Time for a rethink?

Editor, Peter Fellows, considers an alternative to the present CRT structure.

This issue reflects two concerns that have been raised recently regarding the poor state of the canal infrastructure and the loss of waterway heritage. There are currently a record number of unplanned canal closures and lock or culvert failures, especially in the North. Given that the waterways have largely been out of use for months due to the Covid lockdown, these failures have to be due to inadequate inspection and/or lack of maintenance, rather than the usual excuse of blaming boaters. On the second point, CRT does not seem to understand that not all of its building assets are available to be sold off to generate income. There has to be due attention paid to the heritage of the waterways, which is embedded in CRT’s objects as a charity. These topics are longstanding criticisms that have featured in NABO News for many years, and appear again in articles and reports in this issue by Mark Tizard. But CRT seems to consistently ignore them. Mark also reviews the results of the latest boaters’ perception survey which, unsurprisingly, does not make happy reading for CRT.
I suspect that every boater would agree that a renewal of the Government grant to CRT is essential for the upkeep of the waterways. We are where we are with CRT’s senior management, and they are probably the best people to lead the negotiations with DEFRA. However, as part of these negotiations, I believe that there should be thought given to planning for a new structure for CRT. This should clearly separate the Trust’s responsibilities as a navigation authority from its wellbeing agenda that promotes the waterways to the wider public. Currently, these seem to be completely intertwined, but the Trust’s responsibilities for maintaining and improving the waterway infrastructure seem to take a decidedly backseat position. As Mike Rodd notes in the Chair’s column, boats and navigation are rarely mentioned, let alone discussed, at CRT forums and regional meetings. A separate wellbeing division would allow the Trust to continue to generate income from a wide range of sources as it currently does. So the bulk of the new Government grant could be made available to the navigation division, to maintain what are unique national assets (with of course the income from boat licence fees). The division could then employ senior staff with the expertise and experience to properly manage the waterways.

It has been a busy month for meetings, with NABO Council members attending a disabled boaters’ forum, a national users’ forum and regional meetings for London and South East and the South West. John Devonald reminds us of the dangers from CO, after two boaters died in York, and also explores the dark art of battery maintenance in Techies’ Corner. To balance things up a little, Paul Monahan takes a sideways look at boaters’ headgear and he also proposes to exempt historic structures from safety regulations, while I weigh up the evidence for the causes of the Suez Canal accident. Lastly, we have all been shocked by news of the death of a CRT Licensing Ranger, Clive Porter, and Mark has written on NABO’s behalf to offer our condolences.