Friday 12th July
Wednesday 3rd July

Environment Agency keeps its navigations for now

The Government has called off – for now – the transfer of the rivers Thames, Nene, Great Ouse and Medway to the Canal & River Trust. According to a statement issued today:

Initial scoping work on transfer costs which was undertaken during the New Waterways Charity Project indicates that the transfer of EA navigations is unlikely to be affordable in the current climate. The Government has therefore decided that the Review planned for 2013/14 to consider options for the transfer will be postponed until Defra’s finances improve and there is a realistic prospect of the transfer being affordable and that it can take place on terms which would enable CRT’s Trustees to manage the additional liabilities

The Government, however, remains fully committed to transferring the EA navigations when the economic circumstances allow us to do so. The Government will review the position after the next Spending Period and will make a further announcement at that time on the timing of the transfer.

And according to Tony Hales of the Canal & River Trust:

This is disappointing news and a missed opportunity. In less than a year, the transfer of British Waterways to the voluntary sector has begun to revolutionise the way that our canals and rivers are cared for, opening up improved engagement and new opportunities for volunteering and fundraising. There is no reason that we could not have seen the same benefits on the EA’s navigations. We have very much enjoyed working with the team at the EA and look forward to this continuing as we share best practice and knowledge in the future.  We remain ready to look at these plans when the Government is next able to proceed.

A relief for many on the Thames, I suspect, who have long been sceptical of a BW/CRT transfer.

Sunday 16th June
Saturday 1st June

Canalival WTF

Oh lawdy.

I love how they say "don't turn up" ... usually when someone tells you not to do something- it makes you more eager to do just that!!!

That’s one comment on Canalival's Facebook page. Here’s another:

Cancelled my arse

The story in brief. London hipster types, last year, hatched a plan “to get together to have an alternative Jubilee pageant” – Jubillegal (badoom-tish). A good time is had by all. They resolve to do it again on a slightly grander scale, this time on the canals. They crowd-fund £3,000 towards the event, and all looks likely to go ahead... swimmingly:

The plan is simple, and simply brilliant: put a sound system on a barge; get samba bands, dancers and circus-types to perform; attract a massive carnival-style flotilla, with hundreds of punters on rafts, kayaks and dinghies; float down the Regent’s Canal in a Dionysian tangle of limbs and inflatable madness.

That’s what Time Out wrote. Metro found out, too, as did seemingly the whole of Facebook. Wahey, this looks fun, thinks le tout London, which promptly decides to turn up on the Regent’s Canal on 1st June with a rubber dinghy.

At which point the organisers start getting anxious calls from the Metropolitan Police and the Canal & River Trust, and realise maybe things are getting a bit out of control. This is what CRT wrote to local residents:

My colleagues in London are dealing with the Police and Hackney Council regarding the event. They have met with Canalival’s promoters to set out our very serious concerns about the inadequate planning which has gone in to organising such a high-risk, unsafe and unlicensed event. All events taking place on Trust property require permission of the Trust (100s take place safely and successfully throughout the year), at no time have the Trust endorsed this event and the event organisers have made no attempt to contact the Trust when developing/planning the event. We approached them as soon as we became aware a few weeks ago and we have made every effort to help the organisers put in adequate preparation.

Essentially, it’s the old “teenager advertises house-party on Facebook when parents are away” story, transplanted to the Regent’s Canal. The organisers tried to cancel it (“in the end the insurers wouldn't sign it off without an explicit statement of support from the Police. By that stage the numbers were just too large for the Police to do that and we all felt that the situation had become unwieldily”). Right. You can tell how well that worked from the picture above.

Facebook is currently showing “8,805 people went”. Eight thousand eight hundred and five.

There’s the germ of a brilliant idea in there somewhere. One half-hearted social media campaign has managed to get more bright young things onto the waterways - on boats, dammit, boats - than the IWA National ever has. But Canalival might have turned out better if it hadn’t been organised by halfwits.

Meanwhile, someone has to clean up this, this and this.

Header pic stolen from @peeteypeet on Twitter, whose caption is unimprovable: “If anyone wants to perform a mass drowning of all London hipsters, you won't get a better chance than this”.

Friday 3rd May

Richard Parry is new Canal & River Trust Chief Executive

Richard Parry, formerly of bus and train giant FirstGroup, will be the Canal & River Trust’s new Chief Executive. He replaces Robin Evans, who has been Chief Executive of CRT since its inception, and of British Waterways since 2003.

Most recently, Mr Parry was in charge of FirstGroup’s bid for the InterCity West Coast line, currently operated by Virgin. First won the bid but the decision was then overturned after Government cockups, to cut a long story short.

Before that, he worked for Transport for London (TfL), reaching the heights of interim MD of the Underground. He’s not the only London Transport alumnus at CRT: Simon Salem, marketing director, previously worked there.

In the CRT press release, he says: “I am really excited to be joining the Canal & River Trust at such an important phase in the future of the nation’s magnificent waterways. The scale of the opportunity is huge as what we and our supporters do in the next five years will help shape the waterways for the next century. I bring a track-record of managing similarly complex and challenging networks, together with experience of working closely with a wide range of interested and passionate people. I’ve got bags of enthusiasm for the waterways and have seen first-hand the shot in the arm that canals provide to the communities they flow through. Out on the towpath I have witnessed the hugely committed staff, volunteers, boaters and other supporters, and I look forward to the challenge ahead.”

He is 46 and lives in the West Midlands.

Tuesday 23rd April
Friday 19th April
Tuesday 9th April

Goodbye, Canals, Rivers & Boats

Farewell Canal & Riverboat Monthly, no, Canal & Riverboat, wait, no, Canals & Rivers, erm, Canals Rivers & Boats... or whatever you were called this week.

