Notes from the K and A User Group meeting 29 September 2010

The last  Kennet and Avon Canal User Group meeting took place on 29 September. A volunteer has kindly provided us with a transcript of the discussion, which you can read in full below  if you want to know what took place. The volunteer says “Despite my best efforts, these notes are likely to be partial in both senses of the word.  Occasionally I have added my own thoughts as footnotes where it seemed appropriate.” Here it is: Attending for BW:

Mark Stephens

Damian Kemp

Steven Lewis

Russ Bennett

  • Mark welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for coming along to the update meeting.
  • He introduced the staff from BW:  “Steve Lewis one of our patrol officers, Russ Bennett who most of you will know a senior enforcement supervisor and Damian Kemp of mooring strategy.  Damian will be saying more about the mooring strategy later, maybe with a bit from Russ and Lewis.”
  • Mark continued, “I’ve just given out a few copies of the minutes.  Hopefully most of you will have got them by email.  I have one or two corrections to the minutes that my attention has been drawn to.  Before I begin, does anyone else in the room have anything to say about the minutes of the last meeting, other than that they were very late coming to you?”
  • Panda asked if Mark is going to accept the changes that she proposed?  Mark said yes, and suggested that he would send the changes out rather than reading them out now to save time.
  • Obviously BW have been through a number of big changes.  Last November, Mark came down to look after the K&A.  He reminded us that last meeting we talked about going into the third sector, before the last election when nothing was really concrete.  There have since been no changes but we can talk now with a bit more confidence that BW becoming a charity will happen, although it is with government and not with BW.
  • Also we talked about the property that BW owns and how it uses that to support the canal. He stressed how important it is for BW to retain that property as they go into the charity sector.  He thinks that that is now likely to happen now that he has talked to Robin Evans and an announcement should be made in the next 3-4 weeks.  Looking good so far but nothing is in stone yet.  He mentioned that we are also all very aware of the planned cuts to public sector.  A press release last week suggested that BW would be axed, and strictly speaking perhaps that is true as BW as it currently stands will disappear, so perhaps the reporting in the newspapers is not too far off of the mark.  The BW we have now will be replaced though by BW (or whatever it is known as) in the charity sector.  It wasn’t entirely incorrect to say that BW will disappear like other “quangos” but it is going to become something different, with different people involved. Time wise we are looking at April 2012.
  • Mark explained that there is still lots of work to do in terms of BW convincing government, and government being happy that this is the right thing to do.  BW are not separating completely from government in the future.  Otherwise, where will their money come from? Already mentioned property, but the other element will still come from government.  At the moment BW still get a grant like a student[1].  What they’ll get instead is a contract and the government will pay them to maintain the canals.  At the moment we know how long that contract will be for – it is unclear; it could be set for 10 years or 2 years.  When BW become a charity, they won’t be left to their own devices.  Government will still have to prop them up for the time being as they are still providing a service to the public at large and to local communities.
  • Mark stated that he isn’t sure that there is anything else to mention about 3rd sector.
  • At this point, Mark invited questions.
  • One fellow asked about the rumour from the press that the EA would take over BW’s area. Mark stated that it wasn’t for BW to decide.  Perhaps it makes sense for one body to look after all navigations, but it’s not for Mark or his chief executive to decide.  Mark reminded us that EA would also have been mentioned in the list of “quangos to be axed”.

3rd sector:

