Monday, 7 December 2009

Skips by water

One of the things I have yet to say much on here but that I take an active interest in is promoting freight by water. This something we spend a great deal of time on in the London Waterways Commission.

Here is modest example proving that there are still opportunities to move freight by the smaller waterways. Just seen going past Kensal Green - Wood Hall and Heward's tug Wigan pushing a lighter with three skips.

Monday, 30 November 2009

BW retaining its Property Portfolio - what price?

In its latest news bulletin for Dec, IWA puts a slightly new narrative on recent events:

BW Sale of Assets.

The IWA Campaigns team are very active on this subject at the moment and have orchestrated a political lobby in both the Commons and latterly the Lords to pressurise government – (who still haven’t yet indicated if the sale is to go ahead) - to drop any ideas surrounding a possible sale. The aim is to get them to back down in private – rather than make them entrench and publicly come out and declare this as an intention.

No mention of the fact that my sources claim that it was BW who asked people to orchestrate this!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Double edged sword

I told you so - my first instinct is simply to wipe BW's face in it.

And why not - BW have spent the years since I said this in public vilifying me (and many others) who had had the cheek to offer warning noises about the BW property portfolio. We are the nay-sayers, the trouble makers, the BW bashers etc.

Well some of us saw this coming and even warned BW to be careful. When they didn't listen we warned everyone else. The trouble is that some of us were making these noises off long before the select committee got into its stride and I believe that the 'major breach' represented by BW's losses reported for last year had started to weep already.

Some say that the former Waterways Minister Barry Gardner lost his job because he had the temerity to doubt that BW were being transparent with him. No I'm getting too paranoid and conspiratorial...? Stop!

British Waterways stripped of it's property portfolio? - would that be such a bad thing?

Back again. It's been a busy time on the BW front. More will be revealed over the next few posts I hope! So to story number one! This week has seen a flurry of press and political activity attempting to defend BW's property portfolio.

The origins of this story are rather interesting. What I have been told for sure is that certain very senior BW people arrived unexpected during the recent six monthly BWAF meeting with national user group representatives. In a state of high agitation, doing a desperate breathless in distress performance that would make Betty Paige blush, they announced that they believed the Treasury was again actively looking at stripping BW of it's property portfolio.

As a result off went everyone screaming blue murder. Leading the charge was IWA. Waterways MP's have since taken up the cry and a motion has been put down and a debate called for. A good and proper storm has brewed up.

Voices off like me have taken a slightly different starting point...

(Original version published in the Narrowboatworld forum)

Should BW keep its property portfolio?

BW's property portfolio is indeed a double edged sword that has turned on BW. (Or is it case that the wielder of the sword does not know how to handle it properly?)

As has been pointed out, the property portfolio sucked the best part of £80 million out of BW last financial year and there will doubtless be more bad news to come on that front when we get this year's results?

A BW with no property portfolio would also (heaven forbid!) have to spend all its time and energy focusing on the immediate well being and funding of the waterways, without the delusion that the property will always bail them out!

Poor BW! They would also have to change their business ethos towards being a full time navigation authority instead of distracting huge amounts of time energy and OUR resources into being property developers. Mr Evans and the Directors would of course no longer have all their present responsibilities, so their salaries and posts would have to be restructured to reflect this.

No wonder they are screaming blue murder!

The well-being of BW's fat cat directors is not the same as the well-being of the BW network and if they were purged from BW at the same time as the property portfolio that might not be a bad thing?

It would of course also throw the whole question of public funding of the waterways into sharp relief as the property portfolio would no longer be there providing 'cover' for wider government underfunding of BW.

Would such an outcome be a disaster or a real opportunity?

Monday, 2 November 2009

BW's 'secret' war against residential boaters

Just saw the latest post on the K and A boaters' website entitled Psychological Warfare on the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Well done to the author of that one. The view that BW is engaged in a covert war of attrition against residential boaters sits at the heart of my personal opposition to BW and so many of its works! I simply reflect on the dozens of friends I have made over the years who have succumbed to the pressure and given up living afloat. (Maybe they were actually the wise ones?)

In particular I completely agree with the sentiment: BW’s aim is break our resolve to live within the rules laid down by law and either be ‘bullied’ into paying for unwanted moorings or to simply disappear (?)

