Bye Bye Milton Keynes ... Hello Birmingham?

March 2017 - Allan Richards has been examining some recent developments within the Canal & River Trust's senior management and the changes have led him to ask whether C&RT will move its HQ to Birmingham?

With C&RT's predecessor, British Waterways, moving its head office from Watford in London to Milton Keynes just a few years ago, could there now be a second move - from Milton Keynes to centre of the canal network - Birmingham.

In July 2011, British Waterways announced that it was moving its headquarters from Watford to Milton Keynes. The move was justified on the basis that, together with closing its regional office in Paddington, £1 million a year would be saved. Reports at the time suggested that about 80 Staff were affected by the change.

Historically, a large London HQ has been favoured by medium/large UK organisations but, over time, advances in communications have meant the high cost of a London HQ is difficult to justify.

If BW's claims of a £1m per year saving were correct, this would be ample justification for a move. However, many would ask if a move to Milton Keynes was a good idea.

Let's face it. Milton Keynes has something of an image problem. It is noted for its 126 roundabouts and its concrete cows and not exactly renowned for its canal.

In fact the problem that C&RT have with Milton Keynes is that the towns historic waterways connection is tenuous. Put simply, Milton Keynes is a large (and rather successful) 'new town' developed in the late 1960's with little connection to the canal that runs through it. Perhaps not the best place for C&RT to have a head office!

In July 2016, C&RT announced changes in the Midlands. It stated that the Central Shires Region was to be disbanded roles with responsibilities transferred to neighbouring East Midlands, West Midlands and Manchester & Pennine waterways.

The announcement went on to say 'Early in 2017, the Trust plans to close its Fazeley office and open a new base in central Birmingham. It is proposed that all Fazeley-based office staff would move to central Birmingham by 31 March 2017'.

However, missed by many, the news release expands on the justification for a new Birmingham office - 'Birmingham has the greatest concentrations of canals in the country, and lies at the heart of our network; yet we have limited presence in Britain's 'canal capital'.

It further suggests that a move 'into central Birmingham will give us greater flexibility, more connectivity and the opportunity to create a new national base - for both our Midlands and central teams'.

Whilst C&RT did not give details of its 'new national base', the Floater can confirm that the property is Aqua House, 20 Lionel Street, Birmingham B3 1AQ.

The property, which backs onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, was acquired by BW in 2012 just before it became C&RT. Enquiries have confirmed that, whilst the top floor of the aptly named office has a tenant, the other four floors are currently vacant. It is understood that, initially, C&RT will use the ground floor and lease the remaining space.

Why Birmingham? Unlike Milton Keynes, it has strong historic and current links to inland waterways through its vast network of navigations, the most extensive in the UK. It has a council that continues to invest heavily in providing commuter routes via its towpaths.

Perhaps more importantly, its council has already shown itself receptive to large water based regeneration projects and continues to do so with the 42 acre Icknield Port Loop of the west of the city centre. Already having excellent communication links, Birmingham will receive a further boost from HS2.

It has been confirmed to the Floater that C&RT chief executive, Richard Parry will relocate to the new office. The replacement for Head of Boating, Mike Grimes, will also be located at Aqua House. However, there is currently no news of other directors or teams relocating or the future of the Milton Keynes as C&RT's HQ.

Watch this space.

Photos: (1st) Aqua House - backing onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, (2nd) The refurbished reception area at Aqua House, (3rd) Richard Parry is basing himself and his new PA in Birmingham - convenient for his Sollihul home, (4th) The massive Ickneild Port development , (5th) C&RT sees Birmingham as the centre of the canal system, (6th) The concrete cows of Milton Keynes can't really compete.

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