Friday, 24 January 2014

CaRT Boaters Meeting In Birmingham...

A few weeks ago we had an email from the Canal and River Trust inviting us to a regional boaters meeting in Birmingham. The invite had gone to mooring renters (winter, leisure and residential) as well as other boaters who had been logged in the local area. The email signed off by announcing that there would be a buffet providing light refreshments available - well it would be rude not to go wouldn't it!

I'm pretty pleased that CaRT have decided to have more of these open meetings to brief us on whats happening and to open up a forum for questions. Us boaters tend to have an opinion about just about everything and indeed where CaRT are involved we can be particularly vocal.

Before the due date there was a little bit of chat on FB regarding the fact that the meeting had reached its maximum attendees point having already changed to a bigger meeting room within the Bond's venue. We walked down through town towards the Grand Union canal. Like everything in Birmingham so far it wasn't far to go, no more than three miles round trip.

The Bond East Birmingham

The collection of meeting rooms is on the canal side and looks like it would be a great place for a stop off at their Cafe on a sunny day. Our meeting room was filing up quickly with delegates and frantic CaRT staff preparing for the 6.00 start. Richard Parry the CEO of the Trust gave a welcoming speech to the hundred or so of us that attended. There was a Q&A session afterwards. 

This is where I was expecting the hard hitting issues to come out and the very few concerns that I have be on every other delegates note books. I was sadly mistaken. No burning issues and heated debates regarding the treatment of the vulnerable; maintenance budgets and programs; visitor mooring changes or the possible victimisation of the Continuous Cruising license holders. But we had 'we haven't got enough water taps where we moor'; we want a bench to commemorate a deceased lockie'; 'support my crazy diagonal lock idea'; 'it's very muddy at my closest water point'; 'can we have a license type test for new boaters so they don't bang into my pride and joy'.

For any non boaters reading this the meeting is rather like the government coming to your county and letting you ask them questions. You're probably going to ask 'what are you doing about immigration'; 'why is my A&E service failing'; not 'can we have a new climbing frame in our park' or 'the road outside my house has now got TWO potholes'.  A lot of Narrowboat Associations were present but there was no cohesion, no plan of action, no barrage of questions based on their core beliefs and values. I was a tad frustrated and disappointed.  

There was an opportunity for attendees to voice their concerns on a more personal level with at least half of the allocated three hours being made available to talk to the whole CaRT team on an individual basis, no one could say CaRT was not making themselves available and approachable. I was expecting Richards opening remarks to be a little more specific the content of which I found a bit thin on the ground. Two questions/responses surprised me more than others. 

Firstly I feel the answer to the guy that asked for clarity (somewhere on CaRT's web site being ideal) as to what CaRT intends to do in 2014 as a 'to do list' was evaded. Richard basically saying we can't publish that information but not offering any reason why. If this information was available it could have made the basis for more meaningful content to the meeting. I agree that the purpose of the meeting was to canvas our ideas and thoughts but had we known what they are planning to do over this year it may have elevated the questioning to a more important level.

Secondly a question (or more accurately response) from a boating trader was a bit of a shock to me. His question was regarding the number of trade boats that are able to moor (and trade) within the trial visitor moorings (Foxton, Thrupp and Stoke Bruerne) and his concern with the possible national roll out of these changes. The chap queried the fact that a maximum of 2 trade boats are permitted to trade in any one visitor mooring zone. This is what I was lead to believe because I had read it on some CaRT literature during a spring visit to Stoke Bruerne. The emphatic reply from Richard and Sally Ash (head of boating) was that it was 'news to them' Sally interjecting that it was just ideas brought up in another recent meeting. Their literature clearly states a maximum of 2 traders in any one zone Foxton's winter T&C here

What flabbergasts me is that these are new and recent policies/rules/trials (November 2013 is the date on the Foxton pdf, Thrupp and Stoke Bruerne's PDFs dated August 2013) and the attending higher echelons of the trust don't know anything about it. Now the cynic in me says one of them must have known (Sally?), or important visitor mooring changes are being carried out by someone lower down the structure. I will of course be writing to Richard and Sally for an explanation. 

Following on from yesterday's meeting I would encourage as many people to attend as possible. My advice to the many boaters associations attending the next meeting is to be more organised. I can't see that the format of these meetings is sustainable otherwise.


  1. Thanks for attending the meeting and reporting back so quickly. Like you I find the outcome disappointing as I was expecting boaters who attended to leave aside their personal minor problems and to raise the bigger issues which have the potential to affect all of us.

    1. It is one of many planned for this year so hopefully the outcomes will improve as the year goes on.