Peter Underwood compiled the manifesto following requests from half a dozen boaters’ groups on Facebook (total membership around 2,500) and through various boaters’ networks on Twitter.
There is still time to have your views considered for the document either through the Boaters' manifesto Facebook page or by email to Peter at: email@example.com
Why the Canal and River Trust should listen to boaters
Navigable waterways were not only created for boats, they are only still with us today because boats and boaters found a new use for them as commercial traffic came to an end.
It has been boaters – not cyclists or walkers or fishermen – who have fought to reopen neglected canals in the face of official opposition; with British Waterways only jumping on the bandwagon in recent years.
Canals without boats don’t last very long for other users as there is no longer a reason to keep the unique industrial heritage in working order, the structures crumble, the water silts up and little is left. Waterways need boats as much as boats need waterways.
Boaters are the only group that has already made a substantial financial and personal commitment to the waterways as well as the only collection of individuals that pays substantial annual fees for their upkeep.
Boaters, especially those with many years of experience and those who live on their craft and travel widely on the system have a wealth of expertise that has been largely ignored by British Waterways and those who helped to compile this manifesto fear that the Canal and River Trust may continue this policy.
Most of all we would like to see many more experienced boaters, proper users of the system, taking a role at national and regional level than the current proposals suggest. Just five out of 35 at a national level is simply wrong.
Boaters need navigations that are sufficiently well maintained to enable the vessels designed to use them to travel the whole length of those waterways at all times of the year and operate locks and other equipment with relative ease and safety.
Waterways must not be allowed to deteriorate through lack of maintenance and the Canal and River Trust must have sufficient contingency funds to deal with a major breach – on the scale of those on the Shropshire Union Canal the Monmouth and Breconshire Canal in recent years - without delay.
This means that sufficient government funding is a prerequisite for the Canal and River Trust and if the levels of funding do not fill the massive gap identified by the IWA, and the specialist waterways MPs group, the trustees should refuse to sanction the creation of the charity. It will not be enough to depend on optimistic projections of future charitable income and would be dangerous to do so.
We believe some of the financial projections offered by British Waterways and Defra are simply wrong and need to be tested far more critically than seems the case at present.
Boaters and many others have lost faith in the most senior levels of British Waterways’ management in recent years and almost all those who contributed to this manifesto want to see the current directors removed before the Canal and River Trust begins to run the system. Our concern centres on the enormously expensive pay, pension and perks packages of the most senior directors and their willingness to grab bonus payments when staff are being penalised by pay rise well under the rate of inflation.
Boaters do not believe the Canal and River Trust should be willing and will not be able to pay such large scale remuneration and feel that the removal of a group of directors who have little understanding of waterways or boats would do more to give the Trust a fresh start than any new logo.
British Waterways’ workforce has become disconnected from the system it looks after. This is due to attempts to farm out much of the bankside and construction work to the cheapest available contractors, along with a policy that obliges the workforce to work in teams covering large areas.
Boaters would like to see visible individuals responsible for a particular stretch of waterway, with clear responsibilities and accountability in the event of failures.
We believe the skills of the workforce should be valued, encouraged and passed on, especially as caring for a 200 year old artefact requires special expertise. We would like to see work brought back in house and apprenticeships encouraged along the lines of those provided by the National Trust.
Whatever else the Canal and River Trust does it will achieve most with most boaters if it applies the same rules on mooring to all parts of the waterways system and enforces them without fear or favour.
This does not exclude setting up special rules in hot-spot areas; but they should then be available for all hot-spots in the country that want to adopt them. We do not believe there is anything wrong with the current mooring guidelines but feel they must be applied equally and effectively across the country. Don’t make rules the Canal and River Trust can’t enforce.
Boaters do not mind sharing the towpaths with fishermen, walkers, cyclists and dogs – although we draw the line at motorised vehicles and horses.
We do believe it is essential the Canal and River Trust finds ways of ensuring all those users contribute to the costs of upkeep and abide by a national set of rules.
Once again enforcement will be the key to stopping dog fouling, rubbish and speeding cyclists putting lives at risk.
We would encourage the new Trust to get into schools, angling clubs, cycling, ramblers etc and educate them about the policies on the towpath, and about canals and waterways in general so we can all enjoy them.
An open society?
The Canal and River Trust needs to be completely open with boaters and other supporters and we would urge Trustees to stop avoiding the inclusion of the charity in Freedom of Information legislation.
Given the sensitive existing issues over directors pay, commercial operations such as BWML, pub chains and property development it is essential that the Canal and River Trust’s supporters are able to assure themselves that the murky goings on under British Waterways are brought out into the open and that complete transparency is the rule as soon as the charity begins business.
The Canal and River Trust is vitally important to boaters. Other users can always find what they're looking for somewhere else, if the new trust is not up to scratch, their stake is minimal. If the canal system crumbles then where are all the boat users going to go?
The Canal and River Trust should endeavour to help those who live on their boats by the provision of more residential moorings where needed and perhaps usable postal addresses (BFPO can do it for the forces), recycling facilities, more potable water and sewage disposal points.
Those who live on the waterways system, several thousand people, should have specific representation on the board of the Trust.
You can follow Peter Underwoods blog 'Living Afloat' at: http://peterunderwood2.blogspot.com