East Midlands (Northern) User Group Meeting – March 16 at Lincoln and
North East Waterway User Group Meeting at Leeds – March 17
This week I have been to two user group meetings on consecutive days and it was interesting to compare styles and differences and also to note how the same messages are being delivered by BW. For example both meetings spent time explaining the Third Sector as far as they were able, without giving any substantive detail to flesh out the theories. Similarly there was discussion about licencing issues with each region giving detailed reports about evasion detection and successes. At the Leeds meeting we also had a talk from Paul Griffin – the National Enforcement Supervisor – about how they were tightening up procedures and improving systems to make their systems more uniform and consistent across the network. This included increasing the present team of data checkers with recruitment taking place at the moment. This will enable BW to change the way they do boat checks with each boat on average being sighted around 5 times each year.
Mention was made at both meetings about the forthcoming BW by laws revision which is on track to come out for consultation around May this year. I understand that some organisations have already been involved in a pre-consultation exercise but couldn’t get more detail about which ones.
One subject which caused disquiet at both meetings and especially at Leeds concerned the reduction in office opening times which will now be from 1000 – 1200 each day. This caused particular outcry at Leeds, especially when it was announced that Leeds was now the biggest BW office with over 200 staff. Complaints are being formally submitted to get this decision reversed.
On a lighter note, both meetings were advised that BW local offices are now on both Facebook and Twitter for those who use these facilities, but I asked them to remember those who don’t use computers etc.
The usual frequent mention of the word “volunteer” was made but no specific projects were mentioned apart from the annual litter picks which take place in many areas. Complaints were voiced about BW’s overzealous interpretation about Health & Safety rules and that some rethink is necessary if volunteers are to be more involved.
Proposed stoppages this year will be posted on line in late April for everyone to study and send feedback to BW so that a final list can be drawn up for publication in July.
A subject which was raised at Lincoln but which could spread to become a national issue concerns some anglers – quite often foreign nationals - who are becoming very aggressive when challenged about fishing in banned places. This has reached the point in some areas where physical violence has been threatened and could lead to a major problem if not tackled by BW and the police.
In Leeds, the regeneration officer was given quite a rough ride when he gave a short presentation including one about the towpath works on the Calder Valley towpath scheme. He was questioned in particular about the consultation process which had taken place prior to the final decision being made about the materials to be used (eventually Tarmac was chosen). It was disclosed that no boating organisations had been involved in the consultation stage and he seemed to be taken aback that the scheme was being roundly criticised from so many in the meeting.
It was encouraging to see that at both meetings the NABO condition survey was quoted as being used as the template for work planning this year.
Finally, in Leeds the Waterway Manager Laurence Morgan will be retiring from BW on April 1st. Interviews are presently underway for his successor but the interim manager will be Neil Harvey who is already based at Leeds.