BW Moorings Consultation launched

I case you haven't heard yet, the long awaited national consultation on BW moorings policy has finally been launched. For the full monty see the BW web-site here. The links to the actual consultation documents are on the right hand side of the page.

Monday, 26 October 2009

BW - Consultation or Con? A new example?

I hinted at this story in the pages of Narrowboatworld a few weeks back, (see also yesterdays' posting.) Here is the back-story to this item.

The more observant of you will have spotted a new link that I added in the last couple of weeks: Kennet and Avon Boating Community Website.

Well that site has come into being thanks mostly to my good friends at BW. (At this point I imagine anyone at BW who monitors this blog and has not found the site in among their standing Google searches, will be clicking about there!)

One gone two to go!

(The above images (C) and with thanks to Del Brenner/Regents Network)

I'm pleased to post a copy of a Press release from my friend Del from Regents Network about a local bugbear which I was about to write something about myself - Del has saved me the work! It seems BW have finally dragged one white elephant away!

As of this morning the vacant space in Paddinton Basin was roped off and empty - I wonder what is going there next - maybe I will ask?!

One apology in advance - I am still working on some technical issues and making copyright enquiries over posting the local news article Del refers to in the item that follows - if it can be arranged I will let you see that as soon soon as possible.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

BW’s Head of Boating expresses lack of confidence in BW Patrol Staff and the potential of using Volunteer Wardens for patrol purposes

It appears senior BW staff do not have confidence in the capability of their own patrol staff to do their jobs. Rather than providing better training and support to their own staff it seems BW would like to contract out some of their more challenging patrol duties.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Smoke and Mirrors? British Waterways’ Annual Meeting 2009

This has in previous years been the high level annual event for waterways representatives to question and review BW on the past year’s performance. Once a year the Board and Directors in theory host a full and frank questions and answers session.

However with true BW ambiguity it is not a full public meeting and attendance is by invite only. (I attended on the strength of a NABO invite). In their favour BW do dutifully publish the details of the meeting in full and those of you who have the time and interest should start from the BW website page on this to see what you make of it all.

Thanks to problems with ‘overhead power lines in the Watford area’, I arrived late and apparently missed, (to my deep personal disappointment!), BW directors running around before the main event, as they tried to disperse a protest line outside the venue, organised by staff trade union members, highlighting the ongoing restructuring and redundancies exercise!

BW this year had foreshortened the meeting to a half day event, (when in previous years it had been all day). Some would say it was 'fixed' this year so that questions about the past year’s performance were not given an obvious slot or certainly less opportunity for discussion. The headline topic of BW’s choosing was their 20/20 vision and on that at least I will give them credit, for there was a detailed and frank discussion of BW’s present thinking on this and ample opportunity for points from the floor.

However not withstanding all this I asked the question!

“There is a feeling among a lot of the people I am talking about that the main subject you are talking about today (20/20) represents, with respect to the gentlemen who have come to talk about it, a lot of smoke and mirrors. The fear is, as was mentioned, this doesn’t address your £30m a year funding gap. The last Annual report showed, what I would call, a devastating year for British Waterways in terms of your property portfolio and I ask the question, will British Waterways actually be in any viable position to implement any of this in eight or ten years time?"

Both Tony Hales (Chair) and Robin Evans (CEO) responded at length and rather than take up space here you can see (or listen to) their responses from the BW website link above. Nothing unpredictable and it was acknowledged they have just had a very bad year financially.

(The full details of my question and their answers are are on pages 7 and 8 of 41 here - opens large pdf file!)

What their replies highlighted to me again is that BW remain heavily dependent on their property activities to fund the core waterways and the question that follows from that is, what happens when that income stream plummets, as it has in the last year?

In response to a later question from yours truly, Robin strenuously defended my suggestion that there remains a conflict of interests within BW.

"I would just like people to comment on what I see as a fundamental conflict of interests. On the one hand you have a British Waterways as a stewardship body. On the other hand you have British Waterways' commercial activities. If you are serious about increasing volunteering and donating, do you need a clearer separation between those commercial and if you like, social activities than you have at the moment, because the fear must be particularly as has happened in the recent past, that money that is being raised is not going into the front end of the waterways – it is propping up “bad luck” shall we call it politely at Gloucester Quays or wherever else. How do you make that clear, because that is something you are going to have to sell to people: where is their money going if you want them to donate and volunteer?"

