Canal Boat - - This Month -

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.

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