NABO News Chair Column October 13

Chairman’s column


In July the Waterways Minister announced that he had decided to delay the decision on the transfer of the EA Navigations to CRT. Both navigation authorities were in discussions that might have led to a merge in 2015. There are no details as to why the merger has been delayed and I have no insider knowledge. It is my view that first the funding needed to sweeten the deal was not available, and secondly, the merger was sufficiently controversial for politicians not to want to push it through. I do welcome the announcement because I think, and have consistently said, that CRT has enough on its plate in these early years and taking on the EA would be beyond reasonable expectations and risk.

But the downside is that it does leave EA Navigations in limbo for the coming years. The long-term commonsense need for new funding of the EA waterways remains, as it did for BW. EA has been consulting national user groups recently on the registration fee increase for next year, proposing to raise fees by above inflation, in part anticipating that the Government Grant in Aid will drop next year. This is a groundhog moment from the last years of BW: BW Licence fees went up year-on-year and DEFRA neatly cut back the GIA to match – and for good measure took any BW efficiency savings too. We should not forget this is why we still need the CRT concept, with ring-fenced government funding and a chance to find new money from other than boaters. In the meantime, EA is proposing a registration increase which is simply a further transfer of funding from Government to boaters; I have objected.

And in the meantime for EA? The users are broadly split into Thames, Eastern Rivers and the Medway, with little boating interchange between them. I observe that there is little support for the balance of the funding split between these areas, with the Thames perceived as a prima donna, jealously protected, and the others relatively under-funded. There needs to be wide user support for this budgeting split, something in which CRT is well-experienced. Also the expenditure for flood defence has perhaps benefited the EA navigations, and there is a real fear that this will become a burden or disappear as navigation is ring-fenced, and departmental budget protection kicks in. This needs to be sorted out so that when the transfer is again put comes back on the table, the right solution will have been found and be working. 

Val and I have cruised the system more this year than for a long time, moving the boat from one side of the country to the other, and taking the long way round. It has been very pleasant, and the main waterway issue has been ‘how quiet it has been’. There have been hardly any boats out, and we have seen many hire craft tied up in the basins. We have enjoyed visitor moorings in towns where none were expected. This is very unusual for us, as we often cruise late in the day and don’t expect to find them empty. Where is everybody? I think that the green shoots of recovery have not yet flowed down to boaters and the price of diesel is biting.

Which takes us to the new CRT mooring rules and events on the K&A and in the SE. Elsewhere in this issue we bring you up to date with the plans, where minimum cruising distances, no return rules, overstay charges and community mooring permits are all in vogue. I hope we do not have different rules in different areas, as the confusion will affect boaters just going about in their lawful way. CRT is always confident about their interpretation of the Acts, so let us have some action so we can see what the courts think too. This will continue to be a major subject for comment by NABO.

I am pleased to say that membership numbers are holding up well after the increase in membership fees and I thank you for your loyalty to the Association. We do lose members, some saying we are too aggressive and some saying we are not aggressive enough. But those who write are most often going ashore because they are selling up, and there is little to be said other than best wishes for the future and thanks for your support. As always I welcome letters, and try and respond to them all; they give guidance to Council and help it to remain sensitive to the mood on the cut.

Melanie has told us that she wishes to step down from handling our membership administration next year. This will leave a big gap in our housekeeping. We need to build a new team to handle the essential work and think about the way we do things, maximising technology and minimising effort. Could you be part of that team? Please get in touch if you can help.
We are now approaching the AGM in November and thoughts turn to plans for next year. As always, we need your support to continue the work, and that means new faces. Please help to take the load as two long-serving Council members will not stand again this year. The best way is to come to Council and see the work in hand and find what you can do. Please don’t be shy. We cannot continue effectively without fresh energy and ideas. Put simply, six cannot do the work of twelve.