Stop the in-fighting and fix the Lancaster
Four years ago I was in the extraordinary position of being on the Lancaster Canal, trapped by a stoppage caused by water shortage, while at the same time Canal & River Trust Chief Executive Richard Parry was doing a live Q& A session with boaters on the internet maintaining that there wasn’t any stoppage.
To be so badly briefed by his own staff must have been a profound embarrassment to him. But it didn’t surprise me in the least. After a summer on the Lanky, I’d been struck by the fact that this beautiful canal, opened to the rest of the system in 2002 by the Ribble Link, was not well managed.
I complained at the time about the shallowness of the canal, caused, it seemed, by lack of maintenance on the feeders which brings water down from the Lake District – an area not noted for its water shortages. I complained too about a cack-handed attempt to come to terms with the lack of mooring spaces on the canal.
This problem would have been best solved by providing new moorings.
Instead, for reasons clear only to itself, C&RT’s North West management decided it was best addressed by changing stay times at existing moorings.
There may have been some rational motive for this; there was no excuse, however, for the way it was done. We were one of a number of boats in Lancaster that year which moored on a one-week mooring only to wake up the following day on a 48-hour one, the signs having been changed overnight.
What was most disheartening about the Lanky, however, was that though it is one of the biggest pending restorations on the system, there didn’t seem to be much progress on the restoration of the Northern Reaches beyond Tewitfield where the canal currently stops dead in its tracks in front of the noisy M6. Just 15 miles away lies Kendal, the ultimate objective of the restoration.
This won’t be an easy one to pull off, and if it happens it will involve multiple crossings of the motorway; but it would be a spectacular achievement, on a par with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
And its effects would be important both locally and nationally, linking Kendal to the rest of the canal system and giving it a significant economic boost.
But the prospect seems further off today than it ever was and I keep hearing about continuing squabbles between locals, C&RT, the Lancaster Canal Trust and the Lancaster Canal Regeneration Partnership (LCRP) – interest groups whose support is crucial if the restoration is to succeed.
I’m told a number of people in key positions have resigned, I’m hearing about poor treatment of a popular work party organiser and there are accusations that C&RT has stymied volunteers and quelled their enthusiasm. One allegation, for instance, is that enthusiasts have been banned from working on the canal because of a spat over painting mile-marker stones.
Now there are problems with a group of enthusiasts centred on the Owd Lanky Boaters Facebook Group, run by enthusiast Colin Ogden who has recently put the restoration back on the map after a series of stunts that have included dragging his boat along the unrestored section of the canal.
More significantly, stymied by what they see as bureaucratic intransigence, Colin and his group have taken matters into their own hands and, in the spirit of the old canal restoration pioneers, they’ve courted landowners and persuaded them to allow the restoration of bridges and possibly even the excavation of parts of the canal bed on their property.
You’d have thought North West C&RT would have been delighted at this development and eagerly embraced the successes of Mr Ogden and his group – efforts which have garnered considerable local press and TV coverage. Instead, it seems to have provoked a turf war with the LCRP, backed by C&RT, recently agreeing to spend money on a consultant to counteract Mr Ogden’s PR success by PR of its own.
This is a waste of money. Restoration is about bricks and mortar, not column inches in local newspapers.
The whys and wherefores of these quarrels don’t concern me: no doubt there are rights and wrongs on both sides. What does bother me is that different interest groups should be pulling in the same direction, and at the moment they seem to be at each other’s throats.
The responsibility for this surely has to lie with C&RT which, if it has any function at all, should be to co-ordinate these differing interest groups in order to get the best from everyone.
Things are a mess. Richard Parry needs to get up there quickly and knock some heads together. It can’t go on like this.
‘Things are a mess. Richard Parry needs to get up there quickly and knock some heads together. It can’t go on like this’