Is C&RT close to selling BWML?

September 2018 - The Floater is being told by sources throughout Canal & River Trust that the charity is close to selling its BWML subsidiary which now runs 18 marinas nationally. The number of marinas soared in recent years after a spending spree, using C&RT money, to buy up private marinas. Peter Underwood took a look.

The Trust announced the wholly owned subsidiary BWML was up for sale earlier this year – a decision that met widespread criticism as selling the family silver. Many saw it as the worst sort of short-termism for an organisation with responsibility for navigation, and as closing off an income source for the future.

There have also been many boaters who fear the sale of BWML will be followed by C&RT divesting itself of responsibility for all moorings, with the sale of its Waterside Moorings operation, currently run by the Trust's property department, and which is already setting itself up as a separate commercial entity.

Speculation about who might buy has ranged from existing marina groups to hedge funds and one of the most persistent reports coming out of C&RT is that a hedge fund is the front runner.

Price estimates vary from around £35m upwards, but it is possible that the many system closures over the summer might be used by any potential buyer to drive the price down.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that C&RT – not BWML – owns the freehold of most of the marinas it operates which makes it less attractive to potential purchasers.

It is possible, as part of the negotiations that C&RT is now considering selling the freeholds (except in London) in order to sweeten any deal, although that will significantly reduce any future income from the sites’ and is even offering to change operating agreements so that the privatised BWML marinas no longer pay access charges.

Currently most, but not, all BWML marinas are not subject to the 'standard' network access agreement.

If either is the case it shows C&RT apparently desperate to bring in a lump of money in the near future and promises BWML boater customers a future of even higher charges or lower levels of service as currently, most BWML marinas are run on minimum staffing levels.

As we have come to expect, C&RT, are keeping tight-lipped about the sale with a PR person selling The Floater: “We’ve made good progress since we started exploring the sale of BWML (in March) but there’s nothing material to say at this stage.”

Photos: (1st) Now 18 marinas around the country are owned by BWML, (2nd) BWML's headquarters is at it's Sawley Marina.

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