How to make British waterways books balance
10th December 2009
We have been reading a lot about BW's precarious financial situation, it's need to retain it's real estate portfolio and the possibility of turning BW into an aquatic form of the National Trust. These are all important issues but they all come back to asking the Government for more money, or at least not to cut it's grant any further.
Lets get real. UK Plc is bust, weighed down by a mountain of debt be it of the personal or national variety. This defecit isn't going anywhere soon and we are going to be living with it's consequences for a generation. This all means that there will be slim pickings on the government grant front for decades, added to which there is limited scope to extract more cash from the boatowners who's pockets are as finite in depth as the canals themselves.
The inland waterways needs to reinvent itself beyond the cosy tourist trail and a rose tinted wish to resurrect commercial freight.
So what is the answer?
Promote waterborne living.
In the 1960's it was the holiday makers that were pariahs of the system, a time when BW hankered after the 'good old days' of commercial freight.
Today the its the residential boatowners (as opposed to continous cruisers) who seem to be marginalised and only grudgingly accepted in small pockets here and there.
Well, I am always one for finding an already open door to lean against rather than tackling the locked options. So consider the following:
1. BW needs income, and we are talking tens of millions per annum.
2. BW has a huge asset in it's infrastructure which is largely underused.
3. As a nation we have a humongeous housing shortage
4. When houses are built they are too expensive for our children to buy.
5. Finding a residential mooring is like seeking hens teeth.
6. Residential moorings command huge rents - even poky sites on the BCN cost £2k plus pa.
7. Demand exceeds supply
8. Where demand exceeds supply any entrepreneur will increase supply and make a mint
9. Basic ecomonics - BW take note
So, take Birmingham - my home city.
The number of residential sites are so few I could name them on the fingers of two hands.
Why not open up some new residential basins in and around the conurbation which can accommodate maybe 100 boats in each. The BCN is vast and with some creativity I am sure that 10 decent (and secure) sites could be "shoehorned" in.
10 sites x 100 boats = 1000 boats.
Each quality mooring = £2500 - £2.5 million income pa
Extend this scheme in 100 locations around the country and you have £25m income
Its amazing how the noughts add up.
Ah, but won't that lead to overcrowding I hear you cry? How many times do you see residential boats out on the move? Come to that, if you provide services and accept that the boats are for living on and are not going anywhere, you would even encourage 'marina locked' widebeams. Not that any of us would object to a few more boats moving around the BCN!
BW have done a cracking job of encouraging offline leisure moorings to the point that supply exceeds demand. Lets get a few of those redundant JCB's working at some of the hundreds of industriual bombsites which line our urban canals and dig new basins.
This option has potential to satisfy a need in society and plug a huge hole in in BW's income and expenditure statement. Time for BW to look to its balance sheet and use its assets more effectively.
Counter arguments on the back of a postcard please.