That was the year, that was

December 2017 - Chaos and consultations, power grabs and job losses, stoppages galore as the waterways groaned under the weight of inadequate maintenance – but boaters boated on and found their way to their destinations and Canal & River Trust continued to blithely claim everything was rosy and there was only positive news worth reading. Allan Richards and Peter Underwood have been looking back at 2017 with slightly more realistic eyes.

First January to March – some stories can be read in full by simply clicking on the headline. Others can be found at


Welcome to The Canal & River Turst

We revealed a typo in the declaration section of licence renewal forms which meant boaters were claiming to read and agree to licence conditions that could not be found. The declaration reads: “I confirm that the information I have given on this form is correct. I have read and accept the licence conditions published at www.canalriverturst/licencing". The 'u' and the 'r' have been the wrong way round for years!

Worse still, even if the link was corrected, the licence conditions (or a link to them) could not be found on the target webpage. Almost a year later, this has not been corrected ...

Question time for the boating team

In January 2016, Trustees were told by Customer Service and Operations Director Ian Rogers : "The first boating management team live web chat with customers is planned for early 2016 giving boaters a chance to ask questions ‘real time’. It is hoped this will become a regular feature for boaters in 2016."

The Floater asked why these had not taken place and why the board were not informed.

Was HSE told the whole truth?

The Floater looked more deeply at the sinking of Ken Churchill's narrowboat, Patafea Percosa, at Lock 40, Newton Bank on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal back in 2012 due to an unseen hang up hazard. Whilst C&RT eventually settled Mr Churchill's claim out of court at a cost of £500,000, it stated “We do not consider the lock to be unsafe and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has accepted that there are no defects. Therefore, we do not accept any liability for the incident.”

We queried why, over a two year period, Chantelle Seaborn, North West Waterway Manager and Tony Stammers, Head of Health and Safety failed to inform HSE of its minimum safety standards relating to locks. Minimum Safety Standard 2.d.3 reads ‘Lock chambers and gates are to be free of protrusions/indentations that could snag boats'.

Planet police officer given no guidance on bailiffs

Merseyside Police admitted that it gives police officers no guidance in dealing with bailiffs. The revelation followed concerns that an unnamed officer who attended the seizure of the lightship ‘Planet’ at the request of C&RT Harbour Master, Andrew Goudie, failed to check the identity of persons purporting to be bailiffs. He failed to check the bailiffs were in possession of the necessary court order or warrant allowing them to seize the vessel.

The ship was seized and towed to Sharpness with C&RT claiming that its owner owed them £4,256 in unpaid mooring fees (this figure was later revised downwards).

Bridges and Tunnels

Whilst the Canal & River Trust was focusing on items such as a £1.5m repair of the Acton swing bridge, near Northwich, paid for by the local councils and it's search for 5 new members of the North Wales & Borders Waterway Partnership, as well, as plans to restore an aqueduct on the Tame Valley Canal, The Floater reported that Canal & River Trust Managers were about to collaborate with a local council to narrow a canal tunnel in Birmingham from two-way to one-way working – all so they can widen a towpath used by high speed commuting cyclists.

​Boater and Navigation Advisory Group member Sue Cawson responded to Ian Lane saying: “Unfortunately most of the issues are caused by the cyclists and their extremely aggressive behaviour, I am not convinced that widening the towpath would improve the situation in fact it could make it worse.”

We now know that the Acton bridge was duly repaired, that the North Wales and Borders waterway is likely to be amalgamated into a new super-region and the Partnership dissolved.

We also know that C&RT is going to ignore the protests and narrow the Edgbaston Tunnel anyway, exploratory drilling has already taken place.

Not good enough

January also saw Canal & River Trust facing the IWA and NBTA in an unprecedented alliance with both calling on the charity to get on with providing more facilities and moorings in the capital.

The National Barge Travellers Association (NBTA) said: “Today, there is no where near the same number of facilities that there used to be. C&RT have known for years that the number of boats in London has been increasing, yet they have still continued to close facilities and failed to provide adequate alternatives.

The Inland Waterways Association said: “IWA believes that facilities for boaters in London are hopelessly inadequate to meet spiralling demand from both prospective residents and visitors.

It took until December to get the results of the London Mooring Strategy, which promises more moorings and facilities but nothing has yet been delivered.


Bye Bye Milton Keynes ... Hello Birmingham?

The Floater announced that C&RT was opening a new national base in Birmingham - Aqua House, which would house West Midlands regional staff. We told that both Richard Parry and the replacement for Head of Boating, Mike Grimes, would move to the new office adding that there was no news of any other directors or teams doing likewise (in the event, Mike Grimes has not been replaced and there is still no news of directors or central teams moving to Aqua House)

Still not enough ‘Friends’ income for C&RT

C&RT's trustees were told that it was now not possible to make its 2016/17 target of 22,500 Friends by the end of March. The director responsible for fundraising, Sophie Castell, blamed staffing and weather for the failure, adding: “As part of business planning we are reviewing the overall performance of the Individual Giving Programme to (a) focus on high impact, high return activity, (b) open up more channels to increase the monthly run rate and (c) potentially, develop some additional offerings like ‘family Friends’.”

