CaRT censored over not closing towpaths

Published: Saturday, 20 June 2020

THE BBC have joined others in castigating Canal & River Trust over its decision to keep its narrow towpaths open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Have we not been saying in narrowboatworld right from the start that CaRT's refusal to close the towpaths during the lockdown was totally the wrong policy?  John Coxon asks.

Increased number using towpaths

In a BBC news report we are told that: “The Canal & River Trust reported that, since lockdown came into force on 23 March, the number of people using the canals in inner-city Birmingham had increased by 171%—from a daily average of 463 to 1,254.“

This is just as we boaters have been saying right from the start, but were ignored.  An increase in towpath use of around this amount is along the lines that boaters were seeing and reporting right from the start.

Narrow paths can't accommodate

The BBC goes on to say: "The narrow paths can't accommodate all of the cyclists, runners, dog walkers and groups of people walking together."  Again just as boaters have been saying right from the start, but were ignored, as usual.

One woman who was interviewed told that the increase has meant her permitted outdoor activity has had an adverse effect on her mental health instead of a positive one:  "I've found my usual walk along the canal stressful because the paths are so busy and this has added to my anxiety."  She added:  “I am now having to balance the risk of not being able to social distance against the impact on my wellbeing.“

Is this the famous 'wellbeing' that CaRT flaunts so proudly in all it's literature and website etc?  Doesn't seem to be working does it?

Never designed for that volume of people

Another interviewee said:  “...the network was never designed for that volume of people."  And he has instead taken to walking around local industrial estates to avoid the people using the towpaths. 

At least he has a choice, us continuous cruisers who live on the canals don't have a choice and have to use the towpaths and are forced to encounter all the extra footfall.

CaRT still maintained that: 'Part of the advice...was for pedestrians and cyclists to avoid areas where boats are moored to protect boaters'.  Yeah, as if that was ever going to happen?  Every one except CaRT could see that pedestrians and cyclists would not take any notice of that at all, and they didn't as it has now proved to have had no effect whatsoever.

Averse effect on peoples' wellbeing

Just like their 'We'll educate them' policy did in slowing cyclists down had no effect.  Putting up a few notices up asking people to avoid non-essential use was just a total waste of money as in their 'Be more tortoise and less hare' campaign had on cyclists speeding past pedestrians.  But CaRT just cannot acknowledge that they are wrong or have failed and more importantly what effect they are having on people's lives and the adverse effects they are having people's wellbeing!

The more I read and discover about the lack of a sensible, caring and considerate policy over the non-closure of the towpaths the more I'm convinced, as has already been reported, that CaRT want to offload the towpaths onto the local councils. I notice since the matter was reported that CaRT have made no comment on whether they intend to offload the towpaths or not.

Want to offload the towpaths

As was said in Keith Gudgin's narrowboatworld article: 'This is the real reason for not closing the towpaths over coronavirus. No response from CaRT will, in my view, prove that it is their offload the towpaths'. Therefore I can only conclude by a lack of any response that it is true and this BBC article only reinforces this conviction that many of us have.

The way that CaRT have acted all along in this matter can only be described as devious and underhand.  This BBC article proves to me that CaRT have shown a complete lack of consideration to everyone who uses the towpaths including boaters, local walkers and even their much vaunted precious cyclists.

Ignored right from the start

CaRT just saying: “... it wants people to continue using the network, to enjoy the benefits of spending time by water," has, as I see it, now been proven not only to be the wrong policy but, it appears, a dangerous one for everybody who used the towpaths during the lockdown.  Just as we boaters have been saying right from the start, but were ignored right from the start.

Well as CaRT so proudly said some while ago that they had 440.000,000 visitors a year to their canals and are now stating that it has increased by 171% during the coronavirus lockdown' means that, from their own figures, CaRT have potentially allowed 185,523,288  people to come into close contact with potential coronavirus carriers over the past 90 days!

One has to wonder how many people were infected due to this policy, especially in the inner cities that saw most of the increased footfall?  Birmingham, as will have been seen on news reports, had a particularly high infection rate. And, as the BBC points out, 'Birmingham famously has more canals than Venice', does it not?  A coincidence perhaps?

Allowed over 185 million potential cross infections

Yes, that's right, it appears CaRT are admitting that they have allowed well over 185 million potential cross-infections to take place due to their policy of refusing to close the towpaths. Hardly what I would call a responsible, public spirited act, would you? Doesn't appear to have many of the 'benefits of spending time by water' does it, In fact I see it as completely the opposite.

I think that we have a need here for a public enquiry into the way CaRT have handled this.  They appear to have put people's lives at risk by not closing the towpaths immediately.  They have constantly ignored the worries, concerns and advice of the boaters and other towpath users just, as I see it, to avoid closing them so they can offload them onto the local councils and save money.  The knock-on effect on the NHS and economy is incalculable as well.

Total lack of response from associations

I also note that there has been a total lack of response from the various canal users associations and societies over this matter.  This just proves to me that they also don't care about their boaters and are only in it for the money!