A lesson not learned

Published: Monday, 11 November 2019

I'M AFRAID Victor omitted a rather important waterway freight scheme that failed, from his resumé, writes Tom Crossley.

prescott locklIt was the then British Waterways that launched the scheme to make the 2012 London Olympics 'green' by providing the means to transport the vast amount of materials needed to build the enterprise by water, 'taking lorries off the roads'.

A cost of £21 millions

This resulted in the construction of the centrepiece of a new lock and restoring the Bow Back Rivers that it was claimed by British Waterways would handle 2,000,000 tonnes of freight in 350 tonne massive barges constructed for the purpose, all at a cost of £21 millions.

The new Prescott Lock, pictured, was opened on the 5th June, 2009 by the then Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, with an empty barge being pulled by tug through the lock, he stating:

BargePrescottLockA green freight route

“We want the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to be the greenest games ever.  Funding the [Prescott] lock will not only take many lorries off local roads, reducing thousands of tonnes of CO2 and local congestion, it will also provide a green freight route for the redevelopment of East London, and open up the waterways for boaters, walkers, and cyclists.”

Alas there were no 2,000,000 tonnes of building materials transported through the lock, as the contractors wanted their materials transported point to point by lorries, not 'messed about with in boats' as one put it.

Complete failure

The result of the £21 millions spend—a total of two barges transporting just 600 tonnes!  It was a complete failure—a white elephant!

Questions were raised in Parliament about London's boast that the 2012 Olympics would be the 'greenest' ever, with John Armitt, Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority' confirmiing the minister's view stating:

"A plan to use the 2012 Olympics to rejuvenate London's canal network, with millions of tonnes of goods transported by barge, has failed despite more than £20 millions of public money spent on restoring disused waterways."

Not learned

Here we now are with  Canal & River Trust venturing on yet another 'freight by water' scheme from Leeds to the East Coast ports, that is already well served by the M62 that was built for the purpose.  It has been proved time and time again that no freight company wants its freight 'messed about with in boats' when it can deliver point to point from manufacturer/warehouse to its customer, and more important, quickly, when the customer needs it.

Surely after so many such failed schemes the people at Canal & River Trust should have the sense to realise that  freight on waterways is a thing of the past, and not a scheme for the waste of millions of pounds.  It is now the 21st century not the 19th.

(Tom Crossley is the Editor of narrowboatworld.)