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…

Canal Boat - - Canal Boat News - See canal­ for de­tails of win­ter stop­pages.

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

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