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Monday, October 31, 2011

BW impose massive pump-out price hike

Boaters using British Waterways pump-outs will face a huge increase in costs from tomorrow.

The price will rise from £10 to £14.75 with BW claiming that it actually costs them more than £30 to provide the service.

They blame the price hike on the cost of call-outs for breakdowns which they say are mostly caused by customer mis-use — and on the cost of emptying septic tanks in remote areas. They say that they will consult locally about closing the most expensive sites.

British Waterways say they did not give notice of the price changes because they wanted to avoid stock-piling of cards prior to the increase which comes into effect tomorrow.

Aiming for a weed-free W&B Canal at Wootton Bassett

Confronted with dense grass-like floating weed they are having to look for new ways to clear the dense vegetation – the plan is to get a mini-digger to lift out the weed clumps – but for the moment the work has come to a standstill because a foul smelling film has formed on the surface of the water.  Wessex Water has advised that it could be a health risk so the work has now stopped until it clears.

If you want to help with the project or to get more information about the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust go to their website at: www.wbct.org.uk 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Benyon's statement on Freedom of Information gaffe

Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Conservative Whip in the House of Lords, announced yesterday that the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon, has made the following Statement: 

Richard Benyon
Picture by Bob Naylor©
"I should like to correct my response to a topical question on the application of the Freedom of Information Act  to the new waterways charity (the Canal and River Trust) by Duncan Hames on 13 October (Hansard, col. 471).

"The Government are publicly consulting on the point raised by the honourable Member, and have not yet taken up a position on the matter. The consultation closed on 24 October, and we are now considering the consultation responses, prior to making a decision. A copy of the consultation document can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2011/09/12/waterways-1109/.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Minister back-tracks on British Waterways FoI statement

Waterways Minister, Richard Benyon
Picture by Bob Naylor©
Waterways Minister Richard Benyon was quite clear when he responded in Parliament on 13 October 2011 to a question from Chippenham MP, Duncan Hames, about how the freedom of information legislation would affect the new waterways charity. 

He said: "I am grateful for the opportunity to point out that all the provisions that currently exist for British Waterways in that regard will follow through to the new charity. If the new charity is to have the credibility that it must have, it is important that we assure all those who really mind about this matter that we are protecting those rights.”

The story has taken a bizarre twist and Richard Benyon has now written to Duncan Hames saying that his statement in Parliament was 'premature' and that the issue would be decided by Defra once the responses to the latest consultation have been considered.  He further said that he will be laying a Written Ministerial Statement today to put the record straight. We will publish this as soon as it is available.

Read ➤➤ Waterways Minister pre-empts BW consultation and says Canal & River Trust will be subject to FoI Act

Also read ➤➤ Exemption from Freedom of Information Act a benefit of charity status says BW Vice Chair

Bath Vegan Fair 2011 this Saturday — free food, films and fun

Bath Animal Action is running the fourth Bath Vegan Fair on Saturday the 29th of October at the Percy Community Centre on New King Street (just round the corner from Sainsburys) from from noon until 4pm.

Entry to the event is free and there will be free locally prepared vegan meals, free vegan savoury and sweet treats, free film showings and talks and information on all aspects of vegan living and issues.

The organisors invite you to join them on Saturday to 'eat yourself silly'.

More information at ➤➤ Bath Animal Action

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waterways Minister pre-empts BW consultation and says Canal & River Trust will be subject to FoI Act

Waterways Minister Richard Benyan: Picture by Bob Naylor©
The Waterways Minister, Richard Benyon has made it clear in a statement to Parliament that despite the protests of the eight Transition Trustees that the Freedom of Information Act would place an unfair and discriminatory burden on the charity they will, nonetheless, be bound by the legislation.

Eleven days before the closing date of the consultation Chippenham MP Duncan Hames asked Waterways Minister, Richard Benyon what plans he had to ensure the new Trust's decision-making is transparent and accountable and would he consider applying to it the Freedom of Information Act?

Richard Benyon responded, saying: "I am grateful for the opportunity to point out that all the provisions that currently exist for British Waterways in that regard will follow through to the new charity. If the new charity is to have the credibility that it must have, it is important that we assure all those who really mind about this matter that we are protecting those rights.”

BW Vice Chairman John Bridgeman
Picture by Bob Naylor©
But a few days after the Minister's announcement in Parliament, the Vice Chairman of British Waterways, John Bridgeman, who is one of Transition Trustees for the new charity,  said: "The new charity will not be 'precious' about information. We will disclose as much as we possibly and reasonably can, but that does not mean we should be bound by the Freedom of Information Act... it is a heavy cumbersome tool intended for the public sector — and we are coming out of the public sector. This new charity has a hell of a challenge anyway keeping the waterways open — we don't think it is fair to bind us to the cumbersome bureaucracy of the FOI Act."