In fairness I reproduce Robin’s answer in full below where he flatly denies there is any issue here:

"A common misapprehension is that money from our property has subsidised, or we have used money from the network, to subsidise the property. That simply isn’t true. We have two pots of money in the organisation. We have a property capital endowment dowry which we try and invest to create income which then feeds into waterway maintenance. None of the Government money, none of the waterway maintenance, our revenue streams, fund into the property. They are entirely separate and the losses that we have incurred this year have been entirely taken up and been funded from this capital endowment fund. It has not robbed the waterways of any money. It is very important, very important for us to ensure that that happens. We will not do these things if we felt that it was going to deteriorate and reduce the amount of money that we already have on the waterways."

What this confirms for me is that there are actually two businesses called British Waterways: British Waterways the property company and British Waterways the navigation authority.

This begs the obvious question; Is BW now principally a property company or a navigation authority?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Soild Fuel Stoves and the Clean Air Act

Further to my last posting I thought I'd alert you to a useful reference site for boaters or anyone else using solid fuel heating and/or thinking of installing or replacing a solid fuel stove. Under the appropriate links it sets out in detail the current lists of 'approved' appliances and which solid fuels comply with the Clean Air Acts.

Greening my domestic fuel consumption

Two weeks and nothing to say? Well in part I’ve been doing that thing most live-aboards spend time on at this time of year. Getting ready for winter. Preparing and checking your heating systems is pretty high on the list for most of us.

I claim to be fairly green and I’ve always subscribed to the ‘keep going with what you’ve got before you replace’ ideology. Well this summer I’ve had to bite the bullet and buy some new kit. My old Torgem solid fuel stove was increasingly held together by fire cement and my old gas fridge was no longer keeping cold in summer. Can’t complain, as both appliances have done the best part of twenty years good service.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Looks different?

Yeah, just changed the template on my blog to this one. On my browser at least it leads to a more compact format and you get more of my ravings in a more compact page than previously. Hopefully that's a good thing?!

Continuous Cruising

Postscript - 30 Sept 09 - In the last 48 hours Narrowboatworld has taken down the full thread. Any of you who got round to reading the original will have seen that as ever when one tries to have a meaningfully discussion on this issue, someone has to spoil it by insisting that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Funny how often this happens when this subject comes up!? (What little is now left is here.)

Anyway for better or worse, part of my contribution is still preserved below!

Someone is actually reading my blog!

Thanks to Paul Morgan at BW/Waterscape for his comments on the implementation of the revised tenders/auctions website. (My original item with Paul's feedback is here).

I often bang on about how unresponsive some parts of BW are to people's gripes and complaints so it's always encouraging to identify and credit those staff who do respond promptly and effectively to the punters (and don't think I don't know that there are a lot of you out there who work hard to make sure you fall into this category).

Just cos I think many of your senior managers and leaders are incompetent, don't take that to mean I take the same view about most of the 'the workers'.

If any one has problems or issues with the site you know now, thanks to Paul's helpful response, where to seek help. Good stuff. Thanks again Paul for your positivity.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Lammas Project wins planning permission

A major step forward for the sustainability movement was achieved at the end of last month when the Lammas Project won planning permission for their project.


August 2009

First Eco-Village in UK gets planning permission

Lammas, the group behind the innovative eco-village, first applied for planning permission in June 2007. After being refused twice by Pembrokeshire County Council the group appealed to the Welsh Assembly Planning Inspectorate and following a well attended public hearing have finally won permission.

The project consists of nine eco-smallholdings, a community hub building and a seasonal campsite on land near the village of Glandwr in North Pembrokeshire. Lammas founding member Paul Wimbush explains: “We want to build an ecovillage in which people can live lightly on the earth in modern eco-houses. The project is unusual in that on the one hand it takes a green approach to all aspects of living and on the other hand is structured very much like a conventional village.”

“The project has been designed so that the nine smallholdings, while being essentially autonomous, will also fit into an overall permaculture design plan for the whole site. Permaculture is a land-management approach that meets people’s needs through replicating natural ecosystems. It is diverse and human-scale by its very nature as opposed to agriculture which tends towards big machines and monocultures. This way we can turn what is considered as poor land into something incredibly productive.”

The project has met a mixed reaction from local people despite promising a range of benefits including new footpaths, a seasonal shop, fresh local produce and a minibus service.

