Boaters' worries come a poor second in Brum

November 2017 - Canal and River Trust's ability to ride roughshod over its paying customers and it's consistent refusal to advocate on behalf of boaters is being amply demonstrated in Birmingham, as Peter Underwood reports.

It is now clear that the narrowing of Edgbaston Tunnel will go ahead and C&RT's contractors have already closed the tunnel for a short time for initial groundwork investigations and they are currently working on designs.

Meanwhile boaters concerns about plans for a massive block of flats on the site of the popular Flapper pub on Cambrian Wharf in the city centre are not being taken up publicly, as C&RT's property moguls insist on private discussions with the developers and will not take a public stance against the development, despite realistic fears that the valuable residential, visitor and winter moorings in Cambrian Wharf will be affected.

In fact, C&RT's senior Midlands spin doctor says: “We don’t have a public position on the proposals at The Flapper but we are in discussions with the developer.”

When the narrowing of Edgbaston Tunnel was first suggested publicly at the start of this year respected Navigation Advisory Group (NAG) member Sue Cawson said: “I don't believe it is the right decision to widen the towpath, I have boated this section during the early morning commute, it is an extremely busy stretch of towpath.

“Unfortunately most of the issues are caused by the cyclists and their extremely aggressive behaviour, I am not convinced that widening the towpath would improve the situation in fact it could make it worse.

“When I was last boating through the tunnel the cyclists had total disregard for walkers and all other users.

“The lighting isn't that great through the tunnel either and often many lights have failed, so surely the obvious thing would be to make cyclists dismount and walk their bikes through, the tunnel isn't long and on many bridges with issues cyclists are requested to walk.”

Now C&RT is implying it has dealt with such objections, claiming: “The consultation had a really good response from a mixture of navigational groups and individuals. Whilst some people expressed concerns there were also plenty of others, including some who navigate the tunnel on a regular basis, that gave very positive feedback.”

It reluctantly admits: “Members of NAG did express some concerns but have indicated that they are happy to reconsider as long as we take on board the concerns raised which we are trying to do.”

The Floater has asked Sue Cawson whether she has changed her mind but she has yet to respond.

Meanwhile the national decision of C&RT to make its main focus the 'wellbeing' of towpath users is evident in it's justification of narrowing an historic tunnel. It says: “We believe that, in this location, there is a clear benefit in terms of visitor enjoyment and safety in widening the towpath. This is one of the busiest sections of towpath in the West Midlands and it is only getting busier, with new developments in Selly Oak, the new Queen Elizabeth hospital and Birmingham University attracting more people to the area.

“The tunnel has become a bottleneck for towpath users and the idea to widen the route through the tunnel has been a long term ambition of Birmingham City Council who have funding available. We think it’s right that we look into the proposal and, from the consultation, there appears to be very minimal impact in reducing the tunnel to single lane traffic. Initial time-lapse camera analysis showed that on average daily movements see 25 Boats, 300 cyclists and 600 pedestrians go through the tunnel.

“We’re currently working with Birmingham City Council to find a solution that will ease the bottleneck on the towpath whilst protecting the historic fabric of the tunnel and avoiding any conflict within the tunnel. The project will only proceed if we can agree these measures with the Council and we’ll be keeping NAG, boaters and other interested parties informed.”

Readers will see that it is now inevitable that the project will go ahead. C&RT is only intending to agree its proposals with Birmingham City council. Boaters and NAG will simply be kept informed.

What a pity C&RT can't be as determined with greedy developers like those planning to put a massive block of flats on the site of The Flapper at Cambrian Wharf.

The best the Trust's Midlands spin doctor can offer is: “I’m afraid I can’t give you the detailed response that you’d like at this stage but I’m told that dialogue is continuing with the developer about the impact of the proposal. As and when we’re in a position to say more then I’ll let you know.”

Nothing about protecting the residential, winter and casual moorers from the impacts of such a massive building scheme, or the inevitable complaints from residents about smoke or engine noise from moorings where there is no mains power, which could result, once again in C&RT capitulating and removing or restricting the moorings.

The Trust has earned growing notoriety for putting everyone else before boaters – its only significant paying customers.

That is a lesson learned by boaters on the NAG committees after the third stage of the licensing consultation ignored everything that had gone before. One NAG (mooring & licensing) member Alison Tuck told The Floater: “CRT often say NAG approved stuff when we didn't. They really don't listen when we say our concerns or objections.

“I'm thinking of resigning. It is a complete shambles and a complete waste of time. They hide stuff from us, present pieces of policy, and then announce complete opposite of what is presented - with the tag line NAG approved.”

Photos: (1st) Edgbaston Tunnel Roger Kidd [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, (2nd) Edgbaston Tunnel Roger Kidd [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, (3rd) The tunnel entrance, (4th) The Flapper at Cambrian Wharf, Birmingham - developers want a block of flats in its place, (5th) The Flapper at Cambrian Wharf, Birmingham, by night - developers want a block of flats in its place.

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