That was the year, that was (4)

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.

Finally October to December – some stories can be read in full by simply clicking on the headline. Others can be found at


Cruising pattern silence

Back in February 2017, the Waterways Ombudsman stated that CRT intended in the 'coming weeks' to publish “illustrative cruising patterns” for boaters with school age children. Mike Grimes told the Navigation Advisory Group at around the same time: “We’re looking at putting together and publish soon some example compliant movement patterns that boaters with children could look at to help inform their movement patterns”.

Yet, as another school year began in September, and eight months after C&RT set itself that apparently simple task, the Trust had failed to produce any such guidelines, in fact the only action it seems to have taken is to bounce Freedom of Information requests to know what actions it is taking.

The Floater asked the same question, but the response was to stonewall yet again, with C&RT's senior spin doctor Jon Ludford replying: “I don’t have much of an update for you. We’re in the process of considering illustrative cruising patterns.

“As any decision will affect all boaters across the network, we’re committed to getting it right. We’re going to be taking into account the experiences of a wide range of families living on the water as well as others with a wider interest in this issue.

“In the meantime we ask all boaters to continue to cruise in line with our current guidance and, as ever, get in contact if they’re not sure what this means.”

All of which really means that the Trust was ignoring the commitments made by the Waterways Ombudsman and former Head of Boating Mike Grimes. It still is some months later.

GPs reluctant to sign up boaters.

A new survey showed some GP practises seem to be ignoring official NHS guidelines and refusing to accept liveaboard CCers and their families. The figures also suggest the refusals are deterring other boaters from even trying.

The findings of a survey by the London branch of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) show that nearly four in ten (36 per cent) have had problems registering with a GP because they have no permanent address and more than 30 per cent haven't even tried to register.

Just a third said they hadn't had a problem accessing a GP despite the fact that there is no requirement to have a permanent address to register and NHS England policy is very clear about it.

Is C&RT below minimum safety standards?

We asked if C&RT was performing below its own minimum safety standards.

NABO joins chorus of protest as C&RT's licence 'consultation' becomes a farce

The Floater documented concerns regarding stage 3 of C&RT's licence consultation. Having not got what it wanted from stage 1 and 2 of its licence consultation, C&RT parted company with the 'independent charity', Involve, who it had engaged to run all three stages of the consultation. Involve was replaced by TONIC, a non charitable organisation, often used by Government, with very different aims and ideals.

C&RT boasts of maintenance spend – but it's down £7 million this winter

We took a look at press releases which suggested C&RT will spend £7 million less this winter on maintaining its waterways. Its latest press release says it will spend £38 million this winter but similar press releases claim £45 million in previous years.

Traditional launch doesn't go as planned

Held up for two hours in Warwick, Allan Richards recorded on video the traditional launch of a widebeam - a launch that did not go according to plan.

Never mind the boats – what about 'wellbeing'

As the point approaches when the Canal & River Trust could lose much or all of its Government funding – currently a quarter of its income – it is setting out to prove to politicians that it has a real value to society and that there are genuine financial reasons to keep funding it, and October saw the first public indication that “wellbeing” was going to be the new buzzword

C&RT launched a massive and clearly expensive piece of research carried out by a number of consultants and universities that aims to provide a means of proving it is worthy of taxpayer funds.

The report, called 'Waterways & Wellbeing, Building the Evidence Base' creates something called the Outcomes Measurement Framework (OMF) 'to measure the broad social, economic and environmental impacts that our waterways and our activities have on the communities they serve'.

C&RT admitted that it aims to 'demonstrate how we are helping to meet UK and Welsh Governments’ goals and measures for wellbeing'. The report uses the word boat or boating around 20 times in its entirety and boats are not identified as a key factor in any wellbeing measurement.

Unsurprisingly this year's electronic Christmas card from Chief Executive Richard Parry – yes we do get one – says: “Thank you for all your support for the Trust in 2017, as we reached five years old and, through our care of the waterways, enhance the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the nation.”

London strategy gets cautious welcome

Within the space of a few days at the end of October the Canal & River Trust hiked boat licences, launched the third stage of its consultation on boat licences and published it's London Mooring Strategy for yet another complex consultation.

The London Moorings strategy is born out of a genuine problem and C&RT involved lots of boaters in discussing solutions, but initial responses have not been completely dismissive.

Matthew Symonds, boating strategy and engagement manager at C&RT, said: “The London Mooring Strategy pulls together proposals we’ve developed over 18 months working with a wide range of stakeholders, surveying boaters, and physically looking at every inch of the capital’s waterways. It’s been a collaborative effort and the input we’ve had from boaters with local knowledge has been invaluable. We’ve also built some strong relationships with councils, developers and landowners who can enable us to put the proposals into practise.”

The immediate reaction of National Bargee Travellers' London Chair, Marcus Trower was unequivocal: “The newest proposal for the London Mooring Strategy has all ingredients for the gentrification of London waterways.

The Inland Waterways Association's London branch was clearly in favour of the strategy. It posted on Facebook: “The London Region welcomes the Canal & River Trust’s Draft London Mooring Strategy . In particular it is pleased to see a commitment to introduce new free short-stay visitor mooring sites and increased monitoring and management of these and existing moorings across the region.”

On the London Boaters Facebook forum the reaction was more cautious and not as negative overall.