Cassandra Lishman, a local businesswoman and a prospective resident of the eco-village said today: “At last we can begin building our homes. We are delighted that the Welsh Assembly Government is bold enough to put their policies into practice.”

Because of the strict regulations imposed by the planners, the buildings erected on the site must have a very low visual impact and blend into the landscape and cannot be made out of conventional materials such as concrete blocks and cement. Instead, largely natural materials from the locality must be used, including earth, turf, timber and straw, and the buildings have been designed using a combination of the latest in green technologies combined with traditional building skills. The houses will incorporate many sustainable technologies such as passive solar heating, rainwater harvesting and electricity generation from renewable sources such as wind, water and solar, and the whole site will not be allowed to use any mains services.

Cassandra Lishman and the other prospective residents know that life in the eco-village is going to be hard work. The planners require that 75 per cent of all household needs must be met directly by land-based means. Each smallholding has had to be meticulously planned to meet this requirement with a broad spectrum of enterprises ranging from strawberry production to basketry, from smoked hams to furniture making, from woollen crafts to medicinal tinctures.

However tonight the Lammas residents will be celebrating what could well be considered as a significant planning precedent and a sign of changing times.

Further details about Lammas and the eco-village can be found at including pictures and links to some short films on the project.

Continuous Cruising

Seems that I and other contributors managed to re-ignite some debate about Continuous Cruisers and Council Tax on Narrowboatworld's Forum recently! This started from some confusion about NABO's view on the subject of whether Continuous Cruisers should pay more. You can see how the debate went in this case by reading the forum but I thought I'd post the key arguments I made on NABO's behalf here too.

For the avoidance of doubt it is not NABO policy that Continuous Cruisers should pay a higher BW licence fee than those with long term moorings.
We remain committed defenders of the position that your standard BW craft licence should be a universal licence, allowing the boater to travel around the network (or the river they are based on in the case of River Registration) as much or as little as they wish.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Moorings Tenders are now Auctions

British Waterways Moorings tenders are no more!

Unfortunately they have not been scrapped but have been replaced by Moorings Auctions!

However in best BW fashion it seems the revised website has not been tested properly before being launched. I can find no instructions as to how to bid for auction lots posted on the site. The link to the information sheet on how to bid was not working this morning (Sunday 27 Sep 09) despite the fact there are twenty berths advertised as available for bids.

Another famous administrative cock up at BW? Doubtless the fact that the auction site that doesn't seem to contain the bidding instructions will simply be dismissed by BW as "teething troubles"?!

I registered as an interested bidder under the old system but have received no communications from BW about the changes to the system! Loathsome as it is to me, it is hardly going to work if those who have registered an interest in bidding for vacancies aren't provided with instructions.

This is one I will keep watching I think!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Grow your own as a national food policy

The BBC series I referred to previously got me thinking. One part of the programme that was new to me was the case of how Cuba responded to major disruption in its food and energy markets following the fall of the Soviet Bloc.

Cuba for many years relied on its political relationship with the Soviet block for cheap food and fuel imports. That arrangement collapsed when the Soviet communist system went down.

The programme touched on how in response consumption in Cuba has had to fall and how local food production had to rise. As a result Cuba has put huge amounts of urban open space over to urban farms which grow and distribute local produce in the communities where it is produced. This got be onto doing some searches for more background on these events.

As part of their response to this Cuba has been forced to develop and implement low impact food growing techniques. It has to be low impact because Cuba does not have the money to industrialise its food production. One outcome seems to be a huge return to the land and a lots of investigation and application of approaches to production which many of us in this part of the world who have looked into these things would recognise as permaculture and organic techniques.

There is lots more stuff on the story on the web if you search Cuba plus the key word in the links above. I've just liked to the three articles I found most authentic.

On Youtube there is also a series of films 'Cuba and Peak Oil' which I have found interesting. The title maybe hides the fact that a great deal of this film focuses on food production issues arising out of the local peak oil scenario that Cuba went through. As of today the film is available from this page.

Friday, 28 August 2009

BW and Complaints

Further to a comment on a previous posting, some thoughts on the BW complaints process.

Structurally, in terms of procedure, it has evolved to something that I for one say is quite acceptable. (I am biased cos I was one of the people who lobbied for it to be modernised!) In the bad old days, as recently as 2004, it was not so good and there was plenty of scope for BW to obfuscate. It was up to them to say when you had completed a complaint stage and many complaints would be held up for months. Many complainants gave up.