Also read: Exemption from Freedom of Information Act a benefit of charity status says BW Vice Chair

K&A Canal navigation note — Aldermaston Lift Bridge is now working normally

The repairs on Aldermaston Lift Bridge (28) are complete and the bridge is working normally.

BW 'consults' on new image for waterways charity

The name chosen by British Waterways for the new waterway charity does not appear in the top three names suggested by the 350 organisations that responded to the consultation on behalf of their members. This does not come as a surprise to seasoned observers of previous BW consultations. Most popular was 'The National Waterways Trust', followed by 'The Waterways Trust' and 'The Waterways Trust for England and Wales'.  However BW have chosen 'Canals & Rivers Trust' as the name for the new charity.

Along with a new name comes a new logo and speaking at the Kennet & Avon Canal Users Forum last week, the waterway manager, Mark Stephens said: "The new logo represents what we are trying to achieve. The waterways are being promoted as a haven for people and nature, protected and accessible. It is about people and communities enjoying the canal so we have retained the bridge for the backdrop and we wanted an iconic water bird so we have gone for a swan. There was much discussion about which bird it might be — kingfishers were quite popular though they can seem to be a little bit too fleety and so not suitable for our charity which is going to last for a long time."

Police name woman who died after being pulled from the River Kennet on Saturday

The woman who died in hospital on Saturday after being pulled from the River Kennet near the junction with the Thames in Reading has been named as Carol Hutchins, 53, of Gray's Crescent, Woodley.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

K&A Canal navigation note — Aldermaston Lift Bridge (28) restriction

Aldermaston Lift Bridge (28) is awaiting repairs by West Berkshire Council and Until further notice it will only be open to allow the passage of boats at 10am and 3 pm daily.

For more information contact West Berkshire Council on: 01635 42400

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Woman dies after falling in the K&A Canal in Reading

A woman died in hospital after being pulled from the River Kennet near to the junction with the River Thames this morning (Saturday).

Shortly after 10am police were called to the scene following reports of a woman in the water. With the help of fire officers from Reading the woman was recovered and taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital where she later died.
Eye witnesses say that there was a mobility scooter near the scene that is believed to belong to the dead woman.
Police would like to hear from any witness to the incident who should call Thames Valley Police on 08458 505 505

Friday, October 21, 2011

British Waterways needs a 'Social Media Executive'

To help promote its transition from a quango to a charity on 1 April next year BW is looking for someone to review its existing social media activities and guidelines and to develop a new strategy to help the new Canal & River Trust to build new audiences and attract supporters — and for this they are offering between £27k and £31k to the right person.

The job involves taking responsibility for the charity's social media activity on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and elsewhere and their ad says: "Your skills will include social media techniques such as blogging, video editing and the competent use of cameras and smartphones etc."

The job is a fixed-term contract until the end of November 2012

The closing date for applications is noon on Friday 4th November 2011.

More information at ➤➤ BW Social Media job ad 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kennet & Avon Canal Winter Moorings — now online

British Waterways short term winter moorings for boaters without a home mooring are available online now.
The winter moorings generally take up about half the length of established visitor moorings so that space is left for cruising boats to use.

Moorings on the Kennet & Avon Canal are at:
  • Bath — Top Lock 
  • Bath — Darlington Wharf 
  • Bathampton  
  • Dundas
  • Avoncliff 
  • Semington 
  • Seend 
  • Devizes Wharf 
  • Horton
  • All Cannings 
  • Honeystreet
  • Pewsey
  • Wootton Rivers
  • Crofton 
  • Great Bedwyn
  • Hungerford Church
  • Hungerford Wharf
  • Kintbury 
  • Newbury Lock
  • Newbury Wharf 
  • Thatcham Bridge
  • Woolhampton 
  • Tyle Mill 
  • Theale Swing Bridge
Go to ➤➤ Winter moorings

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Barge Inn at Honeystreet — a different view

The Ladies Who Lunch review of the Barge Inn at Honeystreet beside the Kennet & Avon Canal got the following response in an email:

My parents went for a meal at the Barge — but they would never have had anything like 'The Ladies'  in your article had!  

They just went for something safe like a Ploughman's, which they said was great.  But then you shouldn't really get a Ploughman's wrong.

