Mike Rodd represented NABO at this biannual meeting which was, as usual, well attended by most of the boating organisations which cover the EA navigations. As usual, the preparatory work was exemplary and the meeting was very well chaired by EA Board member Peter Ainsworth, with his focus of making sure all delegates have every opportunity to express their views.
Inevitably a few delegates try to use the meeting to beat their local drums but these are skilfully dealt with!
With recent elections etc the meeting had been delayed by a month or so, and this also gave the EA the opportunity to develop better their work on proposed increases to registration (licencing) charges and discussions on these formed a major part of the meeting. The pressure is on to get these in place soon so as the allow them to be applied to the Thames where the charging year starts in January. The key proposal is a 5.7% increase for the Thames, which was felt by most delegates to be reasonable and only slightly above CPI increases over the 3 years - given that there had been no increases for the past 2 years. However, it is also proposed to increase the Anglian Waterways by 7.5% and the River Medway by 10%. Whilst it is appreciated that the 3 areas have different structures and needs, most boaters representatives felt that they would find it extremely difficult to explain the differences to their members, and urged the EA to adopt a common strategy. NABO also suggested that it was essential to give users an indication of what the future holds ie could there be a similar increase in subsequent years?
There was then a very interesting and well-considered presentation on EA’s work developing their long-term navigation strategy – aimed at ensuring that EA’s navigations are sustainable in the future. Clearly this sound work is being undertaken assuming that CRT does not take over these responsibilities. Indeed many of the suggestions to achieve sustainability are similar to CRT’s in terms of increasing income from non-boating sources etc. NABO emphasised that for this to be effective (as when BW became CRT) there would be a need for a complete internal cultural change – and the need to work with the many existing local groups!
These discussions were followed by another excellent paper examining EA’s assets – now being undertaken on a very similar basis to that used by CRT. The bottom line is that there is need for around £16M capital per year to maintain all the navigation assets, including weirs and sluices. However, an additional 1-off payment would also be required to get current failing assets up to their required condition!!
Right up front in the meeting, it was stated that there was no progress to report on the EA/CRT negotiations. Cleary there is much frustration over this – both sides agree that it would be a good thing but given the money involved (see above paragraph!!) and the current political climate, Brexit etc, this is all well down the governments’ agenda. Personally, for me is clear that the EA is (correctly) preparing itself for any take-over of their navigational responsibilities NOT to happen and hence all the work mentioned above.
27th July 2017