That was the year, that was (2)

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.​

Second April to June – some stories can be read in full by simply clicking on the headline. Others can be found at


C&RT get it right

The Floater welcomed two C&RT campaigns in April saying that ideas that unite boaters and other waterways users and initiatives that present an opportunity to improve navigation were welcomed by boaters.

C&RT's Boat in Bloom awards offered both instant gratification and the chance to build long-term appreciation.

Of course corny quotes are essential in any C&RT press release and its Boats in Bloom initiative is launched with the words: “It’s blooming marvellous on the waterways” says the Canal & River Trust as it celebrates green-fingered boaters and waterside gardeners.”
side gardeners.” ​

Then there was C&RT's campaign against dumping rubbish in the canals - it makes a new effort to raise public awareness each year just after the stoppage season seemed to be making better inroads into public consciousness, particularly in city areas.

One highlight of the publicity campaign was the regional media coverage of the junk in the pounds of the Rochdale flight in Manchester.

The Trust highlighted the weird and wonderful junk dumped in canals - a blow-up doll, golf buggies, pogo stick, flat screen TV and opened safes in its efforts to highlight the effect of dumped rubbish on nation’s waterways

In true tabloid form C&RT announced; “At an annual cost of £1 million to clean up after litter-happy Britons – from blow up dolls to shopping trolleys - the Canal & River Trust is saying enough is enough.”

It also provided a snapshot of public attitudes by producing a survey in which 96 per cent of people said that they didn’t think it was acceptable to drop litter, but 66 per cent still admitted to doing it.

Pontcysllte death report rejected

We reported that an inquest into the death of 18 year old Chris Mcdowell was adjourned for a second time. The teenager died when he fell from Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in May 2016 when a railing he was holding onto gave way. Coroner, John Gittins, rejected C&RT's 'independent' report into the incident and agreed with the McDowell family’s request for a new independent report.

Lies, damned lies and C&RT excuses …

The Trust's justification for its licence review was "The current licensing system has remained largely unchanged for more than two decades and is often cited by boat owners as being complex and out of date" A freedom of Information request found that C&RT were unable to support these claims.

CCers under threat but RBOA abandons them

In the month that the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) reported that one in three continuously cruising boats had been threatened with the loss of their licence by the Canal & River Trust the Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA) decided to abandon liveaboard boaters by adopting an IWA approach suggesting a 200 mile a year range for CCers who liveaboard.

The Boats Are Homes march saw around 200 boat dwellers march on Whitehall in protest against Canal & River Trust's (C&RT) policy of evicting or threatening to evict travelling boat dwellers and present a petition to the Prime Minister signed by more than 33,300 people.

C&RT's 'Memorandum of Understanding' with RBOA claims that the organisation exclusively represents all residential boaters including those without a home mooring. This is, of course, blatantly untrue as NBTA also represents those without a home mooring. But that is conveniently ignored.

Suggesting, as RBOA did, that those without a home mooring should travel two or three hundred miles a year is a decision made without having consulted its membership or considered the legal implications of these recommendations. It has already seriously damaged membership numbers and boosted the NBTA.

Time for a change at RBOA?

Following Residential Boat Owners Association decision to abandon cruising liveaboards with a range of less than 200 miles a year, Allan Richards investigated its dysfunctional recent past and recounted the strange tale of 'Bandsman Jim'.

Tunnel trauma

The Floater reported that a 20-hour nightmare jammed in a low tunnel was the start of the cruising season for a boat leaving Hawne Basin on the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

While making their way towards Netherton, and just after entering Gosty Tunnel the boaters found their boat, suddenly and without warning, stopped dead when it became jammed solid by a large log against the tunnel wall.

Although only 500 yards long Gosty Tunnel is notoriously narrow, and shallow with a very low roof in places and travel through it is painfully slow at the best of times.

The boaters tried to release the boat, but they were unable to get themselves free. Due to the problem of fumes in the constricted tunnel they were unable to light a fire to keep warm or run the engine for any length of time, which meant they spent about 20 hours stuck inside the tunnel.


Will C&RT ever have 100,000 Friends?

Following trustee John Dodwell's confirmation that that the Trust still embraced a long term target of £100,000 Friends over a 10 year period, The Floater again queried if this was feasible. We reported that Sophie Castell, the director responsible for fundraising, had suddenly left C&RT after just over a year in the role. We suggested that her £125,000 a year replacement might be more realistic regarding aspirations.

From the 2015/16 Annual Report it was determined that it cost C&RT £1.44 for every £1 raised in donations and in its first four years it lost £4.1 million trying to attract donors.

Is C&RT finally listening on Safety Standards?

C&RT claimed that it did not receive a report telling them that a lock on the Stratford-on-Avon canal did not meet minimum safety standards. The Floater reported that C&RT was in discussion with its Navigation Advisory Group to gain support for changes to standards where it failed to meet them.

The Floater said back in February "Either the Trust needs to make its locks compliant with its own standard or, alternatively, state why the standard, which was introduced in 2008, is not being met and introduce alternative measures to mitigate the risk".

