Mark Tizard asks if it’s now the time for CRT to stop the constant PR spin and admit that they are beginning to lose the maintenance battle.
When navigation restarted in July, I thought we’d need to take account of potential water shortages when planning our cruising routes. Little did we realise that infrastructure failures were going to have a far greater influence. The latest Boaters Update says: ‘As we might have predicted, despite our best efforts, the combined impact of the extensive winter flooding, the long spring dry spell, and the 2-3 months with very few boat movements and hence almost no regular operation of paddles, locks and moveable bridges, has led to an increased number of asset failures, leading to unplanned restrictions on cruising in some places.’ This begs the question: who was doing the predicting? Surely not those walking the towpath, as they were nearly all furloughed. What best efforts? Surely not those working from home. It must refer to the eyes and ears of those continuous cruisers who have, in effect, become the first line of CRT’s maintenance regime. A boater posted this picture of Welford lock on social media with a warning that it looked like it was on its last legs. A few days later, there was a stoppage notice quoting ‘unexpected maintenance’. Unexpected, really!
There has been a barrage of stoppage notices in recent weeks and seven gate or heel post failures on the southern Grand Union alone. These were not caused by rain or dry weather; not even by lack of paddle movement. These are failures that have taken many non-Covid months of non-detection to develop. We need to move from just planned winter stoppages to year round inspection and maintenance. To be fair to CRT, unplanned costs of reservoir maintenance and the reduction of income from its property investment portfolio have no doubt put pressure on its financial resources. Now is the time to approach the Government for support for a training and investment programme to maintain our historic waterways, coupled with a change of maintenance regime that currently seems to hope that things don’t break despite ‘our best efforts’.
But my recent cruising experience suggests that I should cut CRT some slack, as some boaters are not without blame. The number of boaters who seem to care little for the canal infrastructure or environment continues to rise. Unfortunately, some are happy to leave paddles up or gates open, resulting in drained pounds. It’s becoming more common to hear generators or engines running after 8pm and discover blocked or filthy Elsans. We need to educate all users (and authorities) that the system is precious and needs preserving. It’s the great diversity of boats and their owners that has always made the canals so welcoming and interesting, and this needs to be encouraged if CRT is to have any chance of renewing its grant. We need stronger enforcement and education for the few who, for example, decide to refit their boat on the towpath, leaving behind the unwanted contents, or those who think nothing of mooring on lock landings or service points. Extra signage doesn’t work.
Photo Welford lock a few days before a stoppage notice quoting ‘unexpected maintenance’. (Ian Clipstone)