That was the year, that was (3)

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.

Third - July to September – some stories can be read in full by simply clicking on the headline. Others can be found at


Shambolic and misleading

The Canal & River Trust's consultation on changes in boat licensing completed it's second stage in July to be condemned as misleading and unfair by liveaboard boaters.

It came under attack from the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA), which made a formal complaint that the consultation is 'shambolic and misleading'.

The Trust reported Ian Rogers, customer service and operations director as saying: “We’ve had a fantastic response to the consultation so far and it’s great to see so much interest in a topic that is fundamentally important for our boaters. It’s vital that the financial contribution made by boaters is spread fairly across the boating community – both now and for the future.”

NBTA Chair Pamela Smith saw it differently and condemned the consultation after speaking to boaters who attended the workshops that formed the second stage: “The consultation has been shambolic, undemocratic and misleading and the NBTA has no faith in the outcome. We anticipate that boaters without a home mooring will be penalised by discriminatory rises in licence fees based on the prejudiced view of our community put forward in the interim report.

The Inland Waterways Association supported a progressive increase of the distance that continuous cruisers are expected to travel annually to 300 miles a year over a 100 mile range with a minimum distance travelled per quarter of 60 miles.

C&RT subsequently abandoned the consultants used for the first two stages to hire in a consultancy used by the Tory government to conduct consultations for the third and final stage which has just been completed. Results expected in the New Year.

C&RT unable to name single working group member

Some more 'ducking and diving' on the working group C&RT claims to have set up to look at the results of the 2016 Boat Owners’ Survey. We said:

"Would it be fair to say that the Trust misled boaters a year ago by saying that a working group was already in operation? Or are they misleading now by claiming that they hold no information related to that working group?"

Now 36 defects per mile of C&RT waterway

Allan Richards reported that C&RT's maintenance backlog rose by 15% in its last financial year with outstanding defects now 72,026 - about 36 defects per mile.

C&RT removes Pontcysyllte photos

C&RT's fifth birthday came and went with no fanfare. We wondered what happened to launch photos.

C&RT's Annual Report: Spin v facts

We unspun C&RT's 2016/17 Annual Report showing visitor numbers down (rather than up) and no better than C&RT's 2009/10 results. We debunked C&RT's accompanying press release showing that visitor numbers have been misrepresented.

... and we found C&RT spent £3.7m on 'charitable giving' but only managed to raise £2.9m. Another £800,000 loss to add to the £4.1m losses of previous years.

Canal, Rivers and Docks Trust?

Canal & River Trust runs much more than 2,000 miles of waterways and The Floater reported in July that some of the country's famous, historic docks and ports are a key part of the Canal and River Trust's operations, and play a financial role in keeping the charity afloat.

Docks that had been seen as part of of the inland waterways for many years came along with the canals and rivers into the BW organisation, including Limehouse in London, Glasson on the Lancaster Canal, part of Goole docks on the Humber estuary and Sharpness on the Severn. Most of these also had associated land and buildings which have become part of C&RT's property empire.

Others have been transferred since – the old West India Docks, Liverpool's southern docks both came with 'endowments' to pay for future maintenance and upkeep and C&RT, treats them as part of the waterways infrastructure, if on a much larger scale, when it comes to maintenance and repairs.

The Floater spoke to C&RT's highest paid employee, property director Stuart Mills, who trousered £207,887 in pay and allowances in 2016 - more than Chief Executive Richard Parry.

Stuart says C&RT doesn't cost it's dock operations separately from the rest of the waterways. “At the time of the dock transfer we would have had a long term view of the assets but we have made a very, very significant amounts of money out of Docklands , far more than we ever anticipated and we haven't really, other than ongoing operations spent a huge amount in repair costs.


Flap about the Flapper

Plans to replace The Flapper pub on historic Cambrian Wharf in central Birmingham with 80 flats crammed alongside the basin outraged 8,500 people in August and they swiftly signed an online petition against the development – while Canal & River Trust maintained a silence that continues to this day.

Despite the fact that their historic offices look out onto the pub site and that they have been consulted by the developers the Trust kept silent about its view on the plans.

Public relations officer Stephen Hardy told The Floater: “I’ve checked and we’ve not yet submitted our response to the developers. As they’re consulting ahead of submitting a planning app I’m not sure we’ll be saying anything publicly at this stage.

“If and when this changes I’ll let you know.”

He has not been back in touch.

