Friday, 22 May 2015

The View From Over Here (1)

The View From Over Here. Is an occasional series of observations of life along the canal and river network. It gives this writers perceptions of what he sees, hears and learns from other people and sources.

Originally intended as a place for horses to tow laden boats and barges, full of the raw materials and the finished products of industry. The canals provided a giant step forward when compared to the capacity of the roads in carrying coal to markets by packhorse or the cart load. As in all things - progress eventually caught up and overtook the canals. The railways arrived and the road infrastructure improved. The canals purpose has fundamentally changed over a protracted period. From the fading of one into the growth of another use. The change of transport to one of leisure. This change came about almost by accident rather than as a planned change of use.

From the very first day of the take over in 1948 from the old owners by the British Transport Commission. Through all the various management incarnations right up to the latest Canal and River Trust. The waterways were already well past their sell by date as an integral and efficient part of the transport industry. There were plans, made similar in size and scale to the later Beeching axe. Which did for a large part of the railway network.  It was the planned closure and abandonment of much of the inland waterways. Bitterly opposed by opponents such as Rolt and Aickman. In some cases that loss of a route still came around, but much was saved. There is little to gain from a retrospective view of the canal infrastructure beyond the historical and heritage one. But the restoration and repair still continues to this day in the hands of small groups of dedicated people. 

Today we have the remainder of a much depleted resource. The Canal and River Trust should be managing both the waterway and the towpath. The problem now is that the waterway is falling further into disrepair through a policy of underspending on maintenance. I'm sure that you, like me would like to know the issues as to why the inland waterways are deliberately managed by a policy of under funded maintenance. However as always the Canal and River Trust (from a position of its self declared new era of openness and transparency) is less than forthcoming with anything beyond the balance sheet. So writers have to ruminate, cogitate and even second guess what the issues are.  

The View From Over Here looks as if they don't want us to know - or because the trust apparently don't know themselves. Leading to a what seems to be a silo mentality of silence. That looks remarkably like a hand crafted disaster of their own making. There is nothing wrong with telling it like it is - Now where have we heard that before?

The View From Over Here is that the mystery of the management structure has seen an exponential rise in the number of levels and the number of participants. To the point where a management hierarchical plan does not exist or is a tightly managed secret. In industry and from my experience in education - levels of bureaucracy are the first thing that is removed. This is quickly followed by a pruning session as the dead wood is thinned out. The outcome is intended to provide a lean and proactive management structure. It seems that the time tested business policy of slimming down, has been turned on its head by the Canal and River Trust.

As for the towpath - it has now taken on a life of its own. The towpath is now out of kilter with its original time sphere. In the main, I'm perfectly happy to see more people attracted to the waterways. As a place for a leisurely stroll, or as a place to walk your dog, maybe do a bit of rambling or jogging, even the more leisurely fishing and for me its a place where I can moor up my boat.  

The View From Over Here looks as if the towpath is a part of the infrastructure that's undergoing a dramatic change. Seemingly metamorphosing into a part of a national cycle route. The trust itself says that there are soon to be 500 million visits by people to the towpath. But as the towpath is improved, the cyclist are coming more and more into conflict with the general public. The public who enjoy a leisurely stroll, or walking the dog, or rambling and jogging, even a spot of fishing. But for me, its becoming a place where I don't always feel safe when I moor up my boat. 

The View From Over Here is that as a boat owner I come increasingly more and more under pressure to conform to the stringent rules. By comparison the cyclists are a minority in the bigger picture. Yet, everything is being done to encourage them. The trust has its own cycling section on its website. However, there are no speed limits on the towpath, no compulsory third party insurance, not even a requirement to have a warning bell. There is no speed calming, and certainly no segregation.

The View From Over Here looks as if for a cyclist, its hands off, do as you like, its an unregulated free for all.  Now we even see that unregulated cycling time trials are going on (as recorded for all to see and compete against on strava.) High speed commuter sections of towpath have been identified, but they also remain unregulated and unmanaged. We are told that the canal and River trust is going to educate the cycling fraternity. The View From Over Here looks as if that's a bit of the finest work of a spin doctor.

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