From the Tiller

by Alan Wildman


In my From the Tiller ramblings in the March/April edition of Soundings I wrote “As committed live aboard boaters, unless we are kept better informed by CRT, it is perhaps becoming more difficult to fully understand and wholly support the direction in which the Trust is travelling. Members’ views on this are most welcome so as to assist the RBOA Committee in setting down our own future agenda and relationship with CRT.” Having had no derogatory submissions from membership, I must conclude that, unless specific circumstances dictate otherwise, we on Committee should continue our current policy of ongoing dialogue and positive (but critical if need be) support in preference to any openly public hostility. This, of course, is the most responsible approach, one we seek to follow with Environment Agency, Broads Authority, Port of London Authority and other important bodies. Personally, I see the sense in that policy as I think many of the senior post holders in those Authorities do act in what they deem to be the best interests of the waterways; but it is very much the responsibility of us user groups to ensure that our views, based on real life experiences and requirements, are promoted and maintained as high priority considerations in waterway management thinking and policy making.

In that respect, I am pleased to advise that we are shortly to meet with the Middle Level Commissioners to discuss what might occur on their waters if their current bill is passed by Government; that bill giving the Commissioners the lawful powers to regulate and manage waterway usage in similar ways to other authorities, powers that the Commissioners do not presently hold, despite carrying the burden of keeping the navigations open, safe and viable.

It now seems that in earlier optimism, the proposed absorption of EA navigations into CRT governance is now shelved for the time being. This position appears to rest mainly with Central Government, CRT and EA having worked hard at producing a viable and cost effective proposal but without a positive Governmental response.

At CRT’s recent Annual Users’ Forum, we were given a little more insight into the Trust’s plans to publicly promote itself as a “Waterways and Wellbeing” charity. As previously reported, CRT needs to raise public awareness of all that it is legally obliged to achieve on a somewhat restrained budget. A large proportion of the public are totally unaware that it is CRT, not Local Councils, that has to fund the maintenance and upkeep of the whole waterway system under its control, including many footpaths, bridges, reservoirs, vegetation etc.; so, whilst navigation must remain at the core of everything that CRT does, we are likely to see much more publicity aimed at garnering support from other, possibly nonboater, groups. CRT absolutely has to demonstrate realistic and genuine public benefit if it is to secure adequate Central Government funding after the current arrangement expires in 2027.

It is common knowledge that CRT has been planning to re-brand as part of its project to generate the necessary additional public recognition. Images of a new logo that CRT has registered have appeared on social media sites. That particular logo has received considerable criticism but, until such time as CRT actually confirms details of the whole re-branding exercise, it is perhaps best that we wait and see before formerly making comment.

I have previously reported that Waterside Moorings, CRT’s division responsible for the Trust’s directly owned and/or managed moorings, was warning of above average mooring fee increases within the London Region. It has now come to our (RBOA) attention that some moorers are to be hit with annual fee increases of around 15% per year for the next three years! As has become the norm, Waterside Moorings claims it is not allowed to influence market prices and so has to act accordingly. That argument might carry credence in some areas when vacancies occur and moorings are made available to new customers. I’m not clear though, how that argument works with existing customers who are already in place, paying their way and not seeking to participate elsewhere in the wider moorings market. RPI or CPI led increases are understandable, but 15% per annum?

If one then considers the continued use of the moorings auction system, which is far from fair and clearly inflationary, one might realistically assume that Waterside Moorings is set on squeezing every penny it can from its mooring customers, regardless of their financial ability to pay or the moral implications of the situation. With the financial and personal stress that such price increases must bring to some users, I am not clear how such a policy fits in with CRT’s declared “Wellbeing” intentions.

RBOA was originally created when a moorings operator began treating customers in an unreasonable way. Is this history repeating itself, albeit with a different operator? RBOA will rightly seek some clarity on that.

As ever, my sincere and very best wishes go out to every one of you.

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