Thursday, February 09, 2012

French canal devolution trial collapse casts shadow over BW trust plans

by Bob Naylor

The French Government attempt to hive off responsibility for  the Burgundy canals to Regional Government — a plan held up as a model for running the UK's canals — has collapsed amid claims of serious underfunding and accusations of broken promises. The canals will now be taken back into state ownership in December this year.

The Burgundy Canals were transferred from the state owned Voies Navigables de France (VNF) to regional Government in 2010 — but the three year trial has proved to be a total failure.

2010 heralded a brand new start for the canals when the Burgundy Regional Government took control of its waterways with the canals being funded by the riparian Departments with grant funding from central government. 

Members of the canal association, Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais, gathered at l'écluse du Batardeau, the first lock after the port of Auxerre — and the northernmost point on the Canal du Nivernais — at the end of December 2009 to welcome the imminent change over to local control of their waterway: Picture by Philippe Bénard©
The President of the Regional Council of Burgundy, Francois Patriat,  says that 
€340M a is needed to maintain the canals but the State is only promising €230M and the promised 359 engineers and skilled workers have not been provided.

At a meeting last week in Dijon attended by Francois Patriat and the CEO of the VNF, Marc Pappinutti, it was  decided that the canals would remain the property of the state.

There had been rumours of the likely collapse of the decentralisation experiment  for some time and although an official announcement was to have been made in June it came as no surprise to canal users when this early decision was made public.

Patriat  has announced that the Region will invest several million Euros a year in the waterways and continue to co-operate with both the State and the VNF on on the development of the local canals.  He said that  the waterways are a real treasure that must not be abandoned.

Francois Patriat  had forewarned of problems with the deal in November last year when he told French waterway magazine 'Fluvial', "We will definitely only take over jurisdiction of our canals if the state gives us sufficient finance and personnel to be able to develop them.

"If the state does not give us sufficient resources I will give it up", he announced.

Jo Parffitt, a former President of the Friends of the Canal du Nivernais and until recently a boat yard owner on the River Yonne at Migennes near Auxerre, believes that it is a good thing that the canals are going back to the state: "The fact is" he said,"the gap between funding and the cost of maintaining the canals is getting wider year by year and it is made much worse because the government promised that the canals would be in good order for the handover — and and they simply were not. The regional government inherited major problems without the funding necessary to deal with them."

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