THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UNLIKELY
We celebrate CanalBoat’s 20th birthday with a look back at the news from the last two decades
In the 20 years since first hit the newsstands, the waterways have seen great changes – but, at the same time, much has stayed the same. We take a canter through two decades of good news, bad news and, occasionally, downright odd news...
Our first issue included a bad news story which later came good: the A419 road would “destroy the prospects of ever opening” the Cotswold Canals – but, one year later, the decision to provide a bridge after all was being celebrated.
The new Environment Agency took over from the National Rivers Authority, promising “great benefits to navigation” – a contrast to today’s widespread (albeit not universal) view that its rivers should be moved to the Canal & River Trust.
The restored Ripon Canal opened, and – even further north – a ship canal from the Tyne to the Solway was mooted. Whatever became of that? low-duty red diesel for boats. The Old Bedford route through the Middle Level was falling unnavigable – as it is today. And for boats without home moorings, BW controversially proposed ‘high intensity’ licences (at two and a half times the cost) for craft cruising 30-plus weeks a year.
Inevitably following 1997’s water shortages and backpumping plans, the spring featured record rainfall and floods across the network.
Finally, who could forget the huge replica Chinese junk proposed for Gas Street Basin? charity sector yet: Deputy PM John Prescott declared it would stay put. Redevelopment was all the rage – we reported schemes in Nottingham, Leeds, Market Harborough and Birmingham.
A link with the past was lost when Arthur Bray, legendary Blue Line boatman, died aged 93.
And finally, putting current concerns about rubbish into perspective: the EA was investigating the dumping of radioactive waste from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment into the Kennet. The Braunston Boat Show departed for a new site – Crick, where it’s been ever since; meanwhile, Braunston began the historic working boat rally.
There was an early mention of what became the Fens Link, a new WItham-Nene route. And Business Barges were in the news: were floating offices a good use or waste of urban waterspace?
Lastly, a Birmingham floating tram was mooted, switching between tram tracks and water... Those 1997 Lottery grants started to bear fruit: the Forth & Clyde and Huddersfield opened. Some new ones were planned: the Liverpool Link is now open; but what happened to the four new links to make Manchester ‘The Amsterdam of the North’?
The EA hit back at BW’s plans by bidding to take over BW’s rivers – equally unsuccessfully.
And on the Chelmer & Blackwater, business was “booming”. Two years later it went bankrupt.