  • Mark went on to talk more about local policy:  We talked briefly last meeting about the K&A being a pilot in going onto the charity sector.  Now we’re going to try some ideas out and see what a partnership board might look like.  That’s striding along at the moment, and we are certainly making inroads into that happening.
  • Just this afternoon, we had a meeting with all the relevant authorities with Bath, BaNES, Wiltshire, Bristol who couldn’t come, K&A trust, etc so we were all present and discussed how the budgets of local authorities could be used to help enhance the canal.  I’ve spoken to one particular authority about transport and transport planning who have an initiative to promote safe routes for kids to take to school, and are looking at the canal towpath and associated infrastructure as one way to do this.
  • Similarly, Mark is talking to Bath & Bristol about moving freight by water again, in particular moving waste from Bath towards the recycling centres at Keynsham.  This should provide some investment into canal as a result, and it also takes transport off the road. 
  • Mark reiterated that these are examples of what might happen, and asked those attending to not get too excited and run away with them.
  • A lady on the floor (Carol?) mentioned that there is an EU policy that toxic waste should always be moved by water, so this isn’t just something out of the air.  Nuclear waste, petroleum products, etc.  All along the new canals etc where they are going to put the new nuclear plants etc.  Also you’ll find reams and reams of information on this, eg looking at plants for burning off the waste in Newbury and those two new proposed plants are alongside the canal.
  • Mark thanked her for her input, and continued.
  • He explained that the partnership is making progress locally on the K&A. Other news associated with that is that it will be replicated on other waterways across the country.  This is building on relationships that BW need to have to bring the canal to the next 200 years.
  • Someone asked who is chairing the partnership? Mark answered, the chair of the K&A Trust.  This meeting was about what their (i.e. the partnership’s) terms of reference are, what this meeting is about, etc.
  • Panda said that there was some confusion about whether or not users of the canal were welcome to stand for election to the new Partnership Board.  Apparently a liveaboard boater applied stating his CV, which is very impressive, but he was told he wouldn’t be welcome.  Will boaters and other users be welcomed as potential members of the board, she asked?
  • Mark answered that 23 people have expressed an interest, and at least 3 are liveaboard boaters, and if you know anyone who has been turned away let him know and he’ll put them on his list.  Obviously with the 23 people who applied and nearly a dozen people representing local authorities and trade groups it will be quite big.
  • Panda asked why the trade group is represented on the board when ordinary canal users aren’t?  Mark explained that this was the original partnership that restored the canal, and they are just a starting point.  They are still discussing who will be on the board.
  • Mark was asked when the next meeting will be, and when will we know about the decision (of who is on the board)?  Mark answered that the next meeting is in Nov, and they won’t have made a decision by then.
  • Mark was asked if he can guarantee if everyone will be represented?  Mark said he’s not sure what you mean by “everyone”?  He explained that there has to be some limit to the number of people on that board.  They have every intention of having everyone represented, so some people may well end up being advisers to that panel if they don’t get onto it.  He’d like to encourage people to take part, but stressed a partnership with all comers on it is not maintainable.
  • Someone suggested that if there is not a representative for all users, then it doesn’t sound very fair.
  • Another person asked why South Gloucester council wasn’t included, as part of the K&A goes through their land?  Mark said that they’ve been invited, and they’ve said they aren’t interested as they only have 200m of bank.  There was a bit of a discussion about this, with the fellow who asked the original question suggesting that they should be complained to, as they have a lot more than 200m of bank!  He himself has chaired a disparate group, including canoeists and other river users, so should know.  The mooring strategy is all about boaters on the canals, nothing about the rivers.  He would like to see a lot more than just residential boaters on the canal who need representing.  He felt that a lot of people using the canal are not involved now and should be.
  • Mark said he’s going to draw a line under this as there isn’t any more than can be said yet, not until the partnership has made more of a decision.
  • A lady on the floor said she put her name forward and she got a letter saying that BW were going to be meeting with the various partners along the canal, a lot of them being money generators, and that liveaboard boaters wouldn’t be included on that first stage but would be included in and advisory capacity.  We do pay a lot of money and we are worried that we won’t be represented.
  • Mark said he still isn’t saying that all groups will be represented directly on the partnership board.  That just won’t happen as there are too many groups!  “I’m not going to sit here and tell anyone here that everyone will be represented”, he said.
  • The lady explained that the panel would make decisions and pull in experienced representatives from an advisory panel – people who have expressed an interest – and they will be consulted by the partnership group.
  • Mark noted that the chairman of the group (Michael) was nodding at the back, and invited him to comment.
  • The chairman pointed out that they are aiming to get together working parties and get input from people who have put their names down as early as possible.  They have tried to be as inclusive as possible, but also functional and thus not too large.  He feels there is progress on this.
  • A gentleman asked if the new organisation whatever it is – BW as a whole – and the local panel that is being set up or partnership, will be subject to the existing legislation acts of Parliament, will be transferred to the new BW setup?  Mark said largely, but just with transforming BW as it is now to a charity body there will have to be a revision to the acts of Parliament.  Mark agreed that that will take a long time, it won’t be overnight and not without government support.  “What we are talking about is the governance of the public body which will require an act.” he explained.
  • It was asked if, as there are more people interested than can be taken on, on what basis are members of the partnership board being selected?  Mark said that they are looking at the skills, experience and perspectives of the people and trying to pick the best they can.  He really can’t tell us what is going to happen as there’s only been one partnership meeting, and we’re going to have another one, but we’ve not yet made the decision and this is brand new.  He stressed that he’s just trying to give an update.
  • So that is what is happening locally as far as BW and national governance goes.  We touched on EA navigation.
  • Mark then went on: The final one as far as national things goes is the cutbacks.  He reminded us that BW are not going to be exempt from that.  BW are looking at a pay review in October and they could be looking at a fairly sizeable cut, maybe 20%, but they have no idea yet so they can’t tell us what it will be.  Mark then explained that they also don’t know when or how that will be applied – for example, in stages or all at once.  They hope not all at once as it is not likely to be very manageable.  The basic message is that BW will have less money than they had before.  Given that Mark said that he was getting 60% of the money that he needs to maintain the canal, he reminded us, well, we can see that this won’t be good. “I will do what I can to get the best cut for the KA specifically, for our waterway.”
  • A chap on the floor said that he felt that people living on their boats have made a considerable investment and that they are worried that they will be priced out of their chosen lifestyle.  Because of the cuts it could be made so expensive that people couldn’t live on their boats.  Mark asked if he meant that fees would get too high for people.  The fellow confirmed this.  Mark stressed that BW have no intention of doing this, and that government regulators wouldn’t allow it either.
  • He was then asked what effect that will have if BW is not as it is now?  Mark said it will always be regulated as it is a public commodity, so they won’t be able to charge whatever they like.  “We can’t foreclose on you,” he said.