Win or lose in High Court - C&RT has problems

Leigh Ravenscroft's boat was seized by C&RT on the basis that it did not have a Pleasure Boat Certificate (PBC) allowing use of the River Trent and in order to recover arrears of PBC fees. The Floater explained some of the issues of the case and, in particular, those surrounding 'main navigable channel'.

Independent? Really?

Minutes of Waterways Ombudsman Committee Meeting obtained using the Freedom of Information Act showed a C&RT Trustee, Janet Hogben, as an independent member of that committee. Ms Hogben is known to have a London flat overlooking the Regent's Canal and the Waterways Ombudsman was investigating complaints from a Ms K who lives in such a flat.

Ms K complained about nuisance from smoke emitted by boats, noise, which was mainly from engines or generators running sometimes at unsocial hours, and bad behaviour in the form of threatening or upsetting interactions with some of the boaters concerned. She said that these problems also affected her neighbours.

It was never established if Janet Hogben was Ms K or why the minutes suggested she was an independent member of the committee.

Lightship 'Planet' sold for just £12,500

We reported that C&RT had sold Planet for just £12,500. This despite asking for offers over £100,000 and the scrap value of the vessel being over £70,000.

C&RT provided owner, Alan Roberts, with a bill for £56,076.49 but deducted the selling price of £12,500 reducing the sum owed to £43,576.49. Just £2,660.09 of that figure was for outstanding berthing fees in Liverpool.

Staying legal

One of the most frustrating things about making your home on a boat is dealing with the demands of government and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) reckons there are millions of out of date licences out there. With boaters facing a £1,000 fine, The Floater asked the DVLA how those without a proper address could stay legal.

A press officer explained: “We accept PO Box addresses and even a Post Restante address but we need some evidence that you live on a boat and that is where your post is delivered.”

“The applicant must send a postal application, enclosing evidence that they live on a boat. The evidence can be in the form of a Mooring Permit, Canal & River Trust licence or a letter on headed paper from a Harbour Master or Marina confirming they currently reside on a boat.

“If they are using Post Restante services from the Post Office or professional mailing services with business addresses they should include copies of correspondence evidencing this use of a service.”

When the boat (numbers) come in

Total boat numbers crept up by just 2.4 per cent and the percentage of continuous cruisers recovered to the 2015 level in the Canal & River Trust's annual boat count.

The number of boats on C&RT waterways rose from 29,958 in 2016 to 30,677 in 2017 although there are another 3,446 in marinas and other waters that don't require a licence, bringing the total number of boats to 34,123.

With 4,757 of that number recorded as boats without a home mooring that means just 14 per cent are continuously cruising, whilst another 10 per cent avoid C&RT licence fees by mooring on private waters.

The Canal & River Trust’s says that licence evasion on its waterways has reduced by 0.7 per cent overall in the past year to 3.7 per cent, with 96.3 per cent of boats holding up-to-date licences. This is the eighth year the rate has stayed below five per cent.

Jon Horsfall, interim head of boating at Canal & River Trust, said: “In 2016/17 we had to remove 101 boats from our canals and rivers as they were unlicensed or in breach of our terms and conditions.”

C&RT claimed that waterways in London have seen an increase of 339 boats – an increase of over nine per cent – but it didn't say that is a slower rate of increase than in previous years.

Boat numbers in the North, North Wales and Midlands saw a drop of up to one per cent but in the Central, East, South West and the South East regions numbers are rising by between two and four per cent.

The number of boats without a home mooring remains fairly static with 273 more Ccers this year but, as numbers dropped by 234 between 2015-16, the increase since 2012 is 445.

Day boat drama

The first self drive day boats arrived in central London, perhaps the busiest canal in the country with the first four boats delivered to Paddington Basin on a lorry from Scandinavia.

They were the first self-drive day boats in central London for many years and experienced boaters were soon discussing how the small vessels will cope with the sometimes chaotic canals - populated with passenger trip boats on a timetable, a multitude of moored boats and many other moving vessels from working boats to musical punt trips.

Fishing congestion

C&RT announced plans to stage one of the countries biggest fishing matches at the height of the holiday boating season on one of Britain's most popular canals.

Hundreds of the nation’s top anglers were set to descend on the Shropshire Union Canal in the middle of August for the Division One National Championship – 500 of them in fact, spread over 15 miles of the middle of the canal near Market Drayton.

As a result the Shropshire Union canal – one of the busiest in the summer months with hire boats on the Three Counties Ring and other boaters heading for the Llangollen Canal – had miles and miles of fishermen asking passing boaters to slow down, speed up or move to one side or the other as they creep past at tickover to avoid disturbing keep nets and swims – but there were no reported problems.


Letting licence

In the middle of its major review of its licensing system C&RT introduced a new licence in response to widespread criticism about the lack on control over boats rented out as homes.

It said the new 'letting licence' was designed to 'ensure the safety of the increasing number of people living on rented boats' and claimed it was responding to the 'numbers of boats for rent in London and further afield as people try to find alternatives to rising housing costs'.

