19 Sept 2019
Every September CRT hold their Annual Public Meeting which in recent years has been at Austin Court, Birmingham, and this year was streamed live to reach as wide an audience as possible.
The following are my take aways, but should not be read as formal minutes.
This was the seventh APM and the event was introduced by the Chair of Trustees, Allan Leighton who observed that Income, Investment and volunteer hours were continuing to rise as the Trust seeks to promote and repurpose our historic inland waterways. The work of the trust is to make them more relevant and more visited.
The recent events at Toddbrook Reservoir featured significantly during the morning and highlighted the significant infrastructure issues facing the organisation. Two interesting throw away facts were 1. That 1bn litres of water was pumped out of Toddbrook and 2. That £3.8bn of well being benefit had been delivered by CRT (not sure how this is quantified).
The Trust has a very diverse range if income streams but is unusual in the amount that is generated from commercial investment activity.
Stuart Mills (Chief Finance Officer) reported that of the capital funds raised recently, £80m had been invested in new assets in Cannock, Sale, Leeds, Birmingham and Staines and a further £20m is already committed to other acquisitions. The returns from these investments is significantly more than the financing costs and will therefore feed into additional funds available for charitable activities.
Since the trust was formed the value if its assets have grown 77% against 12% inflation and the volume of its investment income has grown by 66%.
Richard Parry (CEO) update
- Boating remains at the heart of all CRT does. Boater feedback has been switched to a rolling monthly programme, offering effectively real time updates.
- The trust takes 120k calls and e-mails each year and new supplier is being deployed to handle this activity.
- The amount spent on assets has increased from £48M to £66m in 7 years
- Asset graded ABC (satisfactory or better) are steady at 87% (was 83%) and the law of diminishing returns applies to achieve further improvement.
- Towpath condition ABC has increased from 75% to 81%
- Breach risk has declined from 2.5% to 1.0% (low is good).
- The benefit of operating as a Trust is the ability to lake a long term view and plan expenditure accordingly.
- The number of high risk assets has been managed down from 200 to 3.
- £8 to £10m of external funds have been applied to towpath improvements
Julie Sharman (COO)
- Health and Safety measures deteriorated last winter prompting a back to basics training programme.
- Of the 317 reported incidents 34 were CRT asset related
- 46% of the 317 were slips, trips or falls
- 2 fatalities in Manchester triggered a review with ROSPA, and resulted in the deployment of railings at Tibb Lock and rescue equipment being installed
- A fatality on the Pont aqueduct has triggered a consultation on how to reduce the width of the gaps in the railings given its listed monument status
- The safety of staff and volunteers is of paramount importance.
Toddbrook Reservoir review
- We were walked through the response to the incident
- The last time the emergency spillway was used was in 2007
- The spillway was built in 1970
- The response was a multi agency effort
- 11 pumps remain on site
- Water level being held 12m down from normal level
- Remaining water will be removed when temperatures permit a fish rescue
- Focus was to get inlet water switched into the bypass channel
- An independent review has commenced to identify the root cause of the failure
- Key question is how best to fix Toddbrook
- Elsewhere CRT has 72 reservoirs of which 68 are rated high risk
- The average age of CRT's reservoirs is 200 years vs 160 years for others.
- Reservoir management is covered by detailed legistation
- All are independently inspected at least evert 10 years by 30 inspectors
- Lighter touch internal annual reviews are undertaken
- Supervisory visits are are undertaken by CRT staff every one or two weeks
- CRT have appointed a Reservoir Asset Manager for added focus
- More frequent review are being deployed alongside telemetry equipment.
Heather Clark (Wellbeing agenda)
- Wellbeing is being aimed at a younger audience
- Gardeners World and Chelsea displays projecting CRT beyond normal audience
- Beauty on doorstep - linked to Green Flag awards and plastics challenge
- Natural Health Service - includes GP prescribed canal side activity
- Local community - 60 % increase in towpath used where they have been improved
- Nature on doorstep - Green action 2019
- Connection activity underway
- Working with other organisations
- Establishment of a Youth Panel
- Development of the Desmond Family Canoe Trail
- Working with canal side Park Run movement
- Development of Lets Fish initiative
- Development of Arts and Culture activity
- CRT asset Open Days continued
- Development of Volunteering initiative
- 250 Canal Adoptions in place
Adnan Saif (Regional Director Midlands)
Showcased Midlands activity / potential including:
- 900k of canals in region
- 5.7million people within short walk of canal - 1.75m in urban corridors.
- Currently 54% awareness - aim to drive that to 80%
- 1400 volunteers in region of which 850 are very active (almost none BAME)
- Deploying a local area led strategy
- BCN 250 activity in 2019
- Coventry City of Culture in 2021
- Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022
Question and Answer session
Questions came thick and fast and the questions I noted down included:
- Shortcomings in follow up for hurt volunteers
- Dangerous cycling increasing even in country
- Hedgerow encroachment
- Growth of weed in canals
- Less focus on boaters and offside vegetation growth issues
- Future plans for disabled boater discussion group
- Structural Governance issues not addressed
- Ongoing loss of canal side built heritage
- Concern about average age in room (too old)
- Concerns about water management (too much or too little)
- Problems with stiff paddle gear
- Communication issues with CRT
- Limited canal side recycling opportunities for boaters
- Timing of APM questioned - is it optimal for those in work
Meeting closed at 12.30