Local BW update from Mark Stephens:

“I just wanted to go over the last 4 months of what we have been working on when I talk about maintenance and what we have been planning on dong next year.

 

The canal team are split into three specific teams.  There is a maintenance team and two customer facing teams on the canal.  A lot of their time is taken up responding to customer call outs – broken locks, fly tipping, fallen trees, etc.  The construction team are mostly left to their own devices so  they can do what they need to.

 

A fair bit of work has been done to the pumps since the last meeting.  The situation isn’t perfect yet but has improved.  The new pump at Bradford (on Avon) has made a real difference to the level between Bradford and Semington.  Semington has a hired pump at it at the moment, but this will be replaced soon.

 

A few problems at Bath – two pumps at the deep lock put in by BANES back when they did the road have packed up and need to be replaced.  We’re waiting for BANES, but not holding our breath as something needs to be done and we know they can be a bit slow.  Caen Hill has only one pump running at Foxhangers.  This is due to a particularly difficult-to-track-down spare part. This means the long pound has been a bit down as we are drawing water from there and up to Crofton – it’s basically a juggling act.  Infrastructure wise it’s not the pumps, but that we have basically run out of water.  Wilton reservoir is down, and we can’t draw more water from the (River) Avon so we basically have to just cope.

Tree clearance is still on-going – painfully slowly for everyone.  Attention is specifically at the east end, so Fobney, Reading, Tyle Mill.  It’s basically just a tunnel of undergrowth.  Our tree shearing plant has gone from Kintbury to Aldermaston and will be at Fobney in about 3 weeks’ time.  They’re doing the worst bits first and moving back and forth doing the next worst bit and so on until it’s done.  There’s years and years of growth there so it is not going to be quick.  Our kit is on hire at the moment, but we will be buying our own tree shearer soon which should help us save some money long-term.  This should let us make more progress.

Touching on water conservation – some signs on the locks was mentioned.  There are reasons why we do that.  Some of the locks flood adjacent properties or pieces of land if left full.  Some create water control difficulties.  Crofton is in this last category.  As an experiment we took all the signs off at Crofton to confirm that we were right and to see what would happen.  A lot of the gates leak terribly, so as a consequence intermediate pounds drain down.  In principal taking all those signs off at the moment doesn’t work – tried, caused problems, had to put them back.  Long term we could take them off if we had non-leaking lock gates and suitable by-weirs.  We’ve now learnt one or two lessons and understand why it is run the way it is.”

Questions relating to the local update:

  • Someone suggested that, as the lock gates at Crofton are different sizes, and could they not be standardised to make it all easier to maintain?
  • Mark said he thinks we could do this and make water run over the top of them again, but he isn’t sure that this is the best way forward and not going to discuss it right now.  “Until all lock gates are up to scratch we’ll always have this problem.”
  • Mark asked if anyone had any questions specifically about what BW have been doing for the last three or four months?
  • One fellow asked particularly about tree clearance and water, predominantly along the long pound.  He has taken a series of photos and was hopeful after last meeting.  Quite clearly the canal in places is only 6′ wide and the draft is awful.  His boat grounds on the way through and only just manages to drag over the mud.
  • Mark explained that he has a list of places to work on, including Hilperton and the long pound.  BW are unable to do anything immediately to the reeds due to birds and the like living in them.  During the last month they’ve sprayed off those reeds, the toxins will be taken into reeds down to roots and they won’t grow back.  We’ll see next spring how effective that’s been.  On back of that, because that has been left for so long there will be a lot of silt left over so BW will need to come back later to dredge it.  Again, they are going to focus on high spots first.  It’s been a long time coming, but they’re getting there.  This is the first time they have been able to do it since Xmas.  Mark asked everyone to give them ’til spring, and if it is still a problem then, then “you can have a right go at me”.  He noted that this has been coming up at meetings for years.
  • It was asked if dredging is part of the plan, or is Mark just stating the process?  Are we scheduled to have those areas dredged?  Mark explained that the national dredging has not targeted those areas as it’s not shown up as the areas are green.  Locally they’ll be dredging it.  They’re also going to get another national survey soon and we’ll see then.
  • Someone else asked about quality control?  Last winter the swingbridge at Hungerford was replaced because you could hardly move it.  Now you cannot move the new one without two people at least.  Mark said that he saw it about 5 weeks ago and it was okay, and he apologises that the person asking had reached it and it didn’t work.  He knows the abutments are not complete:  It apparently got hit by a boat within 2 weeks of being replaced and it may be off its bearings (again).
  • A chap mentioned that some bridges are held together/closed with string rather than locks at the moment.  Mark explained that the BW locks get smashed off.  They are going to replace them with nuts on a stud that can be opened with a windlass[2].  Mark appreciates that that hasn’t happened on many of them yet, but it will do.
  • Someone asked when BW have plans to replace the paddle on the top lock of the Crofton engine pound?  It has only had one paddle for a long time.  Someone else said there are 6 like that on the way to Reading.  There are also ladders where the ladder rocks as you climb on it as the mortar is going.  The bricks are actually falling in as you are going through, from Aldermaston up to Newbury!
  • One chap stated that the bottom lock at Crofton leaks so badly as you can’t open the gate without ramming the gates with the boat.  Mark explained he is aware of that one, and knows that something must be done.
  • Mark was then asked if there are any plans to do anything about these 6 locks like the one at Crofton, where there is a problem with missing paddles?  This year the canal is being used a lot more and there are a lot more hire boaters.  If we are going to promote that from the tourism angle then this needs to be fixed so that people come back and don’t have a bad experience.  Mark agreed and made a note of it, but asked to be allowed to move on.

Winter stoppages

Mark gave an update on the planned stoppages:

“There have been no changes to the ones we’re doing:

  • 4 pairs of bottom gates at Caen Hill to do 24 – 27.
  • 3 pairs towards the top of the flight between 30 and 40 one of the 3 pairs there
  • Dun Mill top and bottom gates, just outside Hungerford
  • Wootton Rivers top and bottom and Heathy Close as well – these ones are particularly important in terms of how much water we are losing.

That’s 12 pairs of gates there in all:  More than most waterways are allocated because our gates are in a pretty poor state.  This is assessed nationally and the worst gates are replaced.  Contractors are replacing 3 sets of those mentioned above; BW are at capacity and can’t afford any other gates at this point.

  • Dredging jobs at Hungerford and Newbury.  Some associated bank protection is happening there too, and back-filling.  We bid for money and as we are good at spending it we’ve been given another £250,000.
  • Also booms on the weirs at the River Avon are scheduled
  • The Caen Hill side ponds, as the piling has collapsed, etc., are to be worked on this winter. 
  • Martinslade cutting – finally going to do something with it – bank of canal under the bridge.  Been an issue for ages.
  • Burghfield Road bridge:  If not already done, we are going to repair this soon very shortly.
  • Bradford on Avon – had it closed not so long ago for a couple of weeks to investigate.  Got some  grouting work to do and hopefully this will help with the leaking.  We also replaced the non-return valves and that has helped a lot.

Not a rosy picture but we are doing well. A lot of things have been ignored for a long time but we are doing everything we can.

 Does anyone have any comments about the stoppage work that is being brought forward?” 