Under pressure from some complainants, frustrated by this loophole, and with support of the then Ombudsman, who noticed the frustrations over the length of time that BW had taken to process some of the cases that eventually came to him, the policy was modernised, becoming much more akin to other public sector complaints policies. Now there are in effect time limits and two as opposed to the previous three internal complaint stages. In effect if BW don't respond in a reasonable time, the complaint has to be accelerated to the next stage.

The Waterways Ombudsman is the final step in the most extreme cases. A look at the annual reports will reveal the range of issues that people pursue to that stage. (Whoever you were that offered a comment recently about the Local Government Ombudsman, this is why I didn't post that - there is a dedicated scheme for BW.)

However a frustration of the current scheme is that as it is an Ombudsman Service and not a waterways regulator, complaints that can be considered have to be procedural and the scheme does not generally offer a route to challenge policy decisions (see the Ombudsman's' terms of reference). That is not a fault in the scheme but a reflection of the fact that there is no effective parallel mechanism other than civil litigation by which individuals can challenge BW policy decisions or BW's interpretation of their legal powers.

A recent example of course is Mooring Tenders, BW's current policy of offering vacancies to the highest bidder. A case reported in most recent Ombudsman Report (No 336 for 2008/9) illustrates the point that BW has a lot of discretion about how it conducts consultations.

It is also true that generally the duty on BW is to carry out some sort of consultation. However final policy formulation is not a democratic process in most cases. The Mooring Tenders policy is a very good example of this. Although opposed by most user groups, BW went ahead with it anyway. (The User Groups' formal submissions to BW can be seen here under the heading BW long term moorings: allocating vacancies and setting prices)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Future of Food - on BBC2

I've been really enjoying this - I've found it a good quick introduction to some current issues on sustainability of food supplies, something that I have taken an interest in for a few years now.

There's still something to be said for the BBC while they are airing programmes like this.

And suddenly new bins are on order!

Further to yesterday's posting I also sent a formal complaint to BW about the refuse bins at my mooring. This morning when I logged on, I find a reply saying that new bins are now on order!

Good, but an instructive lesson. I have been asking BW to deal with this informally for over a year but have just been flannelled. I lose patience and put in a formal complaint and the matter is sorted by return!

(PS -For any one interested BW's complaint policy is set out here.)

Monday, 24 August 2009

BW directly managed moorings contribute in excess of £4M profit per year to BW general coffers (but you can’t afford to replace our refuse bins?)

(Picture - Bins at Kensal Green Moorings – one bin is missing completely. Of the remaining four only one is in close to adequate condition, the hinges are broken on two and the lid is completely un-attached on the third – these bins are ten years old but BW does not apparently have the money to replace them).

In response to his comments at the Residential Boat Owner Association AGM I recently wrote to Robin Evans, challenging his assertion that one purpose of the BW Moorings Tenders process is to avoid BW “subsidising” the cost of moorings.

Robin’s response is very revealing and indicates that on average two thirds of the mooring fees that BW moorings customers are paying is going into the general BW funds.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Big Green Gathering challenges the local authority over the last minute closure

The latest official version from BGG - a letter of complaint over the threat of an injunction and alleged misinformation relied on in support of that application. We will see where this goes.


Brig (BGG Ltd Chair) has requested I put this information on the forum for shareholders information.

This letter was sent yesterday
to Donna Nolan of Mendip District Council


Dear Ms Nolan

This is a formal letter of complaint and request for further information with regard to the actions of your authority taken in conjunction with Avon & Somerset Constabulary in order to prevent the Big Green Gathering 2009.

We wish to complain about the way in which the Big Green Gathering was stopped.

Following the announcement that Mendip District Council was to apply to the High Court in London for an injunction, we require answers regarding the following:-

The injunction required us to show:

1. That we had security teams in place. We fail to understand this requirement as at the multi-agency meeting held on 23rd July, Coast to Coast Security and Green Security were present and gave the Council assurances that they would fulfil their contracts. Both companies were paid significant amounts of money up front in lieu of their services. The director of Coast to Coast Security gave an undertaking at that meeting that he would fulfil the role of silver command at the event and his deputy would fulfil the role of bronze. An undertaking in writing to that effect was provided by email the following day in compliance with the ultimatum issued by Mendip DC.

