Sunday, 13 April 2014

Level Playing Field

I get ever more intrigued by the whole BW/CaRT/BWML story. So I started to do some background reading. I started by reading some of the older press articles. I came across one article which highlighted BW and its headlong rush into acquiring marinas.

The article of interest is entitled 'Nationalisation by Stealth: British Waterways acquisition of canal marinas, by Tim Coghlan managing director of Braunston Marina. The article was published in Boating Business on the 1st of May 2003.

The main thrust of Tim's article was: It is a simple fact that for at least the last five years every single canal marina that has been sold - of any modest size or more - has been mysteriously been acquired by British Waterways (BW), and without those marinas first being offered on the open market. It is because of their deep pocket from inner city waterside property developments on land acquired on nationalisation in 1948, that BW has been able buy up everything that has - dare I say - come on the market. Robin Evans, [who was at the time] BW's new chief executive, recently admitted in a press interview that BW had now acquired 17 marinas, only building two of that total. Thus in a few years, from a standing start in the mid 1990s, BW has become by far and away the largest marina operator on the canals. Taking on board the possibly thousands of canal linear moorings which it already operates, BW is now effectively in a monopoly position on several canals. BW also now controls most of London's Docklands and, having acquired Cumberland Basin, it now has a complete monopoly of moorings - basin and linear - in central London, as boaters are already discovering, with moorings prices going through the roof. It is only in west London that the private sector still has a significant presence. And this will soon be challenged by the new large BW Marina at Cowley.

However,  there was one phrase used in the article that sticks out more than any other. As part of the interview with Evans. Evans said 'The issue is competing with the private sector on a level playing field.'  That was just over eleven years ago. BW/CaRT now hold as close to a monopoly position over the inland waterways today as its possible to get. But I wonder if the Evans statement still holds good today?

Tim went on: For BW, marinas are about as good a way of trading as any. This is now more so, following its recent successful challenge to paying rates on its canals, including astonishingly, its marinas - on the basis that the canals as a whole are loss makers. It is incredible that a private sector operator has to pay substantial rates on its premises, even if it leases them from BW, but if BW operates that same marina, no rates are payable! And, of course BW, does not pay itself a connection charge.

You can read the whole article Here

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