C&RT acknowledged that a market has sprung up with websites regularly featuring boats for rent, while anecdotal evidence from boaters shows that it’s becoming more common.

However the licence – which matches one paid by hire boat firms in almost all particulars and has the commercial boat hirers' stamp of approval – doesn't seem to deal with the issue of continuously cruising boats being rented out as homes.

Now it's one million Friends by 2025 – unless that's typo?

When C&RT failed to publish documents relating to its 9th National Forum, held in April, a Freedom of Information Act request was made - with some surprising results. Fundraising Director, Sophie Castell and her direct report Andrew Sarson (Individual Giving Manager) had somehow managed to turn C&RT's long term ambition of 100,000 Friends by 2022 (i.e. ten years) into one million Friends by 2025.

With The Floater exclusively revealing Sophie Castell's departure and no attempt at recruitment, we speculated if C&RT was taking note regarding criticism of number of directors.

Now, where have we heard that before?

C&RT was taken to task for failing to publish results of its 2017 Boat Owner Survey despite trying to put a positive spin on them.

Readers were reminded of a previous survey -

“Familiarity - two thirds (65%) of boaters say they know very little about what we do; this indicates we need to promote a better understanding of the varied work of the Trust.

“Respect - one in four (24%) boaters say they feel respected by the Trust; this will help drive the changes to our engagement, tone and 'culture'.”

Has C&RT admitted that Alan Roberts is 'Planets' owner?

The Floater published an email which suggested that C&RT accepted that Alan Roberts was Planet's legitimate owner. Having issued a press release confirming that C&RT had sold Planet, C&RT's national communications manager, Jonathon Ludford, was less than forthcoming when asked seven questions related to the press release. Two example questions -

- Can you please explain why the ship was removed from Liverpool to Sharpness?

- Can you explain why all berthing fees were not recovered via court action?

C&RT still failing to fix the waterways

We document C&RT's failure to maintain its network. In particular, its failure to clear high priority defects in 2015/16 - just 50% cleared against a target of 95% and its failure to even set a target for 2016/17. Whilst the board has many committees, it does not have one tasked with maintaining its waterways.

'None of the information you have requested is held …' or is it?

C&RT denied that it holds any information relating to a working group it claims to have set up to look at the results of the 2016 Boat Owners’ Survey.

Tunnel terror?

For most boaters it would be a nightmare, sharing a long canal tunnel with canoeists in small, fragile shells, easily crushed by 20 tonnes of steel you are steering – but C&RT seems to think it is an acceptable risk and Foulridge Tunnel, at Barrowford on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, became the longest canal tunnel in the UK to open to canoes. At a mile-long, the 200 year old tunnel, allows canoeists to paddle under the Pennines for the first time.

Experience elsewhere on the system, where groups of canoeists have already decided to use long tunnels without any permission – including the two-mile Netherton Tunnel on the Birmingham Canal Navigations – might suggest that there is considerable potential for narrowboats and canoes in the tunnel at the same time – especially if either wrongly estimates transit times, or impatience leads someone to take a chance.

However the now departed Chantelle Seaborn, C&RT NW waterway manager, said: "With more and more people getting into paddle sports each year we wanted to make it possible for them to go deep under the Pennines and experience one of Lancashire’s waterway wonders.

“Safety is of paramount importance and canoeists will be required to adhere to the simple, yet effective safety precautions that have been put in place.” So far there have been no reports of accidents.

Silly signs and cut-out coppers

Canal & River Trust's latest attempts to reduce the number of collisions and injuries involving cyclists on our towpaths – ranged from cut-out ‘sleeping policeman’ to spray on signs urging people to slow down.

The Canal & River Trust claimed its towpaths are “fast becoming one of the nation’s favourite places to relax” but speeding cyclists, especially in urban areas are turning them into a nightmare for families, pet owners and tourists.

Unable to operate any registration scheme for cyclists that might allow proper rules to be enforced, especially in urban areas, the charity is reduced to urging people to slow down.

The Trust's own survey, showed nearly a quarter of people said their biggest bugbear in public places is when cyclists speed past them, but the best the charity can do is to remind people to watch their speed.

Throughout the summer the charity planned spray messages on the towpath in the busiest areas to encourage people to ‘slow down and look around’ and that there’s ‘no need to rush, just relax’.

Then there were 3D images of a sleeping policeman at certain points along the towpath encouraging people to drop their pace – described as 'a light-hearted nod to the physical speed measure often seen on roads'.

Dick Vincent, Canal & River Trust’s national towpath ranger, and the sleeping policeman went on tour this summer visiting hot spots across England and Wales where people may need a reminder to travel slowly.
As yet there are no reports on the success or failure of the campaign.

Tomorrow July to September

Photos: (1st) The RBOA's Alan Wildman signing a Memorandum of Understanding with C&RT, (2nd) Blow-up doll in the canal in Manchester, (3rd) Boats are Homes march at DeFRA HQ, (4th) Lanky Canal restoration star Colin Ogden, (5th) London boat numbers, (6th) Mike Grimes.

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