Needless to say their account was very different to that in the article... but not without complaint though: when they commented about feeling cold they were assured it was "in the plan" to improve things (not sure what, short of heating the place).

They said the chap that served them was brilliant. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Ladies Who Lunch' disappointed at Barge fare

The Barge Inn, Hoenystreet. Picture by Bob Naylor©
Three women, gourmands all, who meet regularly for lunch decided that a canalside pub might be good place to eat. They had dined at the Barge Inn at Honeystreet near Pewsey on the Kennet & Avon canal a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then it has become a community pub with a huge injection of cash from The Lottery (more than £400,0000) and extensive coverage on the BBC TV programme 'Village SOS".

Last week they decided to meet up there...

"What a disappointment"… the quietly spoken parting words of a friend after eating at the Barge Inn at Honeystreet — quiet and understated. After all the hype about the new community pub beside the Kennet & Avon Canal — and the recent BBC broadcast of it's successful first year, we were expecting more for the £400,000 plus that has been given to fund the project.

I have to say that my meal was fine — I had chosen hake, noodles and mangetous peas off the 'specials' list — but at £13 it was, I think, an expensive lunch. Much more expensive than I would have expected from a community pub alongside a canal in the heart of rural Wiltshire. 

My companions, however, were not so lucky. They both ordered off the main lunch menu and paid just short of £10 for each of their meals. One was beetroot and goats cheese risotto — described by the diner as 'interesting' but not really working … very sticky and very gooey. To me, the pink risotto rice looked more like dyed sago. 

The other meal was a tomato tatin… tomatoes on a very soggy slab of what was supposed to be puff pastry. When commenting on this we were told that it had been cooked in the oven for two hours and any 'appearance' of the pastry being undercooked was false. It actually looked like a large lump of gluten or seiten. And, sad to say, it tasted no better. With all the cooking juices soaking through that and onto the salad below it, the salad too was described by the diner as 'a mess'. And she described it as the worst meal she had ever had. A complaint to the chef elicited the answered that the dish was properly cooked.

Now it could be said that we are three country bumpkins with an unsophisticated palate — but we wouldn't recognise that description for ourselves. Whether we are or whether we are —do the community group committee running the pub know who their customers are?

The food aside, of course, the TV programme led us to believe that the interior had been gutted, decorated to a fantastic standard with a stunning new £20,000 bar… wrong! 

The decor just didn't do it for any of us. The colours were subdued — nay drab — not classy. The wooden floor, with puddles of water here and there, looked old and tatty without the patina of an old, well-used, oiled pub floor. 

The stairs leading up to the private floor have been opened up, but have been left in a most bizarre state. Imagine an old staircase in an old house that has just had its carpet ripped up. Painted edges blending into rough wood treads… this is on public display guys. Sand it, stain it, carpet it —  but do something with it. 

I didn't go into the new ladies toilets, but my friend did... her report: "The loo is very nice, but the floor looks disgusting". 

Which, sad to say, reminds me of the coffee. When it arrived it smelt really bitter and strong. All three of us are lovers of French coffee but we had to add loads of milk to bring it to a normal coffee colour - and the result of that was cold coffee that actually tasted of nothing — how that was achieved I have no idea.

And so we left and wandered up to the tow path and looked around us. The little gardens either side of the main door are full of weeds and overgrown. The paint work is flaking and looks as if it hasn't been touched for years — certainly not since the community committee took over and the signs on the walls are tatty. 

The promised shop and launderette? Well there is no sign of them. And what of the campsite? Well that didn't appear to be open. In fact a camper who pulled up while we were eating was told to try the Golden Swan at Wilcot!

Should we be asking where the lottery money has been spent? I fully understand that lottery money isn't 'public' money in the true sense of the word, it is after all the proceeds of a gambling public. But, surely giving hundreds of thousands of pounds to a group who have no idea what to do with it is preventing that money being spend where it could be used for the public good. 

And the BBC's contribution certainly is public money. This might, and it is a big might, have made good TV for the BBC. But does being involved in this sort of enterprise and using licence payers money to help to promote it really fit the remit for Public Service Broadcasting? … I think not.
Ladies Who Lunch, 2011©

K&A Canal navigation notes - Caen Hill Flight opening hours

The Caen Hill Flight (part of the Devizes Flight on the K&A Canal)
Winter hours: 
From Monday 17 October 2011 until 29 October  2011: last entrance to flight is at 3pm — to clear by 6pm

From 30 October 2011 until 29 March 2012: last entrance to flight is at 1pm— to clear by 4pm.