Nick Corrigan wrote: “My reading of it is that all the new long term mooring creation is offside, so not taking away any of the 14 day moorings. Whilst some 14 day will change to 7 day or 48 hour, it looks like more will be created by more rings and clearances.”


Management massacre

After parting company with Sophie Castell as marketing, communications and fundraising director, the Canal & River Trust also said goodbye to Ian Rogers, as customer services and operations director and effective head of boating in what was to become a massive shake up of the Trust across the country.

At the same time Richard Parry lost two waterways managers with Wendy Capelle, North Wales and Borders Waterway Manager retiring and Vicky Martin, South East Waterway Manager has just gone to take up a job as Head of Visitor Attraction Strategy for Welsh Water. NW waterway manager was to follow within days.

There will be no external recruitment to replace any manager, instead, waterway regions are being cut from 10 to six with NABO reporting that all existing managers are being invited to apply for the remaining posts.

The shake up wil mean the loss of 200 jobs in all with many C&RT employees spending Christmas wondering whether they will have a job.

Richard Parry has handed the head of boating role as a part-time job for Chief Operating Officer Julie Sharman, a civil engineer. As Chief Operating Officer she will be accountable for 'all day-to-day operations, performance and service delivery, and for local engagement through the Trust’s waterway teams'.

Icknield Port Loop development - a "deathtrap" for children?

Plans for the first phase of the regeneration of Icknield Port Loop were very narrowly approved by Birmingham City Council. One councillor said "They've built up to the edge of the canal with no space for fencing to make a deathtrap for children."

Did C&RT really spend £80m on restoration last year?

The Floater dug deeper into C&RT's maintenance spend. We asked the Trust to explain the difference in the £73 million it says it spent on maintaining its waterways in 2016/17 and the figure it gives in its annual report for 'Waterway restoration, maintenance and repairs' - £152.5m'. C&RT has yet to provide an explanation for the £80 million apparently spent on restoration ...

Who are the licence dodgers?

How often have you seen boaters with a mooring complaining about continuous cruisers 'not paying their way' and implying that far too many are licence evaders? A Freedom of Information request roduced results that will surprise many – as well as pose questions about C&RT data on licence evasion.

Alan Baxter's Freedom of Information request asked Canal & River Trust to break down those boats found not to be licensed by whether of not they had a home mooring.

Eventually C&RT came back with a breakdown of 828 unlicensed boats:

545 on 'Home Moorings' (65.8%)
232 'Continuous Cruisers' (28%)
31 'unknown' (3.7%)
13 'Other Nav. Authorities' (1.6%)
7 'out of water' (0.8%) (Probably trailboats)

However, Canal and River Trust consistently claims there are currently 'over 35,000' boats on its system and after the 2017 annual boat count it put licence evasion at 3.7 per cent, boasting that it had been below five per cent for several years.

Now 3.7 per cent of 35,000 boats works out at 1,295 licence evaders whilst Alan Baxter's FoI request led to C&RT claiming it had figures for just 828 boats. Where have the other 467 licence evaders gone?


C&RT confirms bid for EA waters

December finally saw Canal and River Trust give a muted and brief confirmation that it has finally bid to take over the Environment Agency's navigations including the Thames and East Anglian rivers.

The bid to swallow up the Eivironmewnt Agency's waters did not come with a big annoucement from C&RT trustees nor it's Chief Executive; instead it appeared in the in-house newsletter of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) in an apparent leak.

The IWA has long advocated the takeover and generally works hand-in-glove with C&RT. It's announcement said: “ IWA is aware that Canal & River Trust has recently made a formal submission to Defra for the transfer of the Environment Agency’s navigation responsibilities.”

It was only after The Floater checked the veracity of the story with the C&RT that a press officer said: “Following 18 months of productive joint working with the Environment Agency and a recent meeting with the Waterways Minister, Therese Coffey MP, the Canal & River Trust was asked to make a written submission to Defra setting out its outline proposals for a transfer to the Trust of the river navigations operated by the Agency.”

Trust apologises for press release

C&RT apologised for a press release stating that it would be spending £38 million this winter on maintaining its waterways. It provided a revised figure of of £30 million. It seemed to completely miss the point that in previous years it had claimed to spend £45 million!

Waterway Partnerships in disarray - one failed to publish any minutes for 18 months

The terms of reference for Waterway Partnerships requires that minutes of meetings will be made publicly available on C&RT's website. The Floater found that most partnerships had stopped publishing minutes of meetings. We found one partnership, East Midlands, had failed to publish any minutes for over 18 months!

Fears that C&RT is moving away from navigation priorities

The Floater provided more commentary on C&RT's reorganisation and its redundancy programme. We revealed how Waterway Partnerships have been run down with most members due to retire in the next few months.

We suggest they have become an embarrassment to C&RT by reminding readers that, in September 2013, trustees were told by three senior managers "Partnerships are working on the assumption that they will have to secure funding for projects in their Action Plans". However, all partnerships have failed in this respect.
We asked readers to spare a thought for C&RT staff who will spend Christmas wondering if they will have a job in the New Year. ​

That's it for 2017 - thanks for reading

The Floater is taking a break until the New Year - see you in 2018.

Photos: (1st) Richard Parry, (2nd) Plans for Birmingham development labelled 'death trap', (3rd) Chantelle Seaborn NW Waterways Manager departs C&RT, (4th) Ivor Caplan - new IWA chair, (5th) Draft London Mooring Strategy map, (6th) C&RT report marks move to 'wellbeing'.

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