We wish to complain at the harassment of our security companies by officers of Mendip Council. We understand that numerous telephone calls were made to the security companies to

a. Ascertain that they had received money

b. Encourage them not to take up the role of security providers at the Big Green Gathering.

2. That we had a road closure order and signage was in place. We were assured by yourselves and the police that there was no road closure order in place. We have now been given to understand and we have copies of the road closure order that was granted and posted up in the vicinity, dated 20th July. We understand in a reply to our solicitor, copied below, that the order may have been approved, subject to providing all the information requested on 24th July. Our Chairman emailed the highways department on 24th July and received no reply. Why was this? Why was there no witness statement from the highways department regarding the injunction if this was the most crucial element of the injunction according to the police? Can you explain why the road order was provisionally approved? We have emails assuring us that the signage would be delivered on the Monday.

“I now have the photos and have spoken to Donna Nolan about them. It would appear that the party line is that the Road Closure Order might have been provisionally approved subject to your providing all the information and documents requested on 24th July.

However, this begs the question as to why the Order on the gatepost is dated 20th July - 4 days earlier.

I think it fair to say that Donna Nolan was horrified and she is making urgent enquiries to find out exactly what went on here ...”

Our barrister further says that the road closure order was the primary reason that we could not fulfil the licence conditions and why we would have been in breach as it was impossible to clarify with the highways department over the weekend whether an order had been made. We reproduce part of his email below.

“The road closure development is of the utmost importance - since the alleged impossibility of obtaining Highways permission was pivotal to the advice I gave to surrender the licence.”

3. Fire Safety. We wish to understand why the fire services for the county did not complain at the time of the licence hearing if they thought the contractors hired by the Big Green Gathering were not competent. We wish to know why they chose the 23rd July, six days before the event to make their complaints. We further understand that a conversation took place between Midland Fire Services and the county fire services on Friday, 24th July whereby the county fire services were satisfied with the competency of Midland Fire, yet no mention of that is made in the witness statement by Duncan White. Please could we see the records of that conversation.

4. We wish to know when the witness statements were compiled. We understand that Mendip decided to apply to the High Court for an injunction after a meeting at 6.30 p.m. on Friday, 24th July. We find it difficult to believe that all the witness statements were prepared after that meeting, especially as they did not take into account conversations held on the Friday afternoon and the arrival of the statements to our solicitor would suggest that they had been written some time before.

5. We wish to know why the police stated in a meeting on Sunday, 26th July that the decision to stop the Big Green Gathering had taken place some one or two weeks before, yet your officers were still asking our contractors if they had been paid, which they had on Friday 24th July. This ensured that the Big Green Gathering was still paying for infrastructure, when the decision had already been made to stop the Big Green Gathering.

6. We believe the actions of the Council in applying for an injunction on a Friday evening for early Monday morning in London were deliberately designed to ensure that the Big Green Gathering could not get the evidence in the time available. We believe that the Council is incorrect in saying it made every effort to ensure that the event could go ahead.

The above complaint and request for further information is made without prejudice to possible further complaint and action in pursuit of damages, whether through the courts or the Local Government Ombudsman, or (in regard to Avon & Somerset Constabulary) through the Independent Police Complaints Commission, or otherwise in any regard whatsoever

Yours faithfully,

Brig Oubridge,

Chair, the Big Green Gathering Co. Ltd.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Debts BW have incurred through bad investments

Narrowboat World (NBW) have today headlined the losses on joint ventures that BW made last year and yes I'm glad they are taking this up.

I was chatting last night with another boater, an old and friend and fellow campaigner and we were pondering this same old point about what a cleft stick BW are in. On the one hand they are claiming poverty on the other hand they have this huge amount of resources. (Well a lot less huge thanks to recent events). Below a contribution of mine originally in NBW forum a few days ago on all this:

BW funding for 2009/10 - who's really to blame?...

It seems corrections are coming thick and fast (see the comments on Victor's most recent column). Sorry, but I would like to add one more.

The headline item on funding needs a little qualification. DEFRA have NOT cut BW's funding by 16.7%. They actually only cut it by 8% (or about £4.6 million).

That's still a huge blow to the waterways and hugely disappointing.

