BW's 2012 Vision—what went wrong?

Published: Friday, 05 June 2009

By Allan Richards

Replacing a ten year strategy early with a different ten year strategy has led boaters to greet British Waterways' new '2020 vision' with a unhealthy combination of apathy and scepticism.

Calling a strategy a vision does not help—it suggests a hazy way forward without much thought as to how that strategy might be achieved. Even those who would welcome a 'National Trust for the Waterways' understand that the word charity is not a magic wand with regard to funding and that BW's current executive and board directors are very ill equipped to manage a charitable organisation.

BW announced its new strategy without a mention of its old 2012 strategy. Has the old 2012 strategy succeeded early so we can now move on to a new one? Has the old strategy failed? In the absence of any mention of the success (or otherwise) its 2012 vision this article explains the old vision and measures its success.

So what was BW's '2012 Vision'? A casual visitor to BW's website at would be able to answer that by simply clicking on 'Our Vision' on the home page. Is British Waterways so arrogant that it does not care or just plain incompetent allowing old and new strategies to co-exist on its website?

Expanded, vibrant, largely self-sufficient

It tells us 'Our ambition is that by 2012 we will have created an expanded, vibrant, largely self sufficient waterway network used by twice as many people as in 2002. It will be regarded as one of the nation's most important and valued national assets. Visitors will be delighted with the quality of the experience and as a consequence many will become active participants'.

(Perhaps BW is suffering from double vision rather than 2020 vision!)

This article will not attempt to explain what BW means by 'vibrant'. The very word suggests that BW can not be bothered to explain in plain English what it means. Additionally, consideration is not given to what is meant by the second and third sentences to avoid having to judge issues such as 'is the NHS more of a national asset than our waterways?' and what exactly an 'active participant' is.

Instead, we will look at the measurable:

  • The number of people using the waterways and BW's target to double the number between 2002 by 2012.
  • Self sufficiency and BW's reliance on government grant.
  • BW's objective to 'expand' the waterways.

Robin Evans was appointed Chief Executive in December 2002 and within a few months British Waterways' published its 'Plan for the future 2003-2007' which confirmed that its intention was 'that by 2012 we will have created an expanded, vibrant, largely self-sufficient waterway network used by twice as many people as in 2002'.