I shouldn’t joke. C&R was the great survivor of waterway magazines. When I got my first canal writing job, in 1998, I remember commenting “surely it can’t survive much longer”. It was 20 years old at the time. Amazingly, it continued publishing until this week, at the grand old age of 35. Published on a shoestring, true, and with fairly lowly production values, but published nonetheless. 

It was founded in 1978 by none less than Harry Arnold, who set up a new company called Lockgate Publications. Harry had of course been a co-founder of Waterways World and went on to start NarrowBoat (the original) a few years later. The magazine passed into the hands of A.E. Morgan Publications, while the editorship passed to Norman Alborough and then Chris Cattrall, who much to my great surprise I’ve never actually met in 15 years. 

It was certainly idiosyncratic, but often entertaining. There were Bob Clarke’s often splenetic opinion columns, both the ‘Under the Bridge’ editorial (insert your own troll joke here) and ‘Tillerman’/‘Aquarius’ etc. - the print equivalent of dear old Victor Swift. 

Its highest-profile contributor was Tim Coghlan, owner of Braunston Marina, whose lengthy history features were for many the main reason to buy the magazine (C&R’s circulation figures were never published, but were generally believed to be tiny - perhaps one-tenth of WW’s in recent years). Peter Caplen’s PBO-like ‘fix something on your boat this month’ articles were terrific, and I always envied C&R for them. One of the more memorable series in Norman Alborough’s day was Mike Handford’s Restoration Roundup, an opinionated but comprehensive look at which canal would reopen next. And it continued to give a home to old stalwarts like John Gagg. 

For many years it had the best Tupperware coverage with its ‘Inland Cruiser’ section, and to the end it continued to run regular Broads news pages, even after dropping the news pages for the rest of the system. (C&R’s relaxed “last with the news” approach was always a source of relief to those of us trying to outdo ‘the other lot’ to get stories first.)

Recently, it seemed to swerve around a little in search of an identity. One month the masthead was reworked to look like a larger version of Canal Boat’s. Then it became Canals & Rivers with the seeming aim of becoming a lifestyle magazine, not a boating one. But dropping the ‘Boat’ from the name was clearly a bad idea in commercial terms, so it became Canals Rivers & Boats

(Rather amusingly, it also adopted the slogan ‘The magazine for the world of the waterways!’ after I’d added ‘Britain’s best-selling canal & river magazine’ to the front cover of WW. But I’d not done it as a dig at C&R - more because I knew BW’s research over many years had shown that “waterways” was a turn-off word, and the logic of Ronseal dictates that if your magazine is about canals and rivers, you should have those words on the cover somewhere.) 

Even in its latter years, it had some genuinely smart ideas. Its pull-out section, ‘The Broker’, recognised the fact that most people get started with second-hand boats. For a while it ran a centrefold photo (of canals and boats, silly) on lovely glossy paper. In typical C&R style, the feature was pulled after a few months, but no-one bothered to change the print order, so several random pages of the magazine continued to be printed on higher-quality stock. 

Given that we live in a digital age, it’s astonishing how many print waterway publications there still are: Waterways World, Canal Boat, NarrowBoat, Towpath Talk, Tillergraph, plus Broads coverage from Anglia Afloat, Motor Boats Monthly for the Thames contingent, and of course membership magazines such as Waterways and Thames Guardian. Ultimately, though, C&R’s hold on the less shiny end of the market has been taken by the free Towpath Talk, and by the Internet. It’s no coincidence that both C&R and Narrowboatworld used the slogan ‘The Voice of the Waterways’. 

Still, for all its eccentricities, I’ll miss C&R; and the closure of a magazine is especially sad news for those who worked on it. Good luck to them in the future. 

(Sorry for the lack of postings here recently; I’ve been tied up with other projects. But I’m looking forward to getting back to regular updates before too long!)

Friday 29th March
Thursday 28th March
Monday 25th March
Friday 22nd March

The Wilts & Berks: from hopeless case to a real canal?

Stirrings on the Wilts & Berks, Britain’s longest unnavigable waterway. The Canal Trust has applied for planning permission to fully restore the Pewsham flight. If this is granted, the Trust will then make a Lottery bid (or similar) to fund the work.

It’s a modest flight, just three locks, but in a prominent, attractive location, just south of Chippenham. The old towpath is popular with walkers and cyclists (it’s part of a Sustrans route, albeit not a through route at the moment), and WBCT has already restored part of the canal here, putting bridges back into good order. The local branch is perhaps the most active of the WBCT’s seven, with a long list of projects currently underway.

Where it gets really interesting is that the Trust and Partnership are also working on a high-profile scheme to rebuild the canal south of Melksham, effectively creating a branch of the Kennet & Avon. Melksham itself is on the River Avon, well above the head of navigation in Bath, but wide and deep enough for boats. Just a couple of miles of new waterway are needed to link it to the K&A.

Between Melksham and Pewsham is just over four miles, via the famously attractive, National Trust-owned village of Lacock. In other words, these two projects are near neighbours. If they can both be achieved within the next five years – and there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be – then the case for joining them up becomes compelling. The Wilts & Berks goes from “over-ambitious project going nowhere in particular” to a real restoration, with a real destination, and a real economic case. 

In recent years the phrase ‘tipping point’ has caught on – “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”, according to Malcolm Gladwell. Getting these two projects underway could be the tipping point for the Wilts & Berks.

Pic by Doug Lee at Geograph, CC-BY-SA.

Thursday 21st March
Tuesday 19th March
Monday 18th March
Thursday 14th March
Tuesday 12th March


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