CANAL COL­UMNS

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

The tragedy sur­round­ing the Liver­pool light­ship Planet and the ‘mad­ness’ of signs along the tow­path

It was the poet John Donne who put his fin­ger on the hu­man­ity that links us all when he re­marked that when a fu­neral bell tolled, it tolled for all of us.

As a jour­nal­ist writ­ing about the wa­ter­ways, I feel the same when I hear about the demise of any wa­ter­way pub­li­ca­tion. I re­mem­ber all too clearly the time when the only game in town as far as canal mag­a­zines went, was a crudely-printed, black & white pam­phlet you couldn’t get hold of any­how. No glossy, pro­fes­sion­ally pro­duced pub­li­ca­tions like Canal Boat in those days. And be­fore the in­ter­net, no Face­book groups, or news­groups, or blogs, ei­ther.

Which is why I was so sad to hear – as I did this month – of the pos­si­ble demise of The Floater – that snarling watch­dog of boaters’ rights, founded and edited by liveaboard jour­nal­ist Peter Un­der­wood.

A deal for a London-based op­er­a­tion to take over the in­ter­net ti­tle has just crashed, leav­ing its fu­ture uncer­tain. Its loss would be a great shame.

The Floater cir­cu­lates to thou­sands of sub­scribers, post­ing new sto­ries two or three times a week as and when they hap­pen. This in­stant pub­lish­ing has al­lowed Peter and his num­ber-crunch­ing col­league Al­lan Richards to pur­sue sto­ries with an im­me­di­acy we in the tra­di­tional press can­not al­ways match.

One of those re­cent sto­ries it had its teeth into is the scan­dal of Liver­pool’s Planet light­ship seized in Septem­ber from Can­ning Dock af­ter a dis­pute over un­paid moor­ing fees.

For years the ship has stood as an icon of Liver­pool’s proud mar­itime his­tory, a fa­mil­iar sight to any nar­row­boater who’s made the spec­tac­u­lar trip along the Liver­pool Link to spend time in what is one of the coun­try’s great­est cities. Now, af­ter an un­seemly face-off which has seen C&RT pitched against the Mersey­side Civic So­ci­ety backed by lo­cal MP Louise Ell­man, the boat has been towed away and is sit­ting in Sharp­ness Dock near Glouces­ter.

Now, I don’t in­tend to get into the rights and wrongs of this dis­pute, but there are as­pects of the af­fair that leave me deeply trou­bled. It seems that de­spite more than £5.5k hav­ing been paid al­ready for out­stand­ing moor­ing fees, the Trust is still de­mand­ing fees for tak­ing the ship to Sharp­ness and stor­ing it there. To re­cover its costs, C&RT put it on the mar­ket for £100k. And even though, ac­cord­ing to one re­port, it had a scrap value of al­most £71k, C&RT even­tu­ally sold it for just £12.5k. This now leaves the owner WITH­OUT his ship AND still ow­ing the Trust £44k.

Frankly, this is dis­grace­ful. It would be dis­grace­ful if C&RT was act­ing the same way over an aban­doned fi­bre­glass cruiser near some out-of-the-way bridge on the Grand Union, let alone an iconic her­itage ves­sel of na­tional stature in such an im­por­tant lo­ca­tion. Be­sides, there’s an eth­i­cal di­men­sion to this. Imag­ine how you would feel if it were your boat.

North-West wa­ter­ways man­ager Chantelle Se­abourne is now say­ing that once the ship’s had restora­tion work it will be of­fered for re­sale. ‘Hope­fully a busi­ness, group or in­di­vid­ual in Liver­pool is able to step for­ward and pur­chase the ren­o­vated light­ship and bring her back to Liver­pool.’

But why should C&RT have to depend on pri­vate en­trepreneurs to en­sure the re­cov­ery of its bloated fees? And how can it en­sure it goes back to Liver­pool?

Why was it ever taken away from Liver­pool at all, ex­cept as a fit of pique in a dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tion? Surely, the whole thing could have been han­dled with more sub­tlety and fi­nesse than call­ing in the bailiffs?

The whole af­fair is yet an­other blun­der by C&RT’s North West of­fice which has made so many of them re­cently they’re becoming a wa­ter­ways joke.

When – not un­rea­son­ably – The Floater put a series of ques­tions to C&RT about this sorry af­fair, and the ques­tion of own­er­ship which seems to lie at the heart of it, the re­sponse of C&RT’s Na­tional Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ager Jonathon Lud­ford was at first not to re­ply to the re­quest, and then – when prompted to ac­tion two weeks later – to refuse to an­swer the ques­tions on the ba­sis that an un­in­for­ma­tive press re­lease had al­ready been is­sued on the mat­ter.

This is sim­ply not ac­cept­able. It is a con­temp­tu­ous way to treat any press en­quiry – the press has not just a right to ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions of C&RT, but a right to get de­cent answers too. He should have in­sisted on get­ting them.

Some­one needs to in­ter­vene quickly to sort this one out – but how of­ten have I writ­ten that re­cently about af­fairs in the North West?

This af­fair has the whiff of the courts about it al­ready, and that won’t mean C&RT re­cov­ers any monies that might le­git­i­mately be due to it. It means it will lose more.

‘Frankly, this is dis­grace­ful. It would be dis­grace­ful if C&RT was act­ing the same way over an aban­doned fi­bre­glass cruiser’

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