However BW management have done even greater damage all on their own. They overspent (or to use the euphemism that seems to be being applied, 'brought forward') £5 million of this year's DEFRA funding before the year started. At £5 million, that makes up the greater part of the overall 16.7% cut in cash that will be available to BW from DEFRA this year.

Add to this the fact in the BW annual report: BW lost £33.3 million pounds on "joint ventures" last year and this rather dwarfs the DEFRA cut.

I completely agree with Victor's observation, "well what did you expect?"

BW management is a basket case, and why in the world should DEFRA throw good money after bad?

Messers Hales and Evans banged on for many years about how they were moving to self sufficiency. They have castigated and bad-mouthed the persistent doubters like me. Unfortunately, and it give me little pleasure in saying so, we were right.

BW were dabbling with fire with their more risky investments and we the people who actually pay for the waterways will now be bearing the burden for many years to come. Us and the BW staff who are currently being restructrured.

I'm quite clear that its time to say the "un-say-able". Tony Hales and Robins Evans should be sacked. Their plan for self sufficiency has failed in the most dramatic terms and I challenge DEFRA to finally grab the nettle and do the right thing.

It's time for wholesale reform of the BW Board and Directors because the current leadership are not the people who will get BW out of this mess. They are the people who got us there in the first place.

Moorings Tenders at the RBOA AGM

A jaunt into the country to a pub near Hatton for me on Saturday to the Residential Boat Owners Association Annual General meeting. I was going anyway but billing of one Robin Evans as guest speaker made the journey even more attractive!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Did the authorities stitch up Big Green Gathering?

I don't know but they say truth will out.

It seems that the disputed traffic order, (the apparent absence of which, was the tipping point that forced BGG to surrender their licenece), had in fact been granted.

How did this come to people's attention? A copy of the road closure notice was found posted near the site and was found in the last 48 hours. It appears the traffic order had in fact been issued almost a week before Mendip DC issued injunction proceedings to stop the event.

George Monbiot tells the story better than I can on the Guardian site.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Mockery of Moorings Tenders process

I've mentioned before BW's policy of only offering mooring vacancies to the highest bidder.

This is what presently constitutes British Waterways' process for allocating vacant moorings on its waterways. Their justifications for this (and the almost universal opposition from the main boating user groups) can be seen in full detail here.

20/20 - Visions or Illusions? (Part 2)

There is an interesting third sector debate rumbling in the public housing sector at the moment.

Housing Associations have for many years been deemed to be third sector organisations. One of the implications of that is, because they are not full blown public bodies but 'independent', they are not subject to the same legal and public scrutiny processes as a Council Housing departments. For instance The Freedom of Information Act for instance does not apply to Housing Associations.

Well a tenant has managed to persuade the Courts that because her landlord receives public money and works so integrally with the public housing process they should be subject to a thing called Judicial Review - This is the legal process for challenging the lawfullness of a public body's actions. (See for instance 'Inside Housing's coverage)

The intertesting point to me in that story is that the landlord is considering issuing an appeal to try to avoid being subjected to judicial scrutiny.

The Housing world has split on this one. The landlord was most recently taking the view that they could not afford the expense and trouble of even the possibilty of allowing of their actions being scrutinised in this way and was last I heard, trying to persuade other landlords to join in an appeal.

The opposing view and one which I ascribe to, is one of deep disgust that they should fear being subject to this level of scrutiny when their decisions can have such an impact on people's lives. Housing people of a more radical view like me take the view, if your policies and procedures can't stand up to this sort of public scrutiny when the sector is in receipt of millions of pounds worth of public funding a week, and has a huge impact on the lives of so many people, then we (and you!) should be worried!

This illustrates one of the potential down-sides of letting BW go third sector. The already weak accountability processes in BW when it comes to policy decisions may be further weakened and that is in itself enough of a reason not to endorse BW going third sector?

(First published by me as a comment on Narrowboatworld, earlier today

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Big Green Gathering cancelled

To confirm that Big Green Gathering has been cancelled, it appears due to a last minute decision by the authorities to pull the licence on several points. See:

I have also had this from friends of friends who were due to be trading on the site and it is definitely off.

If you know anyone in transit or planning to go please let them know because it's expected the Police will be turning people away before you get there.


A recent posting by 'Grey Nomad' on Narrowboat World on the latest BW annual report:

Having downloaded the PDF version into a PDF reader, I have done a word search. The results are quite interesting:-

Boats 11 counts,

Dredging 8 counts

Locks 17 counts

Maintenance 35 counts

Property 167 counts

Perhaps that's all you need to know?

