Thank you for your open letter. I am responding to acknowledge your contribution to the ongoing discussion about how the Trust can best fulfil its mission – to protect, manage and improve our waterways for the public to enjoy now and in the future.
As you know I have received lots of helpful, well-informed advice and guidance since I started nearly a year ago, and have been very grateful for it. As I think I have made clear, I am determined to take time to listen to the advice given, the views of boaters and other customers, and to try to make sure the Canal & River Trust lives up to their hopes and expectations.
I would argue that there has never been a time when boaters and boating organisations have had so much say in the running of the waterways. They are represented on our Council, our Board, our local Partnerships, our advisory groups and, indeed, in our workforce. They have adopted canals, they donate as Friends and they volunteer in large numbers whether as lock keepers, towpath task-force ‘workers’ or in supporting our education programme. As you acknowledge, boaters don’t always agree with what we’re doing, and indeed, very often don’t agree with each other, but they are able to get involved, and help shape our thinking and influence our decisions.
I have never pretended the Canal & River Trust has the answers to all the challenges it faces – no-one does – but I can tell you that we are changing and that we are open to dialogue with everyone who wants to work with us to see the waterways thrive.
You make some reasonable points in your letter. I agree we shouldn’t intervene and try to control things where we don’t need to. We absolutely do need to show that we value boaters as customers, as I hope I have started to demonstrate. I also agree we shouldn’t be insular and looking at how others do things can help us to challenge our ways of thinking and find better ways to do things.
Other points I don’t agree with; your suggestion that we are guilty of restricting mooring more than local councils restrict car parking doesn’t pass any sort of comparison in my view. All towns have tightly restricted parking where stopping is popular. I wouldn’t want to go down that route to the same extent but we do have a responsibility to manage the most popular mooring spots for the good of everyone – visitors, leisure boaters and liveaboards alike. As we discussed at Anderton, I will actively seek to represent boaters and their interests but not to such an extent that it jeopardises wider public engagement. The enjoyment, support and advocacy of the millions of towpath users is essential, in my view, for our long term future. And I really can’t accept the Alton Towers comparison; I make no apology for wanting to make our canals attractive and vibrant places that people want to come to – but no roller-coasters I promise!
We won’t ever agree on enforcement measures I think. I can only offer the assurance that we will continue to try to help boaters who are having difficulties with compliance, but ultimately if someone persistently will not license their boat, or will not make any attempt at a minimum range of movement, then we have to take some action – other boaters who are complying have the right to expect that of us. Of course education and support is the much preferred route for all parties, and indeed is where we are able to resolve things in the vast majority of cases.
Your ideas about how we can financially support the waterways are ambitious, to say the least. I do agree that over the next ten years it is a priority to growing new sources of income to secure a sustainable future for the system we all care about, and our commercial team is already making strong progress in this respect.
Canal & River Trust