Almost total dearth of boats

Published: Wednesday, 24 April 2013

BY THIS time of the year, I would have expected to observe some significant improvement in the level of boats cruising the canals. Over the Easter holiday we were out for two weeks and saw very little in the way of boaters doing their thing, writes Mick Fitzgibbons.

I know the cold weather has been less than welcoming, but would poor weather account for the almost total dearth of boats on the move? [From Monday evening to 5pm on the Tuesday this week, moored on Sawley Cut, only two narrowboats passed, which is abnormal for late April—Editor.]

Financial downtown

I have a suspicion that it's much more than just the weather that is keeping people away from the canals. The financial downturn will have also played a significant part. However, I have this feeling that people are now anticipating the end of an era, brought about by the continued cutbacks in maintenance. As the canal infrastructure quality spirals ever downwards, would you want to invest a significant amount of money in the purchase of a boat or even the cost of a boating holiday?

It has always been my perception that the boating public's confidence in the British Waterways Board was at a low before the infrastructure changed hands. Many hoped and prayed that there would be a root and branch change to the management structure. However, any slight glimmer of confidence was given a knock when the old team were carried across. The level of disappointment amongst boaters was palpable.

A hint of hope

As the imminent arrival of the new CEO is upon us. I am sure that there will be a time of reflection before stamping the authority and vision for the future upon the dour management structure. You will note their is a hint of hope in that comment. Based upon the belief that the new incumbent is not of the old school returning once more to a lucrative and comfortable berth in the fold.

But that he or she could be the catalyst for a change away from playing property purchase roulette to real investment in the infrastructure. A move away from carving nonsensical graffiti on lock gates and chugging in the street.

Canal & River Trust or Environment Agency

This started me thinking, towards the future. We all know that there are some plans mooted to absorb parts of the Environment Agency into the Canal & River Trust. However, as the canal infrastructure continues under a plan of organised deterioration, should the powers that be, be getting a nudge towards giving some thought to an alternative plan to absorb CaRT into the Environment Agency? Turning the situation on its head might provide a sensible solution. I'm of the opinion that the time has arrived to begin that debate.

It's another nine years before CaRT's contract with the government comes up for a full review. I have a feeling that the review (some might say closing down sale) will come much sooner than that. Especially when the EA controlled infrastructure comes up for grabs. More so if the CaRT controlled inland waterways infrastructure continues to deteriorate by under funding.

Starve it of upkeep

Parts of the EA being subsumed into CaRT would be like taking a national treasure and passing it onto someone who will then slowly starve it of essential upkeep and strip the assets. It seems to me to make good sense in the short term to keep what's in the EA remit within the EA for the foreseeable future.

I feel frustrated by what's happening elsewhere within CaRT. At a time when Ash dieback is going to be as big a problem as Dutch Elm disease, CaRT want's us to give them £3 by telephone text to plant an Ash seedling. Add to this boats full of trees and lock gate poetry.

Wildlife park

Modifying the environment for voles and bats, tree planting and newts. All of which seem to have more standing than the raison d'etre which was and is the movement of boats. It appears that CaRT are determined to convert the canals into a some sort of wildlife park. Based upon a theme of slow natural decay towards a future of rack and ruin.