We asked "Does anyone still seriously believe that these actions will produce 100,000 ‘Friends’ and £10 million charitable income per year by 2022?" and just a few days ago we had evidence that this year's target will, again be missed.

C&RT's contradictory statements on lock safety

Revisiting the Patafea Percosa incident, The Floater examined C&RT's contradictory statements of lock safety. We pointed out a report of a site visit on the 10 June 2013 accepted that "The incident happened as the boats were descending the lock and became hung up on the wall resulting in the inundation of one of the boats" and that C&RT had been fined by a court for its failure to produce documents that showed a high number of similar hang ups on the Bank Newton flight.

Did C&RT's Head of Boating fall or was he pushed?

The very sudden departure of Head of Boating, Mike Grimes caused some speculation that his exit was due to not wanting to give evidence a court case.

Licence change bid

Despite the strange departure of Mike Grimes, Canal & River Trust’s Head of Boating, the organisation decided to plough ahead with an attempt to change the way boats are licensed – claiming the current system is 'often cited by boat owners as being complex and out of date', a claim for which they subsequently failed to produce any evidence.

At the time The Floater predicted it could easily result in bitter disputes between the charity and various boating groups, but there was a surprising unanimity amongst boaters that there was nothing wrong with the current system and they didn't want CCers charged more than boats with a mooring that led to C&RT swapping horses in mid consult.

The first two stages of the consultation were run by Involve, an independent charity specialising in public engagement, when they didn't appear to produce a result C&RT wanted it switched to a consultancy used by the Tory Government for the third stage which closed just before Christmas.

Meanwhile Canal & River Trust was busy providing Government ministers with photo-opportunities and using the occasion to lobby them to ensure both that funding continues to flow and any future legislation is framed to suit the agenda of the Trust. We now know that C&RT was leading up to its bid to take over Environment Agency waters.

C&RT needed to be on the right side of Tory politicians and a visit by Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey to Birmingham justified fanfares from the Trust's PR people.

Peel turnes nasty

The Floater also shone the limelight on Peel Holdings, owners of the Bridgewater canal where Peter Parkinson was General Manager. Since he took over boaters saw costs more than triple for liveaboards, aggressive enforcement was been reported, a reciprocal agreement with the Canal & River Trust had been torn up and a long stoppage imposed, closing the vital north-south route well into late Spring.

Parkinson is widely seen as putting the financial, and property interests of the canal's owners, The Peel Group, ahead of the well-being of Britain's first commercial canal.

Peter Parkinson spoke: “Boats were moored all over the areas and not moving for months at a time,” he told The Floater. “Our enforcement officers were dealing with scruffy boats and bad behaviour, with people falling in the canal drunk.”

It was only in his interview with The Floater that the Bridgewater General Manager revealed that talks have finally been taking place with C&RT's Head of Boating. Nearly a year later those talks have proven to be fruitless.


Owd Lanky Boaters - triumph and tribulation

It was March that saw Canal & River Trust start to get it's knickers in a twist a bout the phenomenally succesful Owd Lanky Boaters group founded by Colin Ogden.

It funded the appointment of a public relations consultant to the ineffective and largely inactive Lancaster Canal Partnership involving several local authorities, and there were rumours that C&RT certified officers of another NW canal charity were so fed up with their inactivity being shown up by an upstart new organisation that they were actively seeking an excuse to bring legal action against the livewire who was making them look like lightweights.

True to form Owd Lanky Boaters Group founder Colin Ogden was busy restoring parts of the abandoned Northern Reaches and getting positive publicity by the bucket-load.

The highly paid PR recycled an old long distance walk and claimed it for the Partnership and sponsored a comic book about the canal – but Colin just kept restoring and earning three or four times the publicity.

Eventually Colin established a Community Interest Company to restore the Lancaster's Northern Reaches and won a bid to adopt the abandoned Tewitfield Locks. Despite a bid by NW Waterways Manager, Chantelle Seaborn, to suspend work on the locks after she dissapproved of an innocuous press release Colin has now established a headquarters at Tewitfield and hopes restoration of the lock flight will begin again in the New Year.

Meanwhile Chantelle Seaborn left the Trust in December.

Tomorrow April to June 2017.

Photos: (1st) Edgbaston Tunnel, (2nd) Canal & River Turst, (3rd) The sinking that cost C&RT £0.5m, (4th) Tony Stammers, (5th) Alan Roberts watches lightship Planet being towed out of Liverpool docks by C&RT.

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