Editor, Peter Fellows, considers an alternative to the present CRT structure.
This issue reflects two concerns that have been raised recently regarding the poor state of the canal infrastructure and the loss of waterway heritage. There are currently a record number of unplanned canal closures and lock or culvert failures, especially in the North. Given that the waterways have largely been out of use for months due to the Covid lockdown, these failures have to be due to inadequate inspection and/or lack of maintenance, rather than the usual excuse of blaming boaters. On the second point, CRT does not seem to understand that not all of its building assets are available to be sold off to generate income. There has to be due attention paid to the heritage of the waterways, which is embedded in CRT’s objects as a charity. These topics are longstanding criticisms that have featured in NABO News for many years, and appear again in articles and reports in this issue by Mark Tizard. But CRT seems to consistently ignore them. Mark also reviews the results of the latest boaters’ perception survey which, unsurprisingly, does not make happy reading for CRT.
I suspect that every boater would agree that a renewal of the Government grant to CRT is essential for the upkeep of the waterways. We are where we are with CRT’s senior management, and they are probably the best people to lead the negotiations with DEFRA. However, as part of these negotiations, I believe that there should be thought given to planning for a new structure for CRT. This should clearly separate the Trust’s responsibilities as a navigation authority from its wellbeing agenda that promotes the waterways to the wider public. Currently, these seem to be completely intertwined, but the Trust’s responsibilities for maintaining and improving the waterway infrastructure seem to take a decidedly backseat position. As Mike Rodd notes in the Chair’s column, boats and navigation are rarely mentioned, let alone discussed, at CRT forums and regional meetings. A separate wellbeing division would allow the Trust to continue to generate income from a wide range of sources as it currently does. So the bulk of the new Government grant could be made available to the navigation division, to maintain what are unique national assets (with of course the income from boat licence fees). The division could then employ senior staff with the expertise and experience to properly manage the waterways.