sluice, Barbridge water point and Hurleston facilities. There were no answers forthcoming as nobody knew the details. Daniel acknowledged the problem and promises to report on this specifically at the next meeting. He said that waste disposal costs were unsustainable at the moment and a lot of this was to do with insecure sites being used by fly-tippers, but also by the growth in their own waste, because of volunteer and CRT’s own activities, which all resulted in additional waste. It was reported that only 4% of dredgings had to go to landfill this year, because other means have been found to deposit this material; this is a big saving.

Surprisingly, there was no mention of vegetation and enhanced cutting plans. Obviously, trees and grass don’t grow much in the north and it is much more fun rebuilding locks!

Overall the meeting was hard work; there was far too much corporate PowerPoint and not enough nitty-gritty. Also, it covered far too big an area. CRT reorganisation may be decentralisation for them, but it is just the opposite for me. They asked for feedback, so I said so.