Challenges in the year ahead

Mike Rodd considers NABO’s priorities and the way forward.

Coming back into the NABO chair at this time in the history of our waterways is far more formidable that it might seem – the challenges that face us are by no means simple. The next few years will be critical to the future of our waterways, with CRT and EA both facing long-term funding issues. At present, the government grant covers about 40% of CRT’s income but, in about six years’ time, the initial funding stream will come to an end. It was always the intention of government that, by then, the organisation should be essentially self-funding – that is, no further government grant would be needed. Of course, as NABO has always pointed out, such a concept was cloud cuckoo land; however hard CRT might try, there is no way that it will be able to continue without direct government support. CRT Trustees and staff have tried very hard to address this issue; one approach has been to try to show how amazing the waterways are in promoting ‘public wellbeing’. That’s all good stuff, but I seriously wonder if governments of the future will take any notice – especially as many other organisations seeking government support are saying exactly the same thing. Ultimately, some level of government grant seems essential, and making the case for the real value of the waterways is of major public importance. That is really all about recalling their historic significance, as well as recognising the huge numbers of people who use them or benefit directly from their presence, as boaters, fishermen, traders, towpath walkers, bike riders, international tourists, etc.

Mark Tizard and Mike Rodd prepared a review of 2019.

Thank you for coming. Stella Ridgway, our Chair, unfortunately can’t be with us as she continues to recover from her kidney transplant. Stella is standing down from our Council and, on behalf of NABO, we would like to thank her for her service. She will be missed both by her NABO colleagues and also as a boater’s representative on CRT’s Council. During the year, our Vice-Chair Paul Howland passed away unexpectedly; his wise words are greatly missed.

Last year has been a challenging one for NABO: your Council has been spread thinly, seeking to establish contact and relationships with the new CRT Regional Directors, and the first meetings have taken place. On top of this, the latest major reorganisation has seen many experienced managers leave the Trust. During the last couple of years, with constant management changes, it is perhaps not surprising that communications with CRT have been sporadic. They certainly have not been proactive in wanting to engage with us. Your Council has recently taken steps to set up regular quarterly meetings with the Head of Customer Services and Head of Boating. In addition, we continue to be represented on the Navigation Advisory Group and the Boat Safety Scheme committees. The new CRT organisational management structure continues to bed in and we have concerns that in some areas core engineering and management experience have been lost.

Chair, Stella Ridgway, has had an eventful time in the High Peak.

Since my last missive, it all started with rain; lots and lots of rain. On July 29th, we noticed a video on Facebook of Toddbrook reservoir overtopping - hardly surprising considering the amount of rain we’d experienced. The canal was so full that the water was level with the bank and CRT opened sluice gates near us to feed water into the River Goyt. On Thursday morning, 1st August, the local news said that Whaley Bridge was being evacuated; all excitement and apprehension. Toddbrook reservoir supplies the Peak Forest canal and is the top feeder for the Cheshire Ring. If it flooded, it would take out the Whaley Bridge shops, the railway station, the school, houses, the basin and any boats in Whaley Bridge, plus Tesco, the new B&M near to the aqueduct on Bugsworth Arm and the one at Furness Vale. Although the police advised boaters to leave their boats, we studied all the projections and, while there might have been a slight surge, the river and floodplain would have taken the full impact. Videos on local Facebook groups showed the river at 14-15 feet above its normal level on the Wednesday and there had already been evacuations due to the river flooding. But on Thursday this had dropped seven or eight feet as the Environment Agency managed levels further upstream and downstream. All traffic was stopped going through New Mills, the A6 was closed and there were no Buxton trains; it was quiet.

The motorway in your head

Stella Ridgway urges boaters to slow down and enjoy the view

The Marple Flight reopened at the end of May, so we have been treated to a great deal more traffic as boaters cross Bugsworth Basin off their tick-list of places to go. We have noticed the speed and lack of boating etiquette that seems to have crept (or is that marched?) in over the last few years. When we moved aboard, the person we bought our boat from said: “you con­sciously need to slow down for the first three days as it takes that long to lose the motorway in your head”. We notice that with the boaters who are obviously on a schedule speeding past us. I think they don't even no­tice the views over the landscape, which are particularly stunning this year. I think they forget that it isn't just the destination; it's the journey that is as important. We hear boaters complaining about the shallowness of the canal, but they are trying to cruise at maximum speed. (As this was one of the last canals to be built in the North West, costs were key and it was built to an average depth of about a metre, so it isn't the deepest of canals). But if you go slowly and enjoy the scenery, it will be a much better experience for everyone.

Community involvement

Chair, Stella Ridgway, meets the North West Regional Director.

I am going to offer apologies in advance – I have not been well – the downside of chronic kidney disease and renal failure is the body’s inability to shake off infections, and I have had one since late February. I managed to go to Council as it was in Manchester, but the Users’ Forum at the beginning of April was too far for me to travel.

I did meet with Daniel Greenhalgh, the new NW Regional Director (he kindly came to my boat so I didn’t have to travel), and we discussed NABO’s role with the Trust and how we can be a critical friend in assisting it. We discussed lack of facilities; there are no showers at all on the Macclesfield or Peak Forest canals. This may not seem important to some, but the ability to shower for longer than four minutes is a treat (do let me know if you can shower in less time) and to have the use of a washing machine for bulky items would be wonderful, particularly as laundrettes become fewer. We also discussed the transhipment sheds at both Whaley Bridge and Marple, and noticed that the Toll House was open in Marple last Saturday – unfortunately, only open when I was on dialysis, but the photos I saw looked good. The planning application for the wharf development at Marple was refused and I haven’t heard what the next steps will be, but I wish that the Trust would concentrate on looking for ways to engage not only the land-based community but the boating community as well. The transhipment sheds offer a unique opportunity to bring the two communities together and I hope that this is noted.