SBA Chairman, Mark Rudall attended the Third National User Forum of the
Canal & River Trust on 25 February 2014 at 'The Bond', the canalside CRT premises in Fazeley, Birmingham.
The Trust's CEO, Richard Parry opened with a broad overview of the year, inevitably highlighting the impact of winter weather damage to the waterways systems.
Most badly hit with landslips and the need to rebuild sections of the cut were the Mon & Brec and Llangollen Canals. The river Severn saw an almost unprecedented 30' rise at Sharpness - only just short of a flow-back into the Gloucester-Berkeley Canal. There were around 400 tree falls and the total cleanup costs are estimated at ca £2m.
Good financial picture was reported for 2013/14 with an unexpected additional £3/4m spent on maintenance - notably cutting back and controlling vegetation. The Trust is also on target to reach 50,000 volunteer days in 2014. This is a huge increase
There are key talks with the HS2 team re the possibly hugely damaging effects of what is proposed for multiple crossings of the system by the new railway around the area of Fradley Junction.
The CEO outlined progress and challenges and faced questions from this large user group. Some members, having faced challenges over, say, long term cruising and mooring regulations, have very distinctive axes to grind but this meeting provides the essential access they need to the most senior figures within the Trust so users' group days result inevitably in further detailed conversations.
An operations update showed that £87.5m is being spent on our waterways in 2012/13, the amount to spend is slowly rising and 2016/17 should see around £100m available to the Trust.
2013/14 'highlights' are Dutton Embankment, Sutton Weaver Bridge, Cooper bridge Weir... All three dealt with for £8m. Limehouse Lock and Slaithwaite reservoir were repaired for £1.5m. There was a lot of dredging (£4.5m). Rishton and Aylesbury emergency works cost £1m while the offside tree programme saw a spend of about £1.75m with ca 200km of canal being given attention by about 20 teams working all over the system.
Major works for 2014/15 will see a spend of about £24.5m overall. The dredging side of this includes a 10 year commitment to spend £80m. Dredging - right at the top of the media agenda apart from anything else - has to be the priority. The Manchester and Pennine waterways are in poor shape and will be a focus of attention this year. Also on the agenda are expensive programmes to handle civil engineering problems with Elton reservoir and Hampton Bank.
£60m will be spent on Inspections, Planned preventative maintenance, High priority defect repair, vegetation management, Customer delivery service (e.g personnel, lock keepers and so on), growing volunteer contribution, Lock gate repair and replacement, driving efficiency and productivity forward. (To cite just one element of regular maintenance we were told that around 40% of canalside wash walls are in need of attention)
A lengthy consultation re towpath visitor moorings has been in progress and is resulting in a rethink of the way accessible and responsible mooring should be regulated and enforced, hopefully with an emerging need for a lighter touch with the latter.
The meeting, split into round table groups, was given 25 mins to discuss a series of questions linked to this... In my group it was highlighted that direct boating expenditure, indirect and 'induced' expenditure per day for a visitor mooring could be as much as £55 to a given local economy. We learned that 8km of new waterway will become available in London when former Olympic park (Queen Elizabeth Park) waterway is opened up. The CRT is seeking to provide moorings to encouraging boaters on that stretch. My discussion group highlighted the intractable tightrope walked by CRT between local authorities, home owners, permanent liveaboard canal cruisers etc.. There is a huge capacity problem with visitor moorings. It was felt that boaters would be prepared to pay a modest overnight charge for an 'enhanced' mooring facility (e.g one where power is laid on) which could be set up privately - such as, for example, the small marina set up by the erstwhile BW on the crowded Llangollen canal, where free moorings on the canalside were under unusually heavy visitor pressure.
A new consultation re towpath usage is about to go live. A new code or policy is needed.
It is felt that there is a need for new principles and maybe a new 'Towpath Code' which may involve a new shared commitment or 'social contract', so being sought is:
A guide to safe sharing of towpaths
Exploration of what the CRT and others can do
Inform partners and funders of our challenges and expectations.
It is thought by CRT that the main things to focus on are:
To consult and observe
1. To make a better infrastructure... Including
2. To develop better signage
3. To encourage better behaviours by users
to look at alternative routes to towpaths.
The CRT stresses that towpaths are prioritised for the slowest users.. Thus in London they have introduced the 'share the space' campaign (thus for towpath cyclists "Share the space, drop your pace"). It was suggested that 10,000 riparian parish councils need to be engaged by CRT re use of towpaths: they need to know the local economic benefits of visiting and liveaboard boaters as well as the rules and guidelines under which boaters operate.
Steamboaters may want to make their own contributions to these two CRT consultations visitor mooring policy and towpath usage) and should feel free to make their own submissions, which can be made via me if that would make life easier.
An AOB section raised points re the way the users' forum is used. It certainly brings together people with common interest in waterway usage and keeps all of us abreast of the way our waterways are governed, maintained and funded.
Mark Rudall 26th February 2014