For more information call: 01380 722859

Bruce and Hales spat — a bar-room brawl — says The Times


Monday, October 17, 2011

Exemption from Freedom of Information Act a benefit of charity status says BW Vice Chair

by Bob Naylor
Canal and Rivers Trust transition trustee and current Vice Chairman of British Waterways, John Bridgemen, says that since no other charity is bound by the Freedom of Information Act he doesn't see why the new Canal and River Trust should be either.

BW Vice Chairman, John Bridgeman
Picture by BobNaylor©
Speaking at the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust AGM on Saturday he said, "The Freedom of Information Act is intended to apply to government departments and this is going to be a charitable Trust which is not a government department."

He explained that at the moment if someone wants to see his BW expense accounts for the last five years they can ask for it and BW is obliged to give the information, which means 'going to all it sorts of archives'.

He said, "Last year BW had two requests from people who wanted to know about our directors' expense accounts - going back over 7 years. It is costing an absolute fortune, but the law tells us we have to do it. But I am sorry — no other charity is exposed to that and I don't see why we should be".

He said that the new charity will not be 'precious' about information. "We will disclose as much as we possibly and reasonably can," he said, "but that does not mean we should be bound by the Freedom of Information Act... it is a heavy cumbersome tool intended for the public sector — and we are coming out of the public sector. This new charity has a  hell of a challenge anyway keeping the waterways open — we don't think it is fair to bind us to the cumbersome bureaucracy of the FOI Act. 

He said that one big advantage of being in the public sector is that BW can go to government for contingency funds if there is a major breach such as the one on the Mon & Brec Canal. 

"But," he said, "if we want all the benefits of going for charitable status — the tax breaks, management freedom, exemption from the freedom of information act and to raise debt on property — then government is telling us we can have them, but we can't turn to government to bail us out in future — that is the big downside."

BW Vice Chairman, John Bridgeman
Picture by BobNaylor©
Upbeat on BW finance
He was upbeat when he spoke about BW finances saying that 20 years ago BW was only 5% self-sufficient with everything else having to come from government hand-outs. "The new charity will be starting off 65% self sufficient," he said. "We have managed our property portfilio, the boating business —  our new marina developments and our online moorings that we now sell at an economic price - not to everyone's delight — and our boat licences. We are making £35 million from our property business, and £25 million from our boating business.

New funding streams
He explained that BW is seeking new funding from such things as 'low-head' hydro electric schemes saying: "BW hasn't got started on this yet  — but we have planning permission for five, the equipment is ordered and we will be installing them in the course of next year."

He was enthusiastic about selling access to water for cooling — and for heating using heat pumps — saying that this is probably the fastest growing part of the business — and more income coming from using the towpath for optical fibre, which is a great success with 1000 miles already done and the potential for another 1000 miles in the future. 

BW Vice Chairman, John Bridgeman
Picture by BobNaylor©
Pub Business failure
Of the failed pub venture he said: "The pub partnership that we had with Scottish and Newcastle was a great idea that depended on both partners being prepared to put money into it. 

"We were up for it — Scottish and Newcastle were not — so we bought the decent pubs out of the partnership.

"I don't think that is a bad result at all," he said. "Of course you don't expect every pub in a chain to make money — pubs are having a pretty difficult time at the moment. We didn't get the food budget right, some of the locations are not very good, but we have not written any money off. BW has not lost anything on the venture — not a penny," he claimed.

Kirsten Elliott said...
Mr Bridgeman may not be able to see why BW should not be free from FoI requests. Perhaps it would be better if BW management considered why people are making them. Added to which, as a professional researcher, I cannot see why it is costing BW so much money for information that ought to be at their fingertips. Another example of incompetence, perhaps? And there is another side to charitable status - BW will find that the Charity Commission will want to know plenty of figures.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

K&A Canal Caen Hill Flight re-opened

The 'mechanical failure' on Youth Division Lock (29) that caused the closure of the Caen Hill Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes on Monday has now been repaired and the flight is now open.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Work to start on Hungerford High Street canal footbridge

Work on the footbridge beside the road bridge in Hungerford High Street will begin on 31 October 2011.
The approved design took account of local concerns and has been described as 'sensitive and elegant'

The decision to go ahead with building a safe crossing for pedestrians came after a lengthy consultation with canal users and Hungerford residents who considered a number of possible options which included traffic lights, a pedestrian swing bridge over the canal and a high level footbridge on the west side of the road bridge.

The work is being done by contractors Alun Griffiths who expect the bridge to be complete by 2 March 2012. and they say that the work should not cause major problems for traffic and pedestrians using the road bridge.

