Report on the National Users’ Forum (NUF) September 2013

A breath of fresh air?

Mike Rodd reports on the National Users’ Forum (NUF) held on 12th September 2013

This was the second meeting of this new forum, established largely to replace the now-abandoned British Waterways Advisory Forum (BWAF) which had been effective in bringing together the BW management team and waterways interest groups. The NUF has a remit to provide two-way communication on national issues between users and CRT.

Held at The Bond in Birmingham, the two-hour meeting was attended by representatives of most of the national groups with an interest in our waterways. Full minutes will be published and what follows simply represents my personal views on the event.

Delegates were welcomed by out-going CRT Chairman Tony Hales, who introduced the new Chief Executive, Richard Parry. Tony made much of the fact that Richard has made a point of visiting all the waterways and their key features, talking to over a third of CRT’s staff, and has also attended many other waterways events.

Richard’s presentation was a real breath of fresh air! This was no longer a senior bureaucrat lecturing key stakeholders, but a Chief Executive doing everything possible to ensure that those who were most concerned with the welfare of the waterways felt acknowledged, engaged and part of the greater scheme of things. Whilst recognising the fine work done by the CRT staff, Richard acknowledged that there is still much more to be done, and he made it very clear that and that this can happen only if CRT works with, and alongside, all interested parties.

His priorities, he said, are to review and develop a clear strategic direction for CRT, working with the local Partnerships and their proposals, as well as all other interested organisations. He would thus see a need for the development of roadmaps for all aspects of volunteering, funding, etc., as well as business plans to address the strategic priorities and to respond to customers’ needs. He sees a need to re-invigorate CRT’s engagement with customers and partners, and – together – to seek ways forward on key boating issues. To this end he would ensure that communications and consultations are as effective as possible, especially as he recognises that, in the past, this has not been done as well as it needs to be.

In summary, Richard believes that we have a unique opportunity to work together to create a positive future for our canals and rivers – and for the people who value and care for them.

Jeff Whyatt, a Senior Waterway Manager, then took delegates through the changing approach to the Winter Works Programme. He paid special attention to the benefits (to both CRT and all users) that have resulted from an early engagement with all interested parties. He also described new web-based tools, including real-time information on closures etc., which should become available later in the year.

Caroline Killeavy, Head of Community Engagement, presented a positive report on the increase in volunteering and the community adoption programmes that are developing right across the network. Brief group discussions followed, with the objective of seeking additional input into how this all could be increased and improved. It was interesting to see the general view, also emphasised by Richard Parry, that we need all the groups involved to pull together so that all the volunteer effort is seen to be for the overall benefit of the waterways, and not of individual organisations. Thus, for example, before any new initiatives take place, existing groups and resources need to be consulted and included.

George Ballinger, Head of Engineering, finished the morning off by explaining in detail what CRT is doing regarding the HS2 developments. CRT are taking the very pragmatic approach that this development will happen and they (we!) must thus ensure that anything that could impact the waterways in any way must be investigated and everything done to minimise any adverse effects. To this end, having identified all potential areas that could be affected, CRT are having regular monthly meetings with the HS2 design teams. George urged all who have an interest in the waterways to get on board and help! (NABO News will soon publish a report from George highlighting all the areas of concern – at least 30 important issues have been highlighted.)

In summary – this was one of the most encouraging and positive meetings I have attended in recent times, and one that bodes well for the future if this promising start is realised in concerted and inclusive action.

Mike Rodd