  • A chap asked about the teams doing the grass cutting last year:  They had maps last year, so they knew where they should be.  This year they don’t seem to have done much and if they have they don’t seem to know where they are supposed to be cutting!
  • Mark confirmed that there has been a reduction in the amount of grass cutting as it’s a softer target when looking at money.  He should apologise for this probably but there it is.  He does like the idea of people adopting bridges or lengths of canal or other structures and cutting the piece of grass around it.
  • Someone asked about the canal services contractor who has all but gone belly up, and what effect this has had?   Mark explained that BW aren’t affected – very much their (the contractor’s) environmental division.  They are separate from the main group and shouldn’t affect BW.
  • John asked about vegetation again – from the minutes mentioned last meeting £3000 per mile of canal for vegetation management seems excessive, seeing how much management is being done (or not).  Mark said that “Well, part of the cost you’ll find goes mostly on trees.  Specifically dangerous trees.  You’d think that we’d have got all of them by now but we’ve not as there are so many.  The survey done 4-5 years ago identified a lot of dead and rotten trees that were liable to fall in soon.  £3000 per mile assumes spending is the same everywhere and it just isn’t.”
  • Someone else asked if BW sell the wood they chop?  “What we try to do is leave it for people to collect,” says Mark.  “This is cheaper for us, as we would otherwise have to pay to move it, chop it up, etc.  Maybe we should put an honesty box on each pile of timber?  We’re desperate enough.”  Mark said that he doesn’t feel he’s missing out on anything here by letting people just take it away for free.
  • One more question:  A chap complained about the BIFFA contract as the waste collection is appalling.  Kintbury was mentioned as an example, where the rubbish around the huge trade bins was 3-4 bags deep!  Mark said that this is a constant source of pain for him and his guys.  At Bathampton they are getting Wiltshire Waste to do the collection for them, and that is an improvement.
  • A fellow mentioned that he took a photo every day of the Bathampton bins until they managed to embarrass BIFFA to subcontract the work to Wilts Waste.  Okay, there is still some fly-tipping there, but that’s not a problem for him as a contractor.  Mark confirmed that sadly there is a national contract with BIFFA, so it is very difficult to change that and the Bathampton arrangement is very much a local thing.
  • Someone said that the only thing that helps with the waste at Great Bedwyn is that the bin area is locked with a BW padlock, so you can’t get in so easily if you aren’t a boater and fly tipping happens less often[3].
  • A chap who knows Lee Sanitation said that they would be quite happy to maintain the pump-outs again.  Mark acknowledged this and explained that he’s had people complain a lot and he gets very frustrated as it is usually the card readers, which should be a means to an end, that are broken.  The pumps are not usually broken.  The fellow on the floor went on to explain that the Lee sanitation would very happily talk to Mark about this if he wanted them to.  The pump card readers could also eat the finished cards.  Apparently “It’s the bald-headed chap from Lee Sanitation” who wants to talk to Mark.
  • Mark reiterated that this is an update and not a discussion of what is going on outside this forum, so we should move on.
  • He’d like Damian to give an update on the local mooring strategy, but stated that we are not trying to reopen any of the things that have already gone by.

 Local Mooring Strategy Update

  • Damian opened: “It is going to be very brief.  I’m being unkind in saying that we have not done a lot, but we haven’t progressed to the meat of the task before us.  I’m not sure that everyone knows what we mean by local mooring strategy.  In broad terms it is a group of interested parties, stakeholders, discussing what they are going to do with moorings on a stretch of canal.  It’s a bit more complicated, but that is what is in broad terms.  The area we are looking at is from here down to the top lock in Bath.  We’ve had two meetings so far and people at those meetings are keen to extend it both easterly and westerly.  I’m not sure when but intention is there.  We’ve had the two meetings and have concentrated on procedural things and things like what issues need to be discussed, not the issues themselves.  We have a meeting on Nov 8 to keep the process going, as it were.  Not much else to say as it hasn’t happened yet.  I’m going to ask Mark to append minutes of this meeting with the list of representatives so that you can contact the appropriate rep if you have a pressing thing to talk about.  In doubt contact me (Damian).”
  • Damian was asked to define the mooring strategy.  He said that “it’s not really there yet – in its rudest essence, we are just looking at where we should and should not have moorings.”
  • Damian was then asked about new marinas opening – last time there was a comment that 10% of moorings would be rehoused in a marina, but we’ve not heard any more about that. Damian confirmed that this is a policy for permanent moorings that BW has, and that it occurs by “natural wastage” so that when a mooring agreement ends it is not re-let.  It has worked in other parts of the country where it is occurring, but he wouldn’t bet his house on it working here.
  • Another chap near the back asked if it would be BW moorings or private on-line moorings that would go?  Damian explained that it will be in first case always BW moorings and there is a clause that does mention private moorings, but he isn’t aware of this ever happening.
  • It was asked why BW is taking away moorings when more and more boats are coming onto the canal and BW is issuing licenses for them?  It’s been mentioned before and never been dealt with.  Damian said it isn’t really under his remit, but he is aware of the problem.
  • Discussion then went on between two gentlemen on the floor about the scale of the number of boats appearing.  Damian reiterated that this is really outside of the local mooring strategy group remit.
  • A fellow said that a lot of boaters have said that there is a problem in that a lot of places exist on the canal where you cannot moor (for example, due to vegetation or silt) and that maybe if that was dealt with then there would be a lot more of the canal available where you could moor.  Mark intercepted this one, and said that they would make a note and that yes, they might need to do something.
  • A lady in the group said that she felt it was a health and safety issue as if you have to stop in an emergency you can’t!   Someone mentioned that any consideration to mooring must also take into account dredging.  This was met with noises of general agreement.
  • Damian said that the group is also trying to help let Mark know more about it and advise him on what would be the best thing to do.
  • She asked about why they are bothering with local policy if there is national policy that will supersede anything that goes on locally?  Damian said there will be local exceptions made based on advice given by the local mooring strategy group.  Mark said he doesn’t think we have time right now to discuss these issues.  He tried to reassure the attendees, saying that no one should worry because “Nationally we won’t come up with anything that doesn’t fit.”
  • Panda asked: In view of what Nigel Johnston said in Bristol County Court on Friday, could you please tell us if BW is going to stop its ultra vires enforcement of the Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers – in particular the progressive journey?  It was asked in court about whether or not moving the boat for a short trip and back to the same place amounted to using the boat bona fide for navigation and Nigel Johnston said that it did.  Panda wants to know if that means that the ultra vires enforcement of the progressive journey will now be dropped, as what was said in court was in contrast to it.

