CRT National Users' Forum
The Captain's Jottings
5th April - The Bond, Birmingham
OK, a break with convention.
Till now I have tended to keep business and pleasure separate, which meant not using the Capt Ahab Blog to document my observations from the various CRT meetings I attend ,either as an elected Council Representative or in the various sub groups which seem to follow on its coat tails.
The problem is that its really difficult to reach all the Boating Businesses I have been elected to represent, so rather that restrict my feedback to the Roving Canal Traders via Facebook, I have decided to post them on my main Blog. That way anyone interested can read them, follow them or forward them on.
Before I provide my observations from yesterday's meeting you may find it helpful to know what CRT forums I find myself on.
1. The main National Council which comprises a mix of elected and co-opted representatives of the main users of the canal network. This group meets twice a year, once tacked on to the end of the AGM (usually Birmingham in September) and then again in March at different places around the country. 2016 was Liverpool and 2017 was Bath.
2. The Elected Boater representative forum which meets three times a year and serves as a sounding board to CRT on all their plans which impact us boaters. As you can imagine, there is currently a lot of focus on the Licensing Consultation, The Stoppages process and the underlying asset management issues and also the thorny problem of London Moorings.
3. Finally there is the National Users Forum, takes place (I think) every six months or so, usually at The Bond next to the Grand Union in Digbeth, Birmingham. This has some overlap with the Boaters Forum in terms of input but includes a broad range of users and interested parties from the Horse Society, through the Ramblers Accociation, the RYA, Waterways Press, Marine Federation, The National Bargees and Travellers Association to the Steam Boat Association. A very broad spectrum of about 30 interest groups plus elected Council members and CRT staff.
So, against that background I found myself at my third National Users' Forum. There are official minutes but here are the things which caught my attention, and made it into my note book:
910 planned jobs and 260 unplanned ones - which include 160 new lock gates
Contracted works cost £26m and involved 144 projects
£11m was spent on vegetation management including 68 miles of offside trimming
There are 500,000 trees on the CRT estate (someone must have counted them and there are more than the holes in Blackburn, Lancashire - you need to know your Beatles)
200 trees came down in storm Doris.
The CRT defects log extends to 60,000 tasks, but many are grouting / pointing which are low priority, unless the Pi**er is landing on your head.....
CRT own 74 reservoirs and some of these need urgent work. Has anyone listed them so we can "bag them" like Munro's in Scotland. A big spend will be on upper Bittel.
£4.3m on Reservoirs
£8.2m on Dredging
£3.3m on Bridges
£4.0m on Embankments and Culverts.
Lock gate replacement will accelerate from 160 in 2016 to 180 in 2017 with 42 in the West Mids, where some will be undertaken in the summer where alternate routes exist. This spreads the time available for repairs and increases the amount which can be achieved each year.
There are 1000 automated assets which require 6,000 visits pa. There are 10,500 miles of towpath cutting needed and they expect to attend to 2,000 windblown tree incidents.
These numbers are a bit boggling but they do offer an insight into the complexity of managing our antiquated network.
The Licensing review is progressing with the initial round of telephone interviews by an outside party complete. There is no agenda in terms of a preferred go to position for CRT - they are waiting for the findings to come in from the calls, after which they will convene focus groups as phase 2 and then present a plan as phase 3 in the summer - ready for implementation for the 2018 season.
CRT are very clear that the mandate for this project is simply to create a fairer system and the revenue generated is to be neutral.
The Enforcement team is now the License Support to reflect their aim of helping people stay on the water - not driving them off. This is a sensitive area and is consuming a lot of time.
Business Boating generates £6 to £7m of revenue and the license renewal process is being automated like the private boat process, which has to be good news for those of us who are mostly away from our base for long periods.
Licence renewals and Lease Reviews have been a focus of attention and resulted in an additional £500k of income pa so far.
The results of the London Boaters Survey were shared and the following highlights emerged:
58% were primary homes
69% were lived on
50% chose to live afloat due to affordability
33% reported mechanical issues (echoes the RCR's observations on breakdown cover in London)
45% would like to have a permanent mooring.
Top of the concerms list was security.
The pre bookable visitor moorings in Rembrant Gardens are now effectively full till the Autumn. This process has proved popular and successful and there are plans to expand it next year.
Boats in Bloom is about to be launched with all sorts of categories and ways it can be accessed. This struck me as a nice feel good initiative which will bring some extra colour and cheer to the system, as well as some positive PR. Before you raise your hands in horror there is very little cost to this exercise! This is all about recognition for effort rather than winners and losers.
On a similar "green" theme, we were introduced to the Green Flag programme which has been awarded to two canals in the north - Macclesfiled was one but I cant remember the other. This was a great way to engage with volunteers and gain support from local councils hungry for green good news stories. There is a plan to roll this out more widely and ultimately have 10% of the network covered. Interestingly, I cant see the BCN in any of these plans - apparently shopping trollies and car tyres do not offer points!
Brand and Fundraising
The Friends programme is growing but there is a long way to go to reach the 200,000 Friends by 2024. Chuggers have thankfully been abandoned (50% drop out in a year) and replaced by Direct Towpath Rangers who engage on a 1:1 basis. This form of recruitment has a drop out rate of only 15%.
Discussions took place to glean observations and opinion about how the Friends programme can be developed.
The towpath sharing agenda remains topical and research suggests that 50% of those surveyed think that the answer lies in signage and education. The rest cover a massive range of ideas from speed humps to the Spanish Inquisition.
The towpath campaign has evolved from "share the space" in 2015 to "manners" in 2016 (remember the antique bikes?) and moves to "kill your speed this year".
I think that's about it.
My apologies for what I have missed or misrepresented.