Howard reports from the North East
I took part in a Zoom forum in January, which is the first that the Y&NE have held. It was well attended with 42 participants, including a number of CRT managers. These managers were a mix of local and national, and included: Sean McGinley, Regional Director Yorks and North East; Jon Horsfall, Head of Customer Services Support; Mathew Symonds, National Boating Manager, Leisure Boating; and a number of local Y&NE managers.
In the past, I have attended many such meetings and last night’s was probably the best attended for a number of years. In my opinion it was a success. It followed the usual pattern of individual presentations, mainly concerning local issues, with a sprinkling of national subjects as well. The Zoom format allowed questions to be debated throughout the meeting using the chat facility and in that regard it was, if anything, more productive than the traditional meetings. I think the relative success of the meeting may well lead to more Zoom meetings throughout the year, which may allow for local issues to be addressed more quickly. Time will tell.
Although primarily a local issue, the Aire & Calder breach is a significant event and Sean took time to update the meeting on present work and future intentions, which may lead to a full repair later in the year. Because there is a connection with Goole Docks (operated by Associated British Ports) care has to be taken with water levels to allow shipping to continue operations as much as possible. This has to be commensurate with maintaining a safe level in the canal to prevent any flooding to a large area of farmland and local housing in Snaith and East Cowick. There is a significant amount of leisure boating activity in the area with around 200-plus boats mooring in the Dock at two marinas. Ironically, the breach is in the same area that suffered major flooding 12 months ago, so it is an extremely sensitive subject. It is fortunate that CRT has managed to avoid flooding by their actions so far, using helicopters to plug a major leak with hundreds of tons of stones and sand. But this has been at the expense of local boating, which cannot use the canal, and this situation may continue for some months depending on what is discovered when the canal is dewatered in the area of the breach.
Sean also briefed the meeting on issues at Harthill Reservoir, which supplies water to the Chesterfield Canal, and which will need a £5 million upgrade to bring it up to national standard. Work will commence in 2022 and be completed by early 2023. We were briefed about the major floods caused by storms Ciara and Dennis over Christmas 2019/2020, which has resulted in the need for major work – especially at Figure of 3 Locks – which is ongoing.
During the national lockdown, CRT has experienced a huge increase in towpath users – up to 300% – which has at times caused concern about the safety of CRT staff working in the proximity of so many people. During the first lockdown, it was also unfortunate (for water resources) that this coincided with good weather, and the resumption of busy boating activity led to pressure on water resource management. There was a brief discussion of a recent ruling by Government that angling can be regarded as exercise, together with the use of unpowered craft falling into the same category. Once lockdown rules are relaxed, there will be a great opportunity for volunteers in areas such as rangers, water control and reservoir monitoring, and CRT engineers will work on a ‘Waterways First’ principle, with many lock gate failures being caused by degradation and misuse. Finally, there was time for an exchange of views about a number of really local matters.