And then you can hear from Jane Stubbs, one of our volunteer leaders, about her work with our wonderful volunteers.
Boater's Update 6 October 2023
We start with a look at our latest Annual Report which, among other things, mentions a volunteering milestone that was reached in the year.
After that there’s information on boat licence surcharges and on Smoke Control Areas and how they may affect boaters. This is followed by good news from the Weaver Navigation and events that you may be interested in coming along to.
This weekend’s stoppages can also be found below.
Happy boating, Damian
PS. Don’t forget that winter moorings are now on sale – you can find out more over on our dedicated webpage..
In this edition:
- 2022/23 Annual Report & Accounts published
- Meet Jane, one of the Trust’s volunteer leaders
- More information on boat licence fee changes
- Smoke Control Areas – what boaters should know
- Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend
- Update on River Weaver swing bridges and at Glasson Dock on the Lancaster Canal
- Bits & bobs
2022/23 Annual Report & Accounts published
We have published our Annual Report & Accounts for 2022/23. The Report highlights the importance of the 250-year-old canal network in helping to address key societal challenges, but also the significant risks the ageing canals are facing due to a shortfall in funding and more frequent extreme weather events brought about by climate change.
Whilst the Report celebrates record usage of the network with 888 million visits, and more boats than ever before, it also highlights the impacts of rapid inflation and external, global factors affecting supply chains. These have added to the increasing cost of maintaining the 2,000-mile network with its many thousands of structures including reservoirs, aqueducts, bridges, locks and heritage buildings.
There was an increase in income to £225.1 million (2021/22: £214.6 million) mainly due to inflationary increases in commercial revenue. Spend on charitable activities increased to £199.5 million (2021/22: £180.2 million). The financial contribution from government, representing just under a quarter of our income, remained frozen with no allowance for inflation, and therefore continued to decline in real terms.
We delivered one of our largest programmes of repairs and maintenance to date, described in the Report, with 83 large-scale works including statutory works to reservoirs, and a further 325 in-house construction projects. Nonetheless, with rapid inflation and the increasing fragility of the ageing network, measures had to be taken to address a projected shortfall in our finances, with maintenance and repairs focussed on the most critical and urgent issues.
Beyond 2027, when our existing grant agreement ends, the government has announced year-on-year cuts to funding amounting to more than £300 million in real terms compared to recent levels. Launching a campaign to ‘Keep Canals Alive’, we have warned that the proposed cuts to funding would see an inevitable decline in the condition of the network leading to eventual canal closures.
David Orr, chair of the Trust since September 2022, comments: “Our canal network can help address a number of challenges faced by today’s society. It brings nature into our towns and cities, improves community wellbeing, helps tackle health inequalities, provides traffic-free routes for active travel and recreation, supports jobs and local economies, and plays an important role in the nation’s water and utilities infrastructure. Just as they were the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution, canals have the potential to shape our futures.” Richard Parry, chief executive, comments: “The government’s announcement that, despite concluding that the Trust has delivered value for money, our funding is to be further reduced so that it will fall by half in real terms by 2037, means a perilous future for the much-loved waterways. It puts at risk the huge and varied public benefits that they contribute.”
Other highlights from the year include the continued contribution from volunteers which, in the reporting period, saw the landmark of five million hours of volunteer time given since the creation of the Trust. There was also continued growth in the number of canals receiving Green Flag accreditation – with now almost a third of the network holding a Green Flag award.
The 2022/23 Annual Report & Accounts is available to view online at canalrivertrust.org.uk/about-us/annual-report-and-accounts. The Canal & River Trust’s Annual Public Meeting will once again be held online, on 1 November 2023. Questions to the chair and chief executive can be submitted in advance or during the meeting via <[email protected].> Another report, designed specifically for boaters, will be published in the coming weeks.
Meet Jane, one of the Trust’s volunteer leaders
How long have you been with the Trust?
I have been with the Trust for seven years now.
What’s your background?
I actually worked for the British Waterways Board in the Meadow Lane Office in Nottingham (which is no longer there) when I was 17 years old but left after three years to pursue a career elsewhere. Now I’m nearer the end of my working life I’ve returned to the Canal & River Trust!
What is it you do at the Trust?
The main part of my job is to manage and lead a section of volunteer lock keepers in the East Midlands Region.
How many people/who is your team made up of?
I have more than 100 volunteers based across ten lock sites including eleven lead volunteers that help me at tidal locks at Boston and Torksey, the six non-tidal River Trent mechanical/hydraulic locks (Holme, Stoke, Gunthorpe, Hazleford, Newark Town and Nether, Cranfleet (manual lock) and Sawley (mechanical).
What kind of volunteers do you have?
They are an eclectic group of mostly retired people that come from different backgrounds – military, police, health service, teachers, civil servants, utilities, academic, management, IT. You name it, we’ve probably got the experience! I also believe that I have one of the oldest volunteers in the country at 88 years old. Quite a lot have boating experience and they have many transferable skills and expertise that they bring to the team.