More lock gates than ever? .. not really

C&RT's claim that its 2016/17 lock gate program is its biggest ever was debunked - including its claim of replacing 180 lock gates per year. The investigation shows that C&RT replace less lock gates in 2016/17 than in 2012/13 and is replacing gates at an average of 151 per year.

IWA attacks EA

The IWA wants the Canal & River Trust to taake over the Environment Agency navigations and in the Summer it decided to have a go at the way the Anglain waterways were run.

The IWA declared that the'EA Waterway is Not Fit for Purpose' after IWA boaters very clearly showed that one of the EA's Fenland waterways is not fully navigable, despite it being a statutory navigation.

Two boats successfully navigated the Old Bedford River from the tidal river at Salters Lode to the current head of navigation, Welches Dam lock, a distance of 14 miles for the second time this year, but it took a large scale and expensive special effort by the EA to enable them to do so and the two boats had to return by the same route as non tidal access to the Old Bedford ended 11 years ago when EA piled the entrance to Welches Dam lock.

The IWA insists the Old Bedford River is not a dead-end waterway leading nowhere but part of a long-established route connecting the Middle Level and the rest of the canal and river system.

The wider politics of the cruise becomes evident at the end of the report which says: “IWA believes that responsibility for navigation matters on rivers currently managed by EA should be transferred to C&RT.

“No one would claim C&RT is perfect but a major advantage is that C&RT has the ability to raise funds and invest with far more flexibility and speed than EA can achieve with its multi functional systems, competing and, at times, conflicting priorities and complex organisation.”

And Lo and Behold – this December saw the IWA breaking the news that C&RT has finally made a bid to take over all the EA's navigations.


Empire building Ombudsman

The Waterways Ombudsman, currently financed by Canal & River Trust, with two out of five committee members appointed by them, is now aiming to extend itself to other waterways despite boaters' doubts about independence, the Floater reported in September.

C&RT tries to maintain the idea that this committee is independent and the rules of the Committee require there to be a majority of independent members and for the Chair (who must be an independent member) to have a casting vote in the event of a deadlock.

In fact the latest report showed that the only contact the Ombudsman has had with boaters has been to meet with representatives of the Residential Boat Owners’ Association, an organisation recently much discredited in the eyes of many liveaboard boaters.

Despite that the Ombudsman Committee has been empire building and reports it is “in correspondence with a number of other canal operators to discuss the possible membership of the Ombudsman scheme”.

The Ombudsman, Andrew Walker reports he completed 17 investigations in the year including four complaints about the continuous cruising guidance, three from residents about the impact of boaters mooring outside their properties, and two about damage to boats from underwater hazards.

In summary the Ombudsman and his committee seem to have spent more time dealing with complaints from NIMBY residents living alongside the canals in London than the concerns of boaters and to have backed C&RT in the vast majority of cases – including those centred around their negligence of the primary duty of keep the canals navigable.

Will C&RT now abandon flawed licence consultation?

The Floater documented C&RT's licence consultation to date. We said: "So where do we go from here? The consultation has been going for over six months and Involves report does not support C&RT's justification for the review. Will C&RT bite the bullet and admit that boaters see no need for change? Will they investigate why over half the 186 boaters that confirmed attendance did not participate in the workshops?"

C&RT spent less on maintenance last year

The Floater took in in depth look at C&RT's maintenance spend over the last four years. We found that, despite government funding increasing by £10m per annum, C&RT's spend on maintenance was 'flat-lining'. Indeed, C&RT spent less on maintaining its waterways last year ( 2016/17) than the previous year.

Does Welches Dam attack hide IWA's own failure?

Welches Dam Lock was stanked off in 2006 but it was not until 2011 that IWA proposed two possible options -

- take EA to court to force it to discharge its statutory duties.
- take a lease to enable IWA to restore the cut and lock using its own resources.

It did neither.

Waterway Partnerships – success or failure?

At the end of September, we had an in depth look at waterway partnerships and asked if they were a success of failure. We found that, at the end of five years, Waterways Partnerships were still failing to be a source of revenue to the trust and that three year rolling plans had been removed from C&RT's website.

Tomorrow October to December

Photos: (1st) C&RT launch pictures - gone from website, (2nd) IWA at Welches dam lock, (3rd) National Angling championships held on the Shroppie, (4th) C&RT spending, (5th) Annual Report tells of losses, (6th) Cambrian Basin moorings and The Flapper - threatened by developers, (7th) Liverpool Docks - part of C&RT's empire, (8th)

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