Thursday, 29 January 2015

1,647 stoppage days.

NarrowBoat World has recently published information which give some insight into the poor state of repairs that the UK's Inland Waterways have been allowed to fall into. It would seem that during 2013 the inland waterways were closed to 'bona fide' navigation by 'unplanned closures' at some point for 1,647 days. Rather than such numbers being viewed as an indictment of poor maintenance. The trust itself seems to be particularly unperturbed by the number of closures. This seemingly is because the trust continues to allow the state of the network to fall further and further into the funding black hole. The Trust is perpetuating the previous decade of under funding by its predecessor British Waterways. By deliberately continuing the under spending on maintenance, year on year. 

Against what the Trust has acknowledged that the Trust needs to spend. The last figure was £130 million. But even that figure does not give any promise of improving the infrastructure as the figure is just one to stand still. Where the waterways get no better and get no worse. However, just standing still also incurs extra costs year on year. because the projected costs of just standing still actually continues to inexorably rise.

Cruising the canal for a boater is like playing the fairground game 'Tipping Point' - Where every time a time worn and dilapidated lock is operated. Is just like dropping a coin into the machine and the coins are left to ride and slide, closer and closer to the edge. However, in this game there is no financial reward or even enjoyment - there is only bitter disappointment and spoiled expectations as an outcome. 

Ignoring the state of water management (weed, fish and levels) for fisherfolk. Ignoring the state of the towpath (mud, potholes and vegetation) for walkers and cyclists. I am only concentrating on what this sort of parlous state of the network infrastructure does or rather doesn't do, for boaters. Boaters tend to come in three broad types. The short term holiday hire, privately owned boats operated from a home mooring and continuous cruisers. For each group there are some shared and some particular concerns.

First of all lets clear one fact - the rivers were improved and the canals were built for navigation. It was their whole 'Raison d'ĂȘtre' an oft used phrase meaning 'reason for existence'. While boaters and their craft have taken over from the old working days. Plus to a point, provide something of a link to the canal heritage.  For its part the Trust trumpets the canals and rivers as some sort of national treasure and linear public attraction. Yet at the same time the Trusts waterway maintenance continues to be deliberately underfunded. Presumably so that the money can be spent elsewhere on some 'investment' or other. 

The canals infrastructure have been placed in the care of the Trust. If the trusts want some investment advice. Then they should spend the public's money, where it was intended to be spent, with a priority upon the canal infrastructure. The canals and rivers should not be deliberately left to deteriorate. In the current situation, with only reactive dredging or reactive infrastructure repairs. With the occasional spot vegetation management whenever a fallen tree blocks a waterway. Maintenance only being applied when the waterways come to a complete stop. Rather than being a waterway, carefully managed by a careful proactive repairs.

The phrase 'unplanned stoppage' as used by the trust is an oxymoron. The correct phrase should at least be 'foreseen stoppage'. Because for all the above reasons the number and frequency are going to continue for the foreseeable future and continue to have a foreseeable rise in numbers year on year.  These stoppages are not unforeseen and they are not unexpected. The waterways system is currently managed to scrimp and save money for other purposes. The  trust is obviously content to see the current levels of 'foreseen stoppages' continue. The trust is seemingly quite happy for the level of 'foreseen stoppages' to continue and grow. 
Lets give these stoppages a real name to differentiate them from the planned stoppages. How about 'Hales Halt' because while the trustees under chairman Hales continue to let this situation continue. Seemingly with the blessings of the trustees.' 
Here is my definition of a 'Hales Halt': 'Continue to do nothing or alternatively to do as little as possible, until such time as a point is finally reached where things can only get better. Because physically the infrastructure can get no worse.'

For hire boaters.... The question they should be asking prior to setting off, is can I complete a planned holiday trip within the time constraints not withstanding the risk of stoppages along the route. My advice to prospective boaters planing a family holiday on the inland waterways is to choose a boatyard and location where the number of locks is minimised. 

The effect on the enjoyment of the holiday caused by a  (not unforeseen) closure. Then add in the level of difficulty in operating the lock infrastructure and navigating the boat due to lack of basic maintenance.

You can also add into this mix the effect this will have for the boat hire companies and the extra constraints on managing their business. The effect this will have for future holiday hires. Especially when people go away with a tainted view of the waterways from disrupted holiday plans. Who then go on to share that tainted view with their friends and acquaintances.

Privately owned boats with a home mooring. Will have similar sorts of issues to hire boaters brought about by some of the similar time constraints. However, when things go wrong (where the hire boater can walk away from the boat at the end of the allotted time period) the owner can't leave it to someone else to manage the issue. The boat owner has now an extra problem of getting their boat home and the further issue of the boat being left untended.

The constant cruiser whose life style revolves around time constrains that are maybe not as arduous. Unless there are problems of availability of water, toilet emptying issues and turning the boat to cruise in a different direction. But the CCer will also have 'plans' for their cruising year and might well have made prior arrangements for a winter mooring which can be compromised.

I had thought that maybe its time for the trust to look at some form of compensation for waterways users. For spoiled holidays, disrupted cruising plans and providing a worthless level of expectation.  But then you have to balance that against the trusts love of litigation compounded by the fact that its only money (our money) and when its spent on anything other than maintenance, it seems to be of no consequence. In the main its the expectations of the general public and boaters that are being ignored. Lets give these spoiled expectations a name as well - How about a 'Parry Puzzle'.

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