South West and Wales
A not very well-attended meeting of the South West Users’ Group, with only some 24 folk present (including numerous CRT people) but still a useful and well-structured session. The Regional Director, Mark Evans, gave a slick summary of the past year and, of course, highlighted the difficulties caused by the storms etc. He also emphasised the significant amount of non-boater outreach activities which has been taking place – not surprising, as this is clearly CRT’s current focus, given the soon-to-be-completed government review of waterway’s funding! This presentation left plenty of time for delegate input. Especially worrying was the concern by the volunteers at the famous and unique CRT-owned Claverton pumping station (water-wheel driven) who do all the maintenance and system running, but feel neglected by CRT, with poor support. The National Bargee Travellers Association Chair raised the usual complaints from liveaboard boaters and also the issues relating to the future of the Bridgewater Docks, which had been handed back to the local council by CRT. Personally, I expressed the K&A Canal Trust’s concern about the apparent policy of only fixing paddles when both failed – as is being experienced (for going-on 3 years!) at Dunmill lock on the K&A, with serious issues for the public trip-boats which have to over-run on promised trip timings. Mark promised to sort this out – we shall see!
Carolyn (CJ) Green watches the goings-on from her tiller.
As you already know, CRT doesn’t possess a magic money pot, so improving crumbling towpaths is not high on its list of priorities. Instead, they look to outside agencies (councils etc.) for assistance. When Sustrans decided to upgrade sections of towpath, CRT must have thought “Whoopee”, I mean what can possibly go wrong? Make the towpaths more accessible, then surely everyone wins?
The problem is that while CRT and Sustrans have put up notices informing us of towpath closures, no-one is being told exactly how the paths will be improved. We do not know what the surface will be, whether grass verges will be retained or lost. We don’t even know if ‘wild moorings’ will still be possible. There’s no mention of the potential environmental impact.
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.
In the Chair
Effects of ‘bonfire of the quangos’ start to hit home
Mike Rodd analyses how DEFRA policy is driving the change in emphasis by CRT and the EA away from boating.
We’ve seen many intriguing responses to our appeal for members to write to their MPs asking for support for CRT to continue to receive government funding, at least at the current level. While we have always been the first to highlight the many shortcomings of CRT, we are also only too well aware that they will simply not be able to cope if they do not receive this support. The original Cameron model (now being re-energised by the infamous Rees-Mogg) was that the so-called ‘quangos’ should be taken out of government departments and made into charitable organisations that would then be able to attract charitable funding. Experience has shown, though, both in CRT’s case and elsewhere, that although charities may find it slightly easier to attract funding for projects, boring old maintenance just doesn’t excite donors in the same way…
Many of those who have objected to our suggestion feel that the only way ahead is simply to revert to the original BWB model! That simply will not happen, I’m afraid – especially with all the other current pressures on the Government.
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