When is a building site not a building site..?

August 2018 - It is fair to say that Burnley Canal Festival over the bank holiday weekend was not all it might have been – not because of lack of effort by the organisers but because it was lacking one vital ingredient – boats. As Alec Wood reports, just two boats managed to attend and low water levels meant they had to moor away from the festival site.

With drought closing the Leeds and Liverpool canal either side of Burnley the festival had to be content with a handful of canoeists on the water, but it could have been different with a little cooperation from Canal & River Trust.

Canal campaigner Colin Ogden, attended last year’s festival and was immediately invited back with his restored historic Lake District taxi – Whimbrel.

Back in June he says, he was told by C&RT’s Project Officer Emma Fielding, at the Trust’s Rosegrove office, that he couldn’t use the slipway at Finsley Gate Wharf due to 'building work'.

Within days Colin was appearing in the local Burnley Express newspaper appealing for a truck large enough to hoist Whimbrel into the Leeds Liverpool Canal for the festival.

That appeal was unsuccessful but before the Festival Colin turned up in his native Burnley, only to find that far from being a building site, Finsley Gate Wharf was as empty and unused as it has been for many years.

A week before the festival The Floater asked Canal & River Trust why it was apparently unwilling to make an effort to assist in enabling the launch. The only response was silence. It is difficult to understand why the Trust was not willing to assist the Festival by enabling Colin to put at least one boat on the canal.

When, during the Festival Colin asked publicly on social media why he had been told the wharf was going to be a building site when it clearly wasn’t, there was no official response.

However, an observer reported to Colin that, at the C&RT stall at the Festival: “Emma Fielding was saying that she did not lie and that they should ignore you as you will soon go away”. This despite the evidence in plain view that there there was no building work on the site and that C&RT is holding an open day there in a few days time to promote a development it has planned for the site.

Colin Ogden was both hurt and puzzled that his enthusiasm and efforts had been snubbed by C&RT, although it is nothing new. His highly successful restoration group, was first given an adoption agreement to work on Tewitfield Locks on the Lancaster Canal only to have it taken away with months because the then C&RT manager, Chantelle Seaborn had a hissy fit about his successful publicity.

He told The Floater: “Lots of visitors were curious and disappointed about why Whimbrel was on the trailer at a canal festival.

“Perhaps they still hold a grudge. I think it was to get back at me and vindictive especially when they could have had some good press coverage for a change. But to lie to me was nasty. Saying it was a construction site was clearly untrue. Now I am determined to launch Whimbrel at the next canal festival in 2019 - with or without their permission.”​

If The Floater ever gets an explanation from Canal & River Trust we will, of course, publish it in full.

See a video of Burnley Canal Festival here

Photos: (1st) Finsley Gate Wharf pictured over the festival weekend - no builders in sight, (2nd) Finsley Gate Wharf showing the slipway Colin Ogden could have used to launch Whimbrel, (3rd) Whimbrell on its trailer. Colin Ogden restored the Lakes Taxi completely, (4th) The Open Day planned for Finsley Gate Wharf just two weeks after the Canal Festival, (5th) Colin Ogden.

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