Waterways future looks grim under CART

Published: Friday, 01 June 2012

THOUGH many non-boating bodies will benefit, and will be celebrating the move from British Waterways to Canal & River Trust (CART), the people who use the waterways and who pay for them—the boaters—will most certainly not, but will instead witness a constant deterioration, as Allan Richards explains:

A report commissioned by British Waterways, only serves to confirm fears that CART is untenable, and waterways will continue to deteriorate. The KPMG report was commissioned in May 2011 but only completed one year later on 28th May 2012.

In decline

British Waterways' Chief Executive, Robin Evans reported some years ago that the waterways were in the best shape ever, yet has admitted to CART's trustees that they have been in decline.  Specifically, since 2004, British Waterways has been spending less money on them than needed (as dictated by its steady state model).

The most recent figure we have for British Waterways' underspend is £39 millions. It was given by the chief executive to the All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group's document 'The Future of the Waterways' (July 2011). It states:

The future

'We were informed by Robin Evans of British Waterways that the company had incurred a £10 millions loss in 2010/2011. The total 'steady state' requirement for British Waterways (the amount of money needed to keep the assets in their current condition, neither improving nor declining further) was estimated to be £120 millions per annum. Total waterways spend in 2010/11 was £81 millions.

The projected spend for the New Waterways Charity was estimated to be £87 millions in 2014/15 with income at the same level, so no operating loss, but with an unfunded shortfall of £33 millions to achieve 'steady state' (in 2010/11 this unfunded shortfall was £39 millions). British Waterways stated that their under-spend would impact on the General Works Programme in broad terms, on customer service (examples cited including  grass cutting, ease of lock gate operation, maintenance of refuse disposal and sanitary facilities for users, dredging, etc, ) rather than Major Works'.

Funding gap

In short, Robin Evans, told them that, in England and Wales, British Waterways needs to spend £120 millions a year on maintaining its waterways but only spent £81 millions giving a 'funding gap' of £39 millions.

The report states elsewhere 'British Waterways itself estimates the gap as £39 million in 2010/11 compared to what the company needs to achieve 'steady state' for the network and this estimate is supported by other independent witnesses'.

One of those witnesses was Inland Waterways Association who suggested that the funding gap might be higher.

Key recommendation

One of the key recommendations of the APPWG report was 'We recommend that Government seeks an independent professional evaluation of British Waterways' financial projections and methodology to verify the financial requirements'.

That, of course, we did not get!

In its stead we have a report commissioned by British Waterways itself, and it seems that KPMG have been forced to use a 'steady state' figure of £100 millions a year as the amount needed to maintain the waterways rather than the generally accepted figure of £120 millions...

Not be able to maintain

Despite this, the report still says that Canal & River Trust will not be able maintain our waterways at 'steady state' within the 15 years of the funding agreement, and they will continue to deteriorate.

(A previous report by KPMG has suggested that by 2016/17 British Waterways will need to spend between £155 millions and £185 millions to maintain 'steady state' (includes Scotland). The current report says that CART intends to spend just £97 millions.)