WINTER WORKS: MAPPING OUT THE FUTURE
As the Canal & River Trust’s winter work schedule begins, we speak to CRT’s Simon Bamford about how recent events and circumstances have influenced the programme…
Our panel opposite shows the statistics of the Canal & River Trust’s winter works programme – how many lock gates are being replaced, how many balance beams, and how much it’s costing.
But we caught up with CRT’s Director of Asset Improvement Simon Bamford to get behind the bald figures, and into what the Trust’s emphasis and priorities are when it comes to which jobs to spend the money on because, as he freely admits, his teams would always like to do more than they can actually achieve in the two periods from early November to just before Christmas, and from early New Year into March.
Note ‘teams’ plural. There are two key work programmes: the major works in the £16.5m Priority Projects programme, contracted out to CRT’s Omnibus Contractor Kier, and the smaller works (such as lock gate replacements) carried out by the Trust’s direct services team and totalling £11m. Incidentally, these don’t by any means represent the total spent on engineering work (plenty of work takes place outside the winter programme), and there are also dredging and vegetation contracts plus national technical teams, training, equipment, building and other costs and overheads – adding up to a total ‘charitable spend’ of over £150m per year.
Looking first at the Priority Projects (contracted out) figure, to a certain extent the focus of this has been forced on CRT by events, with two unplanned major stoppages taking up a sizeable part of the budget. The Middlewich Breach is now well on the way to being repaired: with the canal embankment reinstated, work is now progressing to the less weather-dependent channel relining, giving more confidence of a Christmas reopening. The other major unplanned job at Marple Locks is a longer one, in a restricted site close to houses, with both sides of Lock 11 to be rebuilt: preparation completed, the main work is due to begin in November, and the opening target is late March. And given that this problem followed on immediately after similar work at Lock 15 of the same flight, the rest of the 16 locks are being carefully monitored and surveyed.
These two stoppages have had an impact on work elsewhere in several ways: firstly in that resources have needed to be transferred from elsewhere. Although other major works at Finsley Gate Embankment on the Leeds & Liverpool and Saltersford Locks on the Weaver will still go ahead, two jobs – on the embankments at Bollington and adjacent to the Lune Aqueduct – have been deferred. They will be ready to go and top of the priority list for 2019-20 – and carefully monitored in the meantime.
Secondly, the expensive lock wall failures at Marple have added impetus to some slight shifts in emphasis in the Priority Works (in-house) programme which were already under way. CRT is spending more than £1m per year in a programme of inspection for signs of leakage (through the lock walls or tail steps) or ground settlement indicating voids behind the chamber walls, and remedying by pumping grout in through holes drilled in the walls. There are further chamber wall rebuilds planned (including two notoriously tight ones at Napton and Hurleston) but hopefully this programme will reduce the need further rebuilds – or mean that it is as least more proactive rather than reactive.
That’s also the theme for smaller lock work tasks: Simon Bamford maintains that if the bare figure for gate replacements is down on last year (from 175 to 135), that is in part because more resources have instead been put into gate maintenance – from leakage repairs to half-life ‘planned interventions’, overhauls repairing general wear and replacing seals.
There’s also more regional variation: in an acknowledgement that the north and north west were building up more of a backlog (going back to the increased number of locks to be maintained following the Pennine restorations just before the Millennium, with the gates installed at that time becoming life-expired), more resource has been sent that way recently.
Meanwhile, longer-term planning (which was made easier by the 15-year contract when CRT replaced British Waterways) has been improved by use of computer modelling. This is used alongside the regular inspections of assets to predict what work will be needed, and is becoming more sophisticated, with different models being defined for different classes of structure – locks, bridges, tunnels and so on.
Of course there will always be a case of “The best laid plans…” as the Middlewich breach proved – as did the drought, where £300,000 of work was actually brought forward from the winter programme to take advantage of water shortage lock closures to do the work during times of longer daylight hours. “Moderated by reality” is the phrase Simon Bamford uses to acknowledge that plans can still be overtaken by events in the real world.
Hurleston: rebuilding of the tight Lock 4 is planned
A Christmas reopening is the target for the Middlewich breach repairs