◦                     Damian said he’s not heard anything to say that BW are dropping it, but he’s not involved at every level within BW.  He will certainly enquire as it will have a massive impact on what the local mooring group are discussing.  Russ Bennett stepped in at this point, and said that his understanding was that until the judge has made his decision nothing will change.

◦                     Panda explained that what Nigel Johnston said was an expression of BW policy, rather than a definitive statement of the law, because only a judge can define the law, but since Mr Johnston said it under oath as legal director, we can assume it is BW policy.  Mark said he will try to get an answer from Nigel for the next meeting.

  • One more question – a question again about the interest groups on the local mooring strategy steering group – who are they?  Mark said he’s conscious of the time and this will be attached to the minutes.  Damian confirmed that there are boaters on there.
  • He was asked if there are any angling groups on there. He explained that he has spoken only to one angling group, but they’ve not wanted to get involved.  Damian said that they just wanted the maintaining of the 5m gap between moored boats.
  • The fellow explained that anglers are worried that they don’t get any representation, and they are only represented by 3 people here in this meeting.  Damian said that he didn’t think that there would be any interest.  The gentleman disputed this – “I’m here!  I’m interested.  Why are we not involved?”  Damian said that really they are talking about regions where they will or not have moorings.  The gentleman angler pointed out that everything to do with the canal impacts them too.  They will be interested and will want to be involved.  They have spent a lot of time working on this.  He asked Damian, “You call 10 thousand anglers a minority group?”  Damian said “No, of course not, but we could not involve everyone.” The group will generate actions and they will make sure they talk to the anglers or Sustrans about anything that they think affects them.
  • A fellow said that on the river he has sat with anglers and more and he feels that a composite group like that must have a voice.  They don’t want a mooring strategy.  He went on to explain, “On the river we are getting linear moorings developed and these have extinguished fishing rights that have been there since the 1920’s.  This is probably a problem on the canal too and this is killing the sport.  We need to be taken into account.  There are now so many more boats it is a real problem.”
  • It as suggested that a phone tree-type-thing could be created so that everyone has a representative and can get in touch with the reps on the group.
  • Mark stopped the discussion there as it was only supposed to be an update, and he appreciates that there are a lot of questions, but we have things to talk about and not much time left, especially as we are aiming for a 9pm finish[4].
  • “These are related,” explained Mark.  “We need another view as to what we would like to see happen to the canal.”
  • Mark mentioned that we’ve already spoken about gates planned.  He also has a plan for following year:

Planning ahead and works we’d like to see

Lock gate program:

◦                     Wire Lock

◦                     Hungerford Marsh

◦                     Crofton 60

◦                     Crofton 55

◦                     Crofton 58 (by the bridge)

◦                     Also lock 46, known as AP Herbert lock.

  • Mark explained that BW are concentrating their efforts by Crofton.
  • These are the ones that are in for next season.  The theme again is largely water control  and managing water levels.  It is easier and cheaper to do one area at a time, otherwise logistics make it tricky and expensive.
  • Mark invited comments as to what people would like to see done on the canal in future Some of the bigger things perhaps?

