All change at CRT’s an­nual get-to­gether

Canal Boat - - Crt 2015 -

A DECADE AGO it was a brave thing to say – “I’m damned if I’m go­ing to lose a canal...” Those words her­alded Tony Hales as the new chair­man of Bri­tish Wa­ter­ways at its An­nual Meet­ing in 2005, and this year he said he had suc­ceeded – but it had been “a bit close”.

Back then, speak­ing at the an­nual meet­ing he had also had to re­port three deaths of BW staff in the pre­vi­ous year, and vowed to do his best to en­sure that there were none on his watch – which again had been achieved. But there had been a few other “mis­takes” (such as the in­fa­mous lock bol­lards) which at least il­lus­trated that be­ing over-zeal­ous was prefer­able to the op­po­site.

Mr Hales’ com­ments came as he handed over to Allan Leighton, his suc­ces­sor as Chair of the Canal & River Trust. He looked back on a decade when Gov­ern­ment fund­ing for canals fell by 70 per­cent in real terms, but com­mer­cial in­come rose from less than half of the wa­ter­ways’ in­come to more than three-quar­ters.

Dur­ing that time the pro­por­tion of the ‘as­sets’ (ma­jor struc­tures) in poor con­di­tion fell by half, but a short­age of cash meant this was at the ex­pense of dredg­ing and veg­e­ta­tion clear­ance. But, he said, he looked for­ward to the ex­tra £10m from the Gov­ern­ment this year help­ing to re­verse that trend.

High­lights over the decade in­cluded the open­ings of the re­stored Droitwich Canals, new Liver­pool Link, new Three Mills Lock in East Lon­don and the Kelpies in Scot­land (con­ceived un­der BW, but com­pleted by the de­volved Scot­tish Canals). How­ever, he said the most im­por­tant fea­ture of his pe­riod was the change from gov­ern­ment body as BW to the char­i­ta­ble CRT.

De­scrib­ing the Trust as hav­ing been “born out of ad­ver­sity”, Mr Hales felt that the wa­ter­ways “couldn’t have con­tin­ued” with fund­ing chang­ing ev­ery few months, and with the threat of the com­mer­cial prop­erty port­fo­lio (whose rental in­come pro­vided a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to BW’s fund­ing) be­ing sold off by the Gov­ern­ment in a kind of “gi­ant car boot sale” of as­sets. If that had hap­pened, it could have left BW “run­ning down, cut­ting back and even clos­ing”.

He then went on to de­scribe the progress un­der CRT of in­creas­ing adop­tions, volunteering, ed­u­ca­tion and Friends sup­port­ing the Trust, be­fore quot­ing his first speech again, where he had de­scribed the canals as “a vi­tal part of the na­tional her­itage and en­vi­ron­ment” – some­thing he felt was still as true now.

Fol­low­ing Mr Hales’ speech, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Richard Parry said the last 12 months of CRT had been a suc­cess­ful year with in­come £15m higher than ex­pected at £180m, turn­ing a bud­geted deficit into a sur­plus at the same time as al­low­ing an ex­tra £3m to be spent on canal main­te­nance.

In­come from prop­erty, util­i­ties and boating was up, he said, while the num­ber of ‘Friends’ had hit 14,500; char­i­ta­ble fundrais­ing, while still mod­est, was in­creas­ing at £1.6m and com­ing closer to cov­er­ing its costs. The safety of staff and visi­tors had im­proved, and £10m from ex­ter­nal sources was pay­ing to im­prove tow­paths. Adop­tions of canal lengths had passed 100 and boat num­bers had in­creased slightly to 32,773.

Mr Parry also high­lighted the changes to the HS2 rail­way plans to re­duce the im­pact on canals, the de­vel­op­ment of a tow­path code aimed at re­duc­ing con­flict be­tween users and a sur­vey of 600 miles of tow­path hedges.

New chair­man Allan Leighton (above left) paid trib­ute to Mr Hales’ “legacy to build on”, and in­tro­duced him­self as a “pa­tri­otic” man who had now chaired three or­gan­i­sa­tions (the other two be­ing the Co-op and the Post Of­fice), each “a very big part of the fab­ric of Bri­tain”, which “reach out to ev­ery com­mu­nity” and “should be al­lowed to flour­ish”.

He had, he said, ca­noed and fished the canals as a boy, taken boat hol­i­days when first mar­ried, and now en­joys tow­path run­ning – and would be back next year with more to say.

Un­usu­ally this year three re­gional part­ner­ship chairs were in­tro­duced and given time to ex­plain their or­gan­i­sa­tions’ work. Brenda Har­vey ( North Wales & Borders) de­scribed help­ing to set up com­mu­nity canal adop­tions, lo­cal health projects and im­prov­ing the Pont­cy­syllte World Her­itage Site, while Wal­ter Men­zies ( Manch­ester & Pen­nine) went into de­tail about the Mac­cles­field Canal be­com­ing the first to get a Green Flag from Keep Bri­tain Tidy and Mark Penny ( North East) cov­ered youth and ed­u­ca­tion work and a pro­ject to get freight back on to the Aire & Calder as a tie-in with the North­ern Pow­er­house plan – and ul­ti­mately as the first step to­wards a star­tling pro­posal for a “trans-Pen­nine su­per canal”!

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