This online meeting of NNUF proved to be somewhat difficult as only a few of the attendees were able to make full use of the available video conference tools. Most attendees were limited to a phone-in link with only a few of the 30+ attendees being able to sign into the full conference facilities. (I could sign in for vision but not sound!)
Unfortunately, as we have reported on in the past, the EA fell into the trap of long presentations (often just reading the slides we had received beforehand) and this was made worse on this occasion by the poor communications technology. Much time given to telling us how well they had coped with the difficulties posed by the lockdown: Whilst this was of course true, it did not need almost a quarter of the meeting telling us about it. The communications problems then made it difficult for us to comment.
Of particular interest to me was that they did report, as we all have seen, on the vast number of canoes, paddleboards etc that have arrived on the rivers and canals over the past months. British Canoeing reported that they have had over 25,000 new members. It was noted that based on their membership numbers BC pays a grant in lieu of individual licences to both EA and CRT. Several of us felt strongly that many of these new users did not seem to understand the rules applicable to our waterways and an education programme was very necessary. I suggested not more signs but rather that there is need to talk through the media most of these newcomers would use – social media.
A significant part of the meeting was the update on the strategic review of navigation charges which had started before the lockdown with a series of workshops with most representative bodies - including NABO. The work has obviously been held back because of the lockdown etc and it was noted that registration charges for 2021 will be the same as for 2020. Andy Soper of the DBA asked for details on the true cost of the service provided and the response was that they hadn't started working on that yet! They admitted that they have been struggling with legal issues and, for example, presented proposed new definitions of unpowered vessels. It was suggested that these should also relate to paddleboards etc. The intention is finalise proposals by the end of this year and that the 12 weeks public consultation will take place in the Spring 2021, for implementation from July, resulting in charges being effective in 2022.
An update on the development of their 5 year Business Plan was presented towards the end of session and it was noted that they have presented a bid for £200m over 5 years for Grant in Aid for capital spend on the EA navigations. Given that this was against £15m for this current year (itself a significant increase on the immediate past) few of us could believe what we were hearing.
The question was raised as to how the various figures produced for the national level then broke down to regional ones (ie what are the real figures for, say, the Thames) was rather dodged.
A strange, very one-way meeting overall, made extremely difficult by the poor communications technology.