◦                     Chap in the corner:  Kintbury – degradation of the towpath there.  Now got to the stage where green pipework with the cables is coming through.  Mark agreed that this is way up on his list.

◦                     A fellow asked if we could have some piling between the bridges up here (Devizes) so that you could actually have some winter moorings here?  It would also allow some more income generation.  This would be between Cemetery Bridge and Quakers Walk. “Sure the locals wouldn’t complain.”  It often has people moored there.

◦                     Someone asked also if we could have some upgrading of the towpath between the marina and Devizes to help walkers, cyclists, mums with prams, etc.  At the moment it’s all 2′ wide puddles and mud, etc. Mark agreed that East of Devizes the towpath very quickly degrades.  She also asked about a bridge by the marina, to make access easier. Would this come under the school routes perhaps?

◦                     Panda asked about dredging – all in connection with the local mooring strategy. We all understand why it should be part of the strategy.  Need to work out which parts of the canal need dredging.

◦                     She would also like to see extra water points and sewage disposal for example at Semington, especially when the Wilts and Berks re-opens.  This would really be a big benefit as it enables boats to stay further apart.

◦                     A further thing is that there seems to be a bit of subsidence around Avoncliff to Bradford on Avon.  Between Avoncliff and Bradford lock it looks like there are cracks appearing in a few places on the towpath.  Mark said that it could be potentially a very huge job, and if it is needed it will be very necessary.

◦                     John: Just a quick point – I think with the public section of BW having difficulties with replacement gates, could we not get rid of the vegetation growing on the gates?  Maybe volunteers could help if it is safe?  Also establishing new moorings where there currently aren’t any – might be able to say that a down side is the creation of long lines of moored boats.  Mark agreed that there is a down side and they must balance the needs of the ecology, locals, etc.

◦                     It was asked about the walkway at county lock?  Is anything to be done?  Yes says Mark. It had come to his attention that it hasn’t been fenced off and it should have been.  He’s now had both ends taken off to prevent people from using it.  The canal is still usable but not that pontoon.  It was a massive safety problem, and still is.  Now BW need to fix it.

◦                     Kevin: Have you considered extra water points between Bradford and Bath to try to encourage people to spread out a bit more?  Especially in the winter?  It might help ease traffic at Bradford lock too.  Also between Dundas and Bathampton to ease pressure there.  Mark says this feeds into what Damian is talking about, so he doesn’t want to spend too much time on this, though he is interested in extra traffic due to use of services – people going through Bradford lock just for the water point, for example.

◦                     It was suggested that Bridge 173 would be a good place to put a water point.  Mark said they have to take into account all sorts of problems like leaks, extra maintenance, etc, conflicts with locals, etc.

◦                     It was mentioned that Pewsey and Bathampton[5] water points are leaking terribly.  It was also suggested that there needed to be signs at the water points to let people know that it is for service only and they should move on afterwards!

◦                     It was mentioned that the trip from Limpley Stoke valley up to Avoncliff is really problematic with rocks or something under the water.  Murhill is a real problem for historic boats, etc.  Apparently a poor fellow in dry suit was walking along the canal being followed by the Chew Valley maintenance boat with its broken crane.  A scary thought!  Was he looking for rocks?

◦                     Puddling and pot holes on towpaths through most of the hard lined sections from Devizes to Bath – this is really unpleasant for all towpath users.  Mark said this is a long way down his list to be honest.  Did do some, like Seend, Foxhangers, etc but he agreed that there are still a lot to do.

◦                     Also toilets/elsan disposals at Bradford on Avon and Dundas don’t flush (again).

◦                     Also been asked to mention – a dark green widebeam that has been hanging around Bedwyn for a long time.  Please enforce it!  He has been there a long time, 2 years or so around Bedwyn, a lot of time without a licence.  Not fair on other users who do pay and it doesn’t reflect well on BW.  Mark agreed, but noted that this isn’t really something to go on the list of works.  Is relevant to this meeting though.

