Chantelle Seaborn strikes again

October 2017 - Many boaters and other observers have long been of the opinion that the Canal & River Trust is not serious about reopening the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal and has been embarrassed by the enthusiasm and commitment of local boaters into a pretence of co-operation. Now the cracks are beginning to show, as Peter Underwood reports.

Although C&RT has been co-operating with the restoration of the Tewitfield flight of locks at the start of the abandoned section of the Lancaster Canal by allowing its adoption by the Owd Lanky Boaters Group, North West Waterways Manager Chantelle Seaborn has now decided to have a hissy fit over an innocuous press release put out by long-term canal restorer Frank Sanderson on behalf of Colin Ogden's Owd Lanky Boaters Group.

In an imperious email to Colin on Saturday she says: “I’m very disappointed to find out that this draft press release, which we asked was held until we discussed it, has been issued. This is giving readers the impression that the Trust has agreed that Owd Lanky can start restoration of the lock gates and canal. This is not the case and we will now be issuing a statement to clarify the position.

“I did ask that you invited Frank to our next meeting before any releases go out.

“This does us all a great deal of harm. The press release is not factual and undermines the credibility of the work that you are doing.

"I am on holiday on Monday but back in Tuesday and it would be helpful if you would phone me then to discuss.”

All this over an innocuous press release which says:

“Work on the Lancaster Canal at Tewitfield locks, near Carnforth, continues at a smart pace by Colin Ogden’s group, substantially supported by Canal & River Trust (C&RT).​

"Colin, has formed the Northern Reaches Restoration CIC, a Community Interest Company, and his fast growing band of volunteers have cleared by-washes from locks 5 to 8, cleared and fenced many overgrown areas and started work repairing the canal locks themselves.

"In the meantime he finds time to attend meetings with Canal River Trust and the many other interested groups and bodies coming forward at the chance to take part and help in this challenging and exciting move.

"When asked about his success recruiting helpers, who have done so much in such a short time, he replied: “People like to see something happening. Since the M6 cut the canal, a lot of excellent work has been done by many people, but work has stagnated recently, some working in their own interests, I think we should all work together to clear this first major hurdle, open up another five miles of beautiful canal, which will increase the interest to continue towards Kendal”

When Colin won agreement from C&RT to adopt the Tewitfield locks it was clear that his long term objective was a full restoration as the first step of restoring the full length of the Northern Reaches and doing so by working with C&RT – which claims to want the same thing.

However, it seems Chantelle Seaborn has decided to read much more into the press release than any reasonable person would. In doing so she has potentially destroyed a promising relationship with volunteers who have invested hundreds of hours of time, substantial amounts of their own money and won the goodwill of businesses and individuals in the region.

Frank Sanderson is challenging Chantelle and demanding an apology. In an email sent yesterday he says: “Working as a public relations officer with any group teaches you never to say anything you cannot prove. Colin Ogden has repaired sections of the lock masonry with your permission and Bill Froggatt has inspected and approved it. How therefore can this be described as not factual? This is not the first time I have had to ask, receiving no reply, but can you please substantiate what you claim, or perhaps consider an apology?”

It is not as if Chantelle Seaborn is ignorant of Colin's restoration ambitions. Just a couple of months ago she posed by Colin's boat and the banner saying: “Owd Lanky Boaters Group – Tewitfield Lock Restoration – In partnership with Canal & River Trust”.

Colin, whose disabled wife, Linda, is currently critically ill, said: “Chantelle has got it completely wrong,and I am pissed off. I am seriously thinking of packing the whole thing in.”

If Chantelle succeeds in destroying the best hope for the restoration of the Northern Reaches in decades it will be completely in character with her stewardship of C&RT's North West Region.

On her watch the ludicrous decision to remove the landmark lightship from Liverpool's docks, tow it to Sharpness and sell it at a massive loss was made.

On her watch £500,000 in legal costs and restitution was paid out because C&RT refused to accept liability for the sinking of Ken Churchill's boat in a Leeds and Liverpool lock and put the structure right.

On her watch unwelcome and unnecessary 48-hour mooring restrictions were imposed on the working section of the Lancaster Canal without proper consultation.

On her watch the Lancaster Canal Trust – the original restoration volunteers – were harried and blocked from any work on the canal over a small disagreement about painting milestones, before finally capitulating and losing members hand over fist in the process.

Now it seems her authoritarian stubbornness may threaten a major breach with Owd Lanky Boaters Group and the potential restoration of the Northern Reaches.

The reality is that Colin Ogden, Frank Sanderson and the Owd Lanky Boaters, now over 1,000 in number, have run rings around C&RT and its official 'partnership' when it comes to both getting things done and getting publicity.

Despite spending yet more C&RT money on appointing an expensive Public Relations consultant to publicise the actions of the Partnership it has always been the volunteers who have recruited business support, got some work done and won the support of the media.

Chantelle Seaborn appears to want to control and censor what is said and is using the group's adoption of the locks as an excuse to manage, word by word, what goes public, telling Colin Ogden: “It would be helpful to discuss when we meet up, if we can agree dates that future stories will be issued and what they will be this will help speed up the process.”

The reality is that the cumbersome C&RT public relations machine simply can't keep up, as Frank Sanderson explained to the Trust's Naomi Roberts, after waiting days for her to respond to a draft of the press release that triggered Chantele Seaborn's anger: “Sorry Naomi. I understood you had been given the job of working with me, which I accept. Whilst I will be pleased to speak to Chantelle and Roy anytime, Richard Parry asked that we work amicably together.

“Passing this on means that my PR is out of date before C&RT can deal with it. I have an extensive group of media outlets, developed over many years, In future I will continue to send out to you 24 hours in advance, which will give you time to change any glaring mistakes that can develop with editing. I am not anti C&RT in any way. I deal with facts and truth in honest reporting.”

​Meanwhile a distressed Colin Ogden is contemplating where he goes from here. “I was warned about Chantelle Seaborn,” he said. “Now I see what the problem is.”

Photos: (1st) Chantelle poses with 'Captain Jack Sparrow by Colin's campaign boat at an event in Burnley a fee weeks ago, As the poster shows he wasn't keeping his ambitions secret, (2nd) Colin Ogden hasn't missed a trick in promoting the restoration of the Northern Reaches. He even towed his boat along the dry stretches, with a Captain Jack Sparrow lookalike on board.

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