David: Being fair to CaRT

Published: Monday, 29 January 2018

THE present tendency to compare Canal & River Trust's standard of maintenance unfavourably with the Environmental Agency's is not entirely fair, as we are not comparing like with like.

The EA navigations are almost exclusively rivers and their maintenance responsibility (as far as navigation is concerned) is confined to the navigation structures, largely the locks and weirs (and the weirs are not just there for navigation). They have no responsibility for the state of the banks or for bridges across the rivers and they provide very little in the way of moorings, water or sanitary and rubbish facilities.

Does very little

Anyone who has cruised the Upper Thames or the Nene in recent years will be aware that the EA does very little about shoals, except to mark them with buoys, and nothing at all about overhanging vegetation.

Most of CaRT's responsibility, on the other hand, is for canals, where it not only has to maintain the locks, but also the towpath side bank and the towpath itself and all of the bridges that are not crossed by roads or railways, which is the majority of them. If a tree falls in a canal then CaRT have to remove it, and usually do so in less than 24 hours. If a tree falls in an EA river then it is usually ignored for months since in most cases it won't actually be blocking the navigation.

Provides free moorings

CaRT provides innumerable free moorings and far more frequent water, rubbish and sanitary facilities than the EA does. The EA has no tunnels or aqueducts to worry about, whereas CaRT has dozens, mostly 200 years old and in need of constant attention. CaRT has to maintain water supplies, mostly from reservoirs, which also require expensive maintenance. If the levels in an EA river are too high or too low, they just close the navigation until it gets better.

And what does all this cost? To keep our boat on the Thames the EA would charge us about £700 (though this would also allow free visits to other EA rivers) for access to 125 miles of river and 45 locks. To keep the same boat on CaRT water costs about £850, for which we get access to 2,000 miles of canal, about the same number of locks and all the other structures and facilities. Looked at that way CaRT is pretty good value for money.

Get it off the government's books

The decision to turn British Waterways into a charity was one taken by the then government, which was mainly motivated by a desire to get BW's finances off the government's books and to have it operated at arm's length, rather than as an organisation they were directly responsible for.

It did the same to English Heritage and from what I see that hasn't been a spectacular success either. One of the unintended (or was it) consequences of the change is that CaRT is less focussed on boating than its predecessor; but this was implicit in the way it was set-up and can be justified by the fact that it gets a substantial taxpayer subsidy—for the moment.

Be grateful for what we get

Yes, CaRT has its annoyances and inefficiencies, but I reckon we should be grateful for what we get. Any suggestion that CaRT should be abolished needs to be accompanied by some plan for what would replace it—a nationalised industry under a Corbyn government perhaps?

David Hymers