Stop the in-fight­ing and fix the Lan­caster

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats - STEVE HAY­WOOD Fol­low me on Twit­ter@ Cut­dreamer Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor who has been a boat owner for nearly 40 years

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’

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