Another one bites the dust

December 2017 - Senior Canal & River Trust managers are falling like flies, with controversial North West Waterways manager Chantelle Seaborn the latest to join the exodus from Richard Parry's top team, as Peter Underwood reports.

After just four and a half years’ in the job, Chantelle Seaborn, has decided to leave the Trust at the end of December. She joins two directors, one of them the head of boating, and two other waterway managers, Vicky Martin in the South East and Wendy Capelle in North West & Borders, who will go before Christmas. BW/C&RT stalwart. Caroline Killeavy, Head of Community Engagement & Programmes, is also leaving.

Unlike the other departees, Chantelle Seaborn will walk away from a history of confrontation and conflict. She was in charge when the ludicrous decision was made to remove the landmark lightship from Liverpool's docks, tow it to Sharpness and sell it at a massive loss.

She was responsible when £500,000 in legal costs and restitution was paid out because C&RT refused to accept liability for the sinking of Ken Churchill's boat in a Leeds and Liverpool lock and put the structure right.

She also angered many boaters with the unwelcome and unnecessary 48-hour mooring restrictions were imposed on the working section of the Lancaster Canal without proper consultation and she has overseen the neutering of the Lancaster Canal Trust – the original restoration volunteers – who were harried and blocked from any work on the canal over a small disagreement about painting milestones.

In recent weeks her authoritarian attitude led to her banning Owd Lanky Boaters Group from working on the potential restoration of the Northern Reaches because she took issue with an innocuous press release. ​

The person left to pick up the pieces is Stephen Higham, Enterprise North team manager, who will be taking on the role of waterway manager in an interim capacity. He and Chantelle have started a handover process. Stephen joined British Waterways from Wigan Councilin 2003 and his role in BW and C&RT has focused on getting external funding, most recently from the European Union.

The press release announcing Chantelle's departure is a curt four paragraphs and Richard Parry is not mentioned. Instead, Julie Sharman, now chief operating officer at the Trust, says: “During her time with the Trust, Chantelle has achieved many things, notably leading the award-winning celebrations to mark the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Bicentenary in 2016. I am sorry to see her go and very much thank her for her contribution and wish her every success in the future.”

C&RT were asked whether Chantelle Seaborn was moving on to another job and whether they would be advertising for her replacement but failed to answer. Chantelle herself says: “Now is the right time for me to take up the next challenge of my career in the new year, however Stephen is well placed to take forward the real progress that is being made.”

One element of that 'real progress' that Stephen might choose to deal with is a demand for a public apology from C&RT from veteran canal restorer and volunteer press officer Frank Sanderson

After Chantelle Seaborn claimed one of Frank's press releases on behalf of Colin Ogden's Owd Lanky Boaters Group about the adoption of Tewitfield locks was inaccurate and untrue - withdrawing C&RT's permission for the group to work on the locks - he was incredulous.

Frank immediately challenged her, providing evidence that his release was completely accurate and demanding she withdraw. He eventualy went directly to C&RT chief executive Richard Parry, but both refused to answer his complaints.

Now he says he feels forced to go public to protect his reputation for honesty.
"I know that everything I wrote was accurate and I have the evidence to prove it. The silence of Chantelle Seaborn and Richard Parry shows that they know they are in the wrong but they don't have the courage to put the record straight, redress the damage they have done to my reputation and apologise.

“If this is how C&RT wish to operate, it is shameful, and I regret having to take this further. My press releases are completely true and accurate, and I want an apology.”

Richard Parry has not deigned to answer his letter and seems to be happy to retreat into the same silence that characterises Chantelle Seaborn when challenged.

Despite that, when Frank learned of Chantelle's departure he said: “I wish her all the best for the future.”

Photos: (1st) Chantelle Seaborn - leaves by the end of the month, (2nd) The owner watches as C&RT tows away the iconic lightship from its Liverpool home, (3rd) Stephen Higham - interim NW Waterways manager, (4th) Julie Sharman - new chief operating officer, (5th) Richard Parry - silent, (6th) The adoption sign for Tewitfield locks.

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