Mark Tizard, Anne Husar and Peter Fellows respond to a recent CRT statement.
CRT inherited a portfolio of properties from BW, some of which are needed for its operations. In a statement, it says that others were specified as investments to provide an income stream to fund ongoing maintenance. It also claims that it has to manage these investments commercially to generate as much income as possible as a condition of the Government grant agreement. To do this, it regularly sells assets if it thinks their potential to grow income has fallen and then invests the proceeds in new assets with higher growth potential. It denies it is ‘selling the family silver’ and reports that the investments now contribute more than £50 million each year to CRT funds. This compares to approximately £40 million a year from boating and mooring revenue. The statement goes on to say: “We do still own waterway-related properties like marinas and boatyards and some waterside properties with potential for development...”.
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.
Birmingham University train station is undergoing redevelopment, which requires a series of 29-hour closures of the canal and towpath. This is to enable large sections of the station building framework and canal footbridge to be lifted across the canal. The stoppages will be between 00.30 on Sundays and 05.00 on Mondays on the following dates: 27th – 28th June; 4th – 5th July; 8th – 9th August; 5th – 6th September; 26th – 27th September; and 3rd – 4th October. To minimise the effect of the closures, there will be two windows in which the canal will be opened to allow boats to pass through the site. These will be 12.00-13.00 and 16.00-17.00 on each Sunday.
Following an agreement with the Bridgewater Canal Company, CRT-licensed boaters wishing to access the Bridgewater Canal, must now pre-book the visit using the on-line booking system (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/planning-your-boat-trip/booking-your-passage-online), after you have set up a customer account, or by phone on 0303 0404040. Outbound passage, free of charge, is limited to a maximum of seven continuous days and return passage is up to a maximum of three continuous days free of charge. If you do not book the return journey when you book the outbound journey, you should log into your online account and tick the ‘three extra days’ box on the date of your return journey. The outbound and return journeys must be made within a continuous 28-day period, which starts on the first day of the outbound journey. You cannot return to the Bridgewater within 28 days, unless you buy a short-term Bridgewater licence from www.bridgewatercanal.co.uk/boating (between £20 for three days to £160 for 28 days).