What do volunteers do in your team?
They are predominantly lock keepers – they are well trained, qualified and experienced in what they do. Many of them do other tasks and roles as well including, training, CAATS (Competency and Assessment Training Scheme) assessors, vegetation management, repairs, administration and social media support.
Can you remember your first experience of a canal or river?
I grew up in the north of Nottinghamshire and went to School in Retford. The wonderful Chesterfield Canal ran beside our school, and I remember learning to canoe on the canal and, not to brag, achieving several canoeing awards!
Do you or any of your team go boating?
Quite a lot of my team have boats or regularly go on boating holidays. I am lucky that I occasionally get invited to go on outings on their boats so that I can enjoy, and understand, the waterways from a boater’s perspective. I’ve also holidayed on the waterways too and had to steer a narrowboat on the Llangollen Canal across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct because the rest of the crew were too scared to stay on board and got off and walked across!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy working with the volunteers – they never cease to amaze me and their passion and commitment to volunteering is outstanding because they give up their spare time so that other people can enjoy their spare time.
What do you enjoy the least about your job?
When people make disparaging remarks about volunteers. Never judge a book by its cover – you just don’t know who you are talking to and what they have done in their lives. We have highly decorated and ‘famous’ people amongst us!
What does an average week look like?
I work every weekend over the boating season and at the moment I do quite a lot of lock keeping myself, mostly on the non-tidal River Trent. As with most jobs there’s a lot of admin, arranging supplies, recruitment of new volunteers, arranging training and supporting my huge team.
What’s the most common job you do?
Sorting out rotas which means keeping a lot of plates spinning to keep everyone happy. Aside from that I do a lot of lock keeping and helping boaters who need assistance in locks.
What’s the oddest job you’ve had to do on the waterways?
Clearing other peoples’ rubbish from lock sites including large amounts of underwear after they have been by the river! Is there anything boaters can do to make your job easier? Yes, be kind and remember that volunteer lock keepers are giving up their time to help you.
More information on boat licence fee changes
Following the announcement on 19 September about changes to future boat licensing, the Canal & River Trust is today giving further details about the increases in licence fees to be applied from 1 April 2024 for boats without a home mooring and for wide beam boats. Licences for all boats on the Trust’s waterways will increase above inflation for each of the next five years. The surcharges for boats without a home mooring and wide beam boats will be applied in addition to that.
The following licence pricing will be applied, starting from 1 April 2024 (with the surcharges for boats without a home mooring and for wide beam boats also summarised in the table beneath):
Standard licence fee: All boats will see an above-inflation increase in each of the next five years. This will be determined in November of the preceding year when the latest inflation forecasts are available from the Bank of England i.e. the increase to be applied from April 2024 will be announced next month.
Boats without a home mooring
Boats without a home mooring will see a total surcharge of 25% applied on top of the standard licence fee. It will be phased in, so that the surcharge in each year is as follows:
- April 2023 (existing): Standard licence fee
- April 2024: Standard licence fee + 5%
- April 2025: Standard licence fee + 10%
- April 2026: Standard licence fee + 15%
- April 2027: Standard licence fee + 20%
- April 2028: Standard licence fee + 25%
Wide beam boats
Wider boats will see an increase to the current surcharge. Boats 2.16m/7ft 1” – 3.24m/10ft 7½” (Band 2) will see an increase from the existing 10% surcharge to a 25% surcharge. It will be phased in, so that the surcharge in each year is as follows:
- April 2023 (existing): Standard licence fee +10%
- April 2024: Standard licence fee +13%
- April 2025: Standard licence fee +16%
- April 2026: Standard licence fee +19%
- April 2027: Standard licence fee +22%
- April 2028: Standard licence fee +25%
Boats over 3.24m/10ft 7½” (Band 3) will see an increase from the existing 20% surcharge to a 50% surcharge. It will be phased in, so that the surcharge in each year is as follows:
- April 2023 (existing): Standard licence fee +20%
- April 2024: Standard licence fee +26%
- April 2025: Standard licence fee +32%
- April 2026: Standard licence fee +38%
- April 2027: Standard licence fee +44%
- April 2028: Standard licence fee +50%
Wide beam boats without a home mooring
Wider boats without a home mooring will see both surcharges combined. Boats without home moorings over 2.16m/7ft 1” – 3.24m/10ft 7½” (Band 2) will see an increase from the existing 10% surcharge to a 50% surcharge. It will be phased in, so that the surcharge in each year is as follows:
- April 2023 (existing): Standard licence fee +10%
- April 2024: Standard licence fee +18%
- April 2025: Standard licence fee +26%
- April 2026: Standard licence fee +34%
- April 2027: Standard licence fee +42%
- April