There are three days planned when there will be of traffic light controlled lane closures in November and over two nights in mid-February the road will be completely closed and traffic diverted through Newbury and Andover.
The canal bridge in Hungerford High Street — there were some concerns about the visual impact of a footbridge on this, the western side of the bridge.


Monday, October 10, 2011

K&A Canal closed at Caen Hill

The Caen Hill Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes is closed until further notice for emergency repairs to Caen Hill Bottom Lock (29).

For more information ring: 01380 722859

Lock 29 is called 'Youth Division Lock' in recognition of the restoration work done by young people who worked enthusiastically on the early restoration of the K&A. 

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

BW pension fund deficit could top £200 million

Although British Waterways accounts show a massive £59 million shortfall in its pension fund — in reality it could actually be more than £200 million according to pensions experts.
Pension fund assets will have lost value as the stock market fell over the last year and in a story in Third Sector Online David Davision of Spence & Partners says that the deficit was based on it continuing as a going concern — but the deficit would be substantially larger if  the charity was wound up. 

"It’s quite possible the real shortfall is more than £200m," he said. "If these services were being transferred to a private sector organisation, I’d guess that’s the amount the government would have to pay."

He went on to explain that it was 'unreasonable but not uncommon' for the government to pass on substantial pensions liabilities to organisations spun out from the public sector.

"In many cases", he said, "the new organisation was left with responsibility for the pensions deficit built up while it was part of government, leaving the government with no remaining liability at all."

BW, which currently has an income of over £200 million a year, is in negotiations with government about the exact financial terms of the change-over to a charity. The BW property portfolio worth £500 million will go to the new charity — but the pension deficit situation has not yet been resolved.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Barge Association 'U' turn in chairmanship wrangle

The DBA (The Barge Association) has sailed into stormy waters in the last couple of weeks following a row that prompted Chairman Andy Soper to resign to prevent a faction on the board forcing radical changes to the running of the organisation

After Soper's resignation there was an outcry from DBA members with many calling for an Extraordinary General Meeting to resolve the problem and some considering whether they would remain in an organisation that allowed the board to make fundamental changes to the organisation without taking account of the members' wishes.

After Soper stood down Penny Rickard was elected as Chairman, but she made no contact with the membership until more than a week after being elected when she emailed her CV to the members  and said that she would be having a hand-over meeting with Andy Soper.

The Board then announced that Penny Rickard only took over the chair for that one meeting because no one else was willing to do so and they say that after considering carefully the many thoughts expressed by members during the past two weeks, the board has concluded that the expense of an EGM is not justified, nor would an EGM serve any useful purpose at this stage.

Soper returns to take the helm 
DBA Chairman, Andy Soper
Picture by Bob Naylor©
The bemused membership of the DBA have been informed that Andy Soper has returned as Chairman and he will continue in the post until the AGM when a change of Articles will be proposed that will require the Board to elect a new Chairman at its first meeting after every AGM...  and it has been agreed that even if that motion is not passed Andy Soper will still stand for re-election — 'in the spirit of the proposed change'. 

The Board have also decided not to propose a resolution limiting the length of time a board member can serve but the subject will be on the agenda for discussion by the members. There will, however, be a vote on a motion to increase the number of directors from eight to nine with no change to the current voting powers  which gives the chairman a casting vote but not an ordinary vote at Board meetings. 

Paul Whitehouse, the DBA Treasurer said: "The Board recognises that tensions between its members have led to the present difficulties. Whilst there is a perception that on occasions the board is divided into two camps, there is a general recognition on the Board that the Directors, all of whom are independently minded, should, as is their usual inclination, follow and vote according to their own conclusions".

He said that board members are looking forward in a positive spirit towards resolving their differences and concluded by saying: "The Board is not paralysed,  a great deal of effective work has and is being done and it does not believe that a rehashing of recent difficulties and the reasons for them would serve any useful purpose."

In a new turn in the saga the Vice Chairman, Guy Toye has contacted members to say that because a suggestion made at the board meeting that all directors stand down at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and seek re-election  as 'the only way to clear the air in the current circumstances' was not accepted he said: "We reluctantly conclude that the only way to get all directors to do the honourable thing is to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting."

And because of the additional cost that can be incurred by an EGM he suggests that an EGM is held immediately before the next AGM to give members the opportunity decide on the suggestion.

The DBA constitution says that a call for an EGM must be supported by at least 10% of members and Guy Toye is calling on members to email the company secretary supporting the call.

Read:  Shock resignation of Barge Association chairman at:      htttp://kacanaltimes.blogspot.com/2011/09/shock-resignation-of-barge-association.html