BW's latest annual report is available from:

Plug being pulled last minute on Big Green Gathering?

I was sad to see that Mendip District Council are threatening to stop BGG going ahead only a few days before the event was due to open, despite having given the go ahead through the licencing process only a few weeks previously. It seems this only just broke and that an injunction hearing to will take place in the High Court tomorrow (Monday). (Click on the title above to link to the BGG website for the latest updates.)

Here's thinking positive thoughts and wishing that whatever the problem is, it can be sorted out.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Lammas Project

Best wishes from me to the the Lammas project at the forthcoming planning hearing:


Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Lesson - Don't draft things in MS Word and paste to your blog

I have discovered the hard way all the of the hidden formatting codes embedded in Word, when I pasted the last article. (Stuart - now I know why you love your Mac !) If some of the formatting and text colours in my last post look weird, blame Bill Gates. I am presently re-learning the mysteries of HTML subject to which I hope to be able to make the last posting a bit more presentable shortly!

20/20 - Visions or Illusions?

The winds of change may finally be breaking through in Watford. British Waterways recently launched “2020 – A vision for the future of our canals and rivers”.

That British Waterways needs to change and modernise is self evident. A £30M deficit, no prospect of Government bail-out, plus the emperor’s new clothes having fallen off BW’s planned reliance on the property market, all focus the mind, even in BW!

The immediate consequences for those most intimately connected to the waterways however are that we are paying the price.
  • Boaters, the largest and most valuable group of individual fee paying customers, are seeing licence and mooring fee increases at the hand of BW of typically 7-10% per annum.
  • Mooring vacancies are now only offered to the highest bidder.
  • A thousand BW staff including their frontline patrol teams (but not the board and directors who led them into this mess!) is having to re-apply for nine hundred vacancies (i.e. rather than upset a hundred members of staff with redundancy notices, let’s upset a thousand!).

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Recent Times article on Grow Your own food in the city

I liked this article - it touches on many of the ideas that have crossed my mind, living in central London. (Click the title to link to the item).

The best eggs I have eaten in a long time came from a former work colleague who keeps their own chickens and 'sold' their excess, giving the money raised to the organisation's charitable wing.

Monday, 13 July 2009

London: Recent Example of BW tactics against unauthorised residential boats

While looking for something else I found this in a set of BW's recent user group meeting notes:

Q. Boats overstaying in large groups at the same site are effectively creating an estate without planning consent. If the facilities at Fieldes Weir are closed, where will the Elsan containers be emptied?

A. The facilities at Stanstead Abbots are not a long distance away, so boaters should go there instead.

Q. Will the water supply be turned off at Fieldes Weir?

A. Yes, all the facilities will be suspended. There are currently boats moored illegally which are permanently connected to the BW water supply, so turning it off will make them move.

Moderation of comments

One reason I have to leave all this switched on is my experience of BW's propensity to threaten litigation and other actions against people who publish things they don't like hearing! The merit of what is being said is not always taken into account, and rather than tackle the issue head on, BW have been known to use scare tactics and the threat of legal costs to muzzle complainants and critics.

I will happily defend my own words but in this environment I have to take a little care about what I let other post on my blog.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

What's got me round to writing a blog?

I've been campaigning on residential boating issues for many years. One of the frustrations has been trying keep in touch with the different and diverse community of residential boaters. Time to try something new?

I'm aware of lots of individuals and groups dotted around the country who never quite manage to hook up with each other. If all this blog does is a get a few more of us talking to each other then that's what I intend.

I hope some of the folk who don't feel able to engage with the mainstream user groups will if nothing else see this and know they are not alone.

I believe we need ultimately to network and stand together if we are not to be picked off one by one? I have seen this happen to many of my boating friends over the years and it is still going on.

British Waterways Moorings Policy Consultation

BW's national consultation structure includes something many of us call WUSIG. It's a six monthly meeting between BW and the main Waterways User Groups.

In April 2009 they tabled a detailed paper for attendees laying out a huge range of proposed new policies towards moorings management generally.

What does it say? Well I saw this in my capacity as a NABO officer so I can't tell you! And don't bother looking again at the BW link above either because at the time of writing, nearly three months later, notes of the meeting are not yet posted.