West Midlands

This summer, our 250-mile cruise between June and October has been entirely within the CRT West Midlands Region. When we arrived in Birmingham, we moored on a finger mooring in Cambrian Basin. We are Waterside Mooring customers who notified CRT of our intention to be away from the mooring for more than 30 days and had consent to moor at vacant long-term CRT mooring sites while cruising. Cambrian Basin is listed as a long-term mooring site. When we received news that my wife’s nonogenarian mother had had a fall, we returned to ensure that she had the care she needed at home. While home, I received an email from CRT pointing out that we were overstaying on visitor moorings. I replied that, as a CRT moorer, I was entitled to stay on vacant long-term moorings. CRT enforcement replied that only four of the eight finger moorings at Cambrian Wharf were long-term moorings and the rest were visitor moorings, so the T&C did not apply. There is no signage saying that. I told the Licence Support Officer our situation and negotiated an agreed overstay without any problem, but clear signage would have helped!

When the overstay had expired we continued down the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. The main problems were the lack of visibility at some bridges and sections of the canal because of the lack of vegetation management. Particularly, offside trees mask the entrance to some bridge holes on bends. Reeds have been allowed to reduce the canal to a single boat width for long lengths. On our trip up the 12 miles of the River Severn, the highlight was an otter crossing the river in front of us. Adnam Saif stated at a WM Boaters Meeting that otters had returned to urban waterways. I did not believe him and this sighting was in a very rural setting, but nice.

Our trip up the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal was a story of lock gates, beams and paddle gear in very poor condition. At Stewponey Lock I met the ‘response team’ – two CRT operatives covering Milton Keynes to Llangollen for breakdown maintenance! They told a sorry tale: they had one spindle pinion with them and were examining the worn out gear on the two bottom paddles to decide which one to repair. I commented on the number of balance beams that were cased in plywood to keep them together and one wrapped in gaffer tape. They were quite proud that this was their work: keeping things going until gate renewal can take place or complete failure brings things to a halt. The staircases at Stourport and the non-staircase of The Bratch were unfamiliar to me and I had good experience of CRT volunteers. They were knowledgeable, informative and interested in the canal and its heritage and history and were very assistive as well. I was glad of the local knowledge and help.

On the Trent and Mersey I came across the first of several paddle gears that were covered with tailor-made yellow tarpaulin covers indicating that they were ‘under repair’. Of course this is not true. They are awaiting repair at a very much later date. A volunteer at Middle Lock told me that the one at Shadehouse Lock had been there for months. Shadehouse Lock has only one top paddle and this left the lock to be filled with only a gate paddle. There was no signage indicating the risks associated with this. Locked off paddle gear was plentiful in all areas including Hilmorton Locks (the busiest locks in the CRT system and where locks are duplicated so repair should be possible). At Cropredy lock they reported that the paddles here and at Slatt Mill had been defective for months. While defects can occur at any time, I feel we should campaign for timely repair rather than waiting until both paddles are defective.

I was glad to receive copies of some of the legal advice that NABO has received over the years and found it very informative and interesting. Having read it all, I did not find anything definitive concerning whether licensing is a duty or a matter of contract. However I was pleased to find that there is consistent advice that use of the T&Cs made under the 1962 Transport Act S43(3) cannot alter the terms of the 1995 BW Act S17. The latter is the current will of Parliament. I have had no response from CRT concerning my complaint that the introduction of T&Cs ‘in error’ caused me much trouble and anxiety. I have asked how the erroneous paragraphs could get into an important legal document and get issued. I have asked at what level of authority they were signed off.

Peter Braybrook