Notes and actions from last meeting:

Mark went through some of the actions and questions raised at or just after the last meeting:

  • FOI query – how does this apply to charity status.  Apparently it wouldn’t in its current state apply to a charity but we’ll see later.
  • Lock signs – we already talked about Crofton.
  • Cruiseway status – went out to consultation.  Came back, and now sitting lodged at Whitehall for ‘ratification’.  Looks like it is going ahead.  Been through the consultation that we had to do, and have had a few queries but responded in a satisfactory way so very encouraging and hopefully will be a cruiseway soon!
  • Dredging:  We (BW) are doing Hungerford from Cobblers Lock to Hungerford swing bridge with bank protection work as well.  Also Dun Mill to Wire Lock.
  • Also Newbury – Bull’s to Ham Lock:  Another 700m of bank protection there.
  • Dredging – Based on national survey, as previously stated. Last one was done about 5 years ago, so we’re due another one.  Bit of a pot, like the lock gates.  Will do some local dredging too where we can.

Mark explained that we had now got about 11 minutes for people to raise other issues:

  • A chap asked how a 24 hour mooring is enforced if it only visited once a week?  Mark said it isn’t. Russ Bennett stood up, and said that they have been looking at hot spots and targeting those.  They just don’t have the resource to do all of them all the time.  He knows they’re not clearing it, just moving people between areas in the end.  The latest plan is that the data checkers that cycle the K&A will be looking at overstaying and so on.  If it goes to the stage of revoking the license that will be for the high-ups to deal with.
  • Panda asked about the data checkers – apparently they log the position of each boat about once a week, but very few notices have been given to boats that have stayed longer than 14 days. What is being done with that info?  Russ said they have been issuing notices now and then.  The process is quite slow, and just two people usually do the first letters.  Now they’re going to get the data checkers to do it[6].  Now they have enforcers to deal with licensing too. They are hitting the hot-spots, e.g. the towpath from Bathampton to Bath tomorrow, and issuing patrol notices.  It is known that a lot of boats down there have been there longer than 14 days and they are undergoing the enforcement process.  In 99% of cases, BW are following it up.  He confirmed that they aren’t only chasing liveaboards.  Two boats removed at Bathampton recently were not lived on.
  • Panda asked where the other hot spots are?  Russell said “Devizes wharf, Honeystreet, Wilcot, Pewsey, Great Bedwyn, Semington and Sells Green.”
  • Someone then said that on the long pound, it doesn’t look like there is any enforcement happening.  Russ says they are enforcing there, and the letters are going out in the post and are being put on the boats.  She explained that no one has seen any notices.  Russ says he knows the notices are going out.  He hopes that the data checkers taking over the first phases of the overstaying process will improve matters in the future.
  • A chap asked about money being claimed off boaters’ insurance for damage done to bridges, locks and the like.  Mark said this does happen where the case is appropriate.  It’s not a blanket “it always happens” or “it always doesn’t happen”.  The fellow asked specifically about lock gates being rammed.  Mark said he can’t get too bogged down in this one, but he has examples of where they wouldn’t claim – e.g. a gate that is on its last legs and falls off when a boat hits it.  Then it would be unfair to claim as it’s just unlucky on the part of the boater.  On the other hand, they had a new lock gate get smashed by a dredger recently and they claimed that back from the party involved.  It would be unfair in all cases.  Much easier is the bridge parapets if they know which lorry or car or whatever hit it.  It’s all done case by case, so Mark can’t go into more detail.
  • Chap asked about parapet on lock 36, inside the lock. The coping stone has been lifted off so you can only come in one at a time.  Is BW going to put in a claim about it?  Mark said no, that lock is narrower than the others so it feels unfair, and it is a very small-scale repair, so probably not worth claiming.  They don’t pursue ones that aren’t worth it.
  • Mark explained that BW have public liability insurance, but don’t carry insurance in the way that other people do.
  • As there was only one minute left, Mark asked for just one more question.
  • Mark was asked how he is enjoying his job?  A lot, he says – very different from London, where he had more money and was building lots of things.  Very different relationships with people too.  He is thoroughly enjoying it.
  • Mark thanked everyone for their time and wished them an enjoyable evening.

[1]Students in England and Wales haven’t been given grants since about 2000, being given loans instead with a variable interest rate.  Loans that the vast majority will still be paying (along with a higher rate of tax) until they retire.

[2]This is what preceded the padlocks in many cases, as those of us who were on the canal 8 or 10 years ago will remember.  The trouble with the nuts was that many people didn’t bother to put them back on.

[3]I’ve actually seen people driving in to fly-tip, and it isn’t very nice.  Often if you question them or try to suggest that they should go to the tip they get abusive!  I don’t think they are linked to any canal user group, but are people who have seen an opportunity to do something lazier than going to the proper place.

[4]The previous meeting overran by quite a bit.

[5]So is the one at Dundas, and the lock has been broken.  It has been reported but not fixed yet.  It seems to happen every year.

[6]I’m not sure if I understood that right when I took it down.

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