What a start to a boating season with 22 major problems or stoppages

Published: Friday, 09 April 2021

HERE we are in the middle of the first week of the 2021 boating season and at least 22 waterways have either major problems or stoppages! Writes John Coxon.

CaRT have had just about a whole year of very little boating activity to fix the broken system but it has just opted to sit on it's collective hands often stating that they 'are looking at finding a method of repair'. Using coronavirus as an excuse no longer washes as work was still allowed to go ahead during the lockdowns, albeit with some conditions.

Affected waterways

These are 21 of the affected waterways taken from CaRT's own Boaters Update of 26/03/21, the latest one I could find:

South Oxford Canal
Grand Union Canal
Hertford Union Canal
Aire & Calder Navigation
Selby Canal
Leeds & Liverpool Canal
South Sheffield & Yorkshire Navigations
Standedge Tunnel
Walsall Canal
Old Main Line
Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal
Worcester & Birmingham Canal
Bridgwater & Taunton Canal
Sharpness Port
Lancaster Canal
Leeds & Liverpool Canal
Liverpool Link
Shropshire Union Canal
Trent & Mersey Canal

One waterway missing from this list is the Weaver, making it at least 22 waterways!

Not fit for purpose

I consider this to be absolute proof that CaRT is just not fit for purpose. To have at least 22 waterways with stoppages or major problems on them on the very first day of the boating season is an utter disgrace.

CaRT say 'Some work, as you’ll expect, continues and may affect your cruising plans'.  What an understatement.  I do not consider 22 affected waterways to be 'some'!  Also, I would assume most boaters would not expect this amount of outstanding work at this time of the season!  Large amounts of the system are completely cut off. Boaters on the wrong side have nowhere to go at the moment and no idea when they will be able to get out.

Generally well maintained

The first canal was opened 260 years ago in 1761 (the Bridgewater Canal) and most of them have lasted well into the present century.  Up until 2012 when CaRT took over they were generally well maintained and in good working order. In general they were all open for the start of the season and any problems were either nipped in the bud as they started to develop or were fixed in a very short time by a workforce that knew what it was doing. Summer stoppages were hardly heard of!

Since 2012 things have deteriorated exponentially to a point where we now have 22 waterways with major stoppages or problems on the first days of the season. It's becoming the norm now that every week throughout the year we have more stoppages due to broken infrastructure or neglect!

End up loosing the canals

I have to ask what all the boating societies and organisations are saying or doing about it?  It's about time they got together and started to put collective pressure on CaRT and/or pressured the government bodies and MPs to make CaRT maintain the system properly?  If we as boaters don't get together, and soon, to do something about the appalling mess that CaRT seem to be foisting upon us then we will end up losing the canals altogether, and I don't just mean for boating!

'Looking at finding a method of repair', what does this mean? To me it conjures up a vision of a bloke in bowler hat and a pin stripped suit looking at a hole in the canal bed and saying to his similarly attired colleague "Well? There it is Smithers, so what the bloody hell do we do now". "Well Sir Charles Bowen-Smyth, I could put the kettle on and make us all a nice cup of tea if you like while we sit back and look at finding a method of repair!"

Sacked all

CaRT has got itself into this position because it sacked all the lengthsmen, lock and bridge keepers and maintenance men that had hundreds, if not thousands of years of accumulated experience and contracted their jobs to a company who employ road working gangs who have no experience of canals at all!  To cap it all CaRT then asked some of the men they had sacked if they would like to come back and do their old job as an unpaid volunteer!  I'll leave you to guess at the answers!

DEFRA, hopefully in their wisdom, are at least tendering for an organisation to 'evaluate the performance of the Canal and River Trust'.

One of the items on the list that it will be looking at is to 'Assess the trust's performance of its obligations arising under the Grant Agreement and other founding documentation'!

Hope not a white-wash

One can only hope that this isn't a white-wash or box ticking exercise and they look very carefully at the maintenance and upkeep records of the infrastructure that CaRT are responsible for!  The well publicised disgusting state of the badly maintained dam at Whaley Bridge should give them a good starting point.  One thing I can be pretty certain of is that we boaters will not be asked to contribute!  It's a pity that, as they could get a lot of useful information from us as a collective!

As CaRT continually like to point out, looking after a 200 year old system has it's difficulties, most of which I feel are self inflicted. Most of the canal system is listed grade 1 or 2 so deliberate damage or neglect amounts to a criminal act.  But, who's overseeing CaRT and making sure they carry out their obligations properly?

Deliberately damage

While on the point of deliberate damage why do CaRT allow those television programmes where the 'actors' deliberately crash into bridges, quays and lock gates etc. knocking lumps off of them then laughing about it. It's a criminal act. It's not the way to go boating. Canal boating is not a contact sport, but what do CaRT do about it?  Nothing. But then CaRT seem to be getting very good at doing nothing nowadays...