I start with an apology to Tony Baldry MP, for calling him ‘Toby’ in the last issue and thanks to Peter Braybrook, the eagle-eyed constituent who let me know, commenting: “In response to your invitation to submit ‘names that make me smile’, Sir Toby brought a smile to my lips but I am not sure it would have brought one to his!”
In this issue, there is an article on community boating, the Cinderella of the boating world, in which Trevor Roberts bemoans the historic lack of BW support and asks whether CRT will be any different. It should be, given its stated intent to be socially inclusive, but little seems to have been done so far to support the valuable work that these boating groups do – perhaps it is early days for the Trust.
Elsewhere, CRT features prominently, but not always for the right reasons: it seems to be increasingly confused over what constitutes consultation with its ‘customers’ (i.e. boaters like you and me) and what is simply reporting news of developments. Many, if not most, boaters are still largely unaware of the details of what CRT is about and what its policies are, so I welcome the boaters’ meetings that are taking place all over the country, held by CRT’s Head of Boating, Sally Ash, and Trustee, John Dodwell. There are also other routes by which CRT can contact boaters, including waterways partnerships, the National Users Forum (NUF), user group meetings and now ‘surgeries’ as described in an article by Mike Rodd and a report from the NUF. But is there a risk that this proliferation of ‘consultation’ will confuse rather than clarify the situation? Waterway partnerships are locally focussed and advisory, and have little if any power to change CRT policies or activities. User group meetings are perhaps the most useful to boaters, as a forum to feedback directly to local waterway managers, and there seems to be no good reason to replace them with ‘surgeries’, if this is the intention.
But let’s be clear, while informing boaters of new ideas and developments is essential, it is not consultation. That requires a two-way process. On the positive side, CRT has sought boaters’ views via its consultation on visitor moorings in the South East, so credit where it’s due, if the views are taken into account with any new policies on visitor moorings. I have included NABO’s response to the consultation and CRT’s preliminary report in this issue. (On the subject of visitor moorings, I do not agree with boater Reg Whittall’s suggestion for boat discs at visitor moorings for a number of reasons, but I acknowledge that he is trying to make a positive contribution to the debate.)
But why was NABO, as the only national group representing boaters, not consulted when CRT changed the booking arrangements for the Rochdale Canal, as detailed in the ‘Boating’ section of this issue? Furthermore, recent pronouncements on the introduction of mooring permits, £25 overstaying (or ‘service’) charges, community mooring permits and ‘no return’ rules seem to be being made without widespread consultation. Some of the changes appear to be a proverbial sledgehammer taken to a very small nut in one area, which risk being applied nationally before most boaters realise what has happened. (The realisation by some boaters of their lack of influence over CRT policy and the perceived arbitrary imposition of new rules may be a reason for the current backlash on website forums and is reflected in the letters I have received for this issue.) I believe it is time for CRT Trustees to clarify the procedures that individual boaters, and the organisations that represent them, can take to influence policy and to apply the procedures uniformly and nationally.
The four Trustees elected to represent boaters have responded to earlier misconceptions of their role with a statement that is reprinted in this issue. They point out that they can take boaters’ policy suggestions and concerns to CRT Council, but they are presumably supporting CRT’s (im)position regarding ‘no return’ rules, overstaying charges etc. CRT was launched with enormous goodwill from most boaters after years of ill will towards BW. It would be a huge pity if this were lost through confused reporting structures and a lack of willingness, as perceived by some, to consult boaters - and if the goodwill is lost it will take decades for the Trust to regain boaters’ confidence.