"I couldn't help myself!"

Published: Wednesday, 15 November 2023

HERE are a couple of recent posts from a canals' Facebook Group, that I had to respond to, writes Graham Freeman.

Poster 1:

Who has the right to tell us how long we moor up somewhere? The water does not belong to CRT, nor does the towpath, the whole world belongs to US ! Are you working for the government?

My first reply:

Not quite true—starting with the 1962 Transport Act, the canals were taken out of private ownership (nationalised). CRT now act in the role of 'custodian' and manage (hah!) the system on behalf of the government. The canals are national infrastructure and can be closed on a temporary or permanent basis by HMG legislation (Waterways Act). As far as the towpaths are concerned, None of the CRT-managed ones are public rights of way.

The only thing keeping the majority of the system open (including those stretches classed as 'remainder' waterways) is the fact that they perform a national strategic role in water/flood management. The government 'Grant-in-Aid' funding is there to support that strategic national need (not that there seems to be much evidence of CRT spending much money in that direction since its formation as it's all gone on bloody stupid logo changes and mass advertising on 'wellbeing').

So, for those who think that the canal system exists to keep pleasure boaters, anglers, runners, cyclists, ramblers etc happy, think again ...

Poster 2:

Well I sure hope everyone can fix a lock, organise rubbish collection, provide basic side clearance etc?

My second reply:

Why would you want to do thatsmell the coffeedespite what you may think, the lock that needs fixing is not yours to fix (despite your best intentions). It's no different to a well-meaning individual clearing leaves from a verge and being told by the local council he can't do that because the land is not owned by the well-meaning person and, if they ignored the advice, they'd be stopped for reasons such as insurance risk, H&S etc, etc.

Despite the popular misconception that the canals are 'ours', those who have this view need to face up to the fact that they are notif you want a good example of the challenges that go with 'ownership', drive along the M6 toll road where you'll see a big green metal trough across the motorway that's been there since 2003. It connects nothing tonothing despite the valiant efforts of those that support the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal restoration.

For those that see me as a 'doom and gloom' merchant, how many of you would be prepared to pay to mend, upgrade and maintain all of the shagged roads in the UK so they can continue to drive from A to B? How many lycra-clad Sustrans cyclists would be prepared to pay per mile for the benefit of wearing out towing paths ?

The current CRT model is seriously flawedit is nothing more than to lever favour from the dwindling number of those who are willing to 'volunteer'. To try and sell it on 'wellbeing' is the product of being sadly misguided and out-of-touch.

For those of you (me included) that have just received the CRT 'bad-news' letter, get ready for the biggest number of second-hand widebeams ever seen on Apollo Duck and the abandonment of a huge number of  itinerant continuous cruising boats that will become unaffordable due to licence hikes from 1st April 2024.

Because it's always good to end on a low, here's my prediction of what's to come: Firstly, one by one, we'll see individual canals become re-classified as 'remainder' waterways because they contain infrastructure that CRT can't afford to maintain. These canals will be closed to navigation, lock gates will be removed to maintain national flood relief passage of water, and all regular maintenace will cease. For the canals where CRT benefits from water extraction revenue, (reduced) levels of maintenance commensurate with maintaining their obligation to those paying for water extraction will continue. Refuse collection from canalside sanitary stations will stop and fresh water points and Elsan disposal will be charged at the point of delivery/disposal ...