National Users' Forum
The April forum had poor attendance, with more CRT staff than other group representatives.
Water resources - due to reservoir issues, the Chesterfield, L&L, Macclesfield and Peak Forest, and Huddersfield Narrow canals will probably all suffer to some degree from restrictions this 'season'.
Review of works - 13 winter stoppages have overrun their March completion date, some caused by Covid, but also recruitment issues: several staff leaving and difficulty in attracting new staff. Gargrave, on the L & L, should reopen in May and the Caldon should reopen by June, but both canals will have stoppages again from this September to March 2023. Sheffield & Tinsley should reopen in June, but Daw Bank is closed until September. There will be more use of external suppliers and £60m has now been allocated for the next three years, rather than the expected £40m.
Boating update - March's National Boaters’ Survey is not finished yet, but results should appear in the next few weeks. A bigger survey, which Matthew Symonds also referred to as a ‘census’, is planned for the summer (CRT wants to know exactly who goes boating/has a boat). The Disabled Boater Forum was mentioned, and CRT is now more aware of the needs of this group of boaters. Visitor moorings’ signage will be installed to show accessibility for disabled boaters.
Vegetation management - three contractors have been awarded contracts. There is flexibility in the number of cuts if needed due to unexpected vegetation growth. 800+ trees blew down in the two winter storms but only one culvert was ruptured.
Public safety on the towpaths – a film is being made for sharing on social media to try to educate speeding cyclists/raise awareness. For the minority of speeders, CRT thinks it’s unrealistic to expect any change in behaviour if a speed limit is introduced, or anything else! I got the feeling that CRT doesn't want to confront this issue; all very negative rather than a can-do attitude.
HS2 - CRT is successfully working with HS2 to get the best result/least impact on the canal system. There are 13 sites of impact as well as the Chesterfield, Ashby and Lichfield restorations. CRT has funding from HS2 for towpath improvements on the Staffs & Worcs, Trent & Mersey and GU.
Grant review - because of inflationary pressures, CRT is having financial problems with the Government grant being a fixed amount until 2027. At the moment it represents 25% of CRT's income and the Trust needs an indication of what grant, if any, will be available after this for long-term planning. They have now begun work on the economic case for another grant. If they get nothing, there will have to be a post-review 'push' to try again. They expect a decision in July and will press DEFRA to publish details of the outcome.
Questions - a couple of waterways businessmen asked about being given enough notice of stoppages to plan for their hire business. I asked about maintaining a balance between the needs of navigation and those of selling water in the current restrictions; boating will apparently be prioritised.