The blame game backfires

July 2017 - A tendency for the Canal & River Trust to blame anything other than poor maintenance for stoppages on the canal system has not gone unnoticed by boaters, as Peter Underwood reports.

A stoppage notice from C&RT that says: “We are sorry but the lock gates are broken because we didn't get around to doing essential maintenance work, even though we knew about the problem” would be an amazing piece of honesty.

Instead stoppages are blamed on 'vandalism', 'boat collision' or 'water resources' – anything but the failure to make repairs when needed.

The most recent example was the closure of one of the most famous locks on the system – the stop lock between the North Oxford and Coventry canals known as Sutton's stop.

As the stoppage notice shows the first announcement was neutral:

Original message: Please be advised that following damage to Lock 1 Hawkesbury lock gate, Canal & River Trust staff are in attendance assessing damage and determining method of repair. We will update this notice once we have further information.

Then it seems someone decided it was 'vandalism'

Update on 17/07/2017: Please be advised that lock 1 Hawkesbury Lock of the Oxford Canal is currently closed due to a vandalised damaged gate. Arrangements are currently being made and we will be able to update this notice further once the lock has been de-watered and damage extent inspected.

However boaters at the scene soon made it clear on social media that the cause was nothing of the sort and that a protruding bolt had caught on an elderly couples' boat entering the lock, which in turn pulled off some of the woodwork from the lock gate.

Without apology to the unfairly maligned boaters, or explanation, C&RT changed its story.

Update on 19/07/2017: Due to an accidental boat collision we have had to close the navigation to drain the lock so that it could be assessed by the local engineers. We have established that the collision has damaged metalwork and we are having new made to enable us to complete the repair of the gate. We will update this notice once we have further information.

Finally the lock was repaired, after having to replace stop planks that had gone missing, and three days later the lock on one of the busiest parts of the system was reopened.

Update on 20/07/2017: Hawkesbury Lock will be open by 10:20am on 20/07/2017.

As The Floater has already shown earlier this month (Now 36 defects per mile of C&RT waterway) the Canal & River Trust has a maintenance backlog, that rose by 15 per cent in its last financial year. The Trust had 62,397 outstanding defects in 2016 and by April 2017 that had risen to 72,026. That's 15 per cent in 12 months and 36 defects for each mile of waterway.

That may explain why stoppage notices blame anything except those maintenance failures which bring into question whether C&RT is doing it's core job properly.

Many boaters will recall the collapse of a lock wall on the Wolverhampton Flight a few years earlier. It was blamed on vandals letting water down the 21 lock flight and it is true that some paddles were opened. However, boaters using the flight also knew that the lock in question had cavities behind the walls that spurted water every time the lock was used. The problem had been reported several times but it was never acknowledged as a cause of the collapse.

On a 200 year old system problems are inevitable and effective and timely maintenance is vital. The question of how much of C&RT's budget is spent on that work, instead of other priorities, should be a topic of debate amongst what the Trust calls 'stakeholders' – primarily boaters in this instance, as well as Trustees and Council members.

Photos: (1st) By Roger Kidd, CC BY-SA 2.0,, (2nd) By Roger Kidd, CC BY-SA 2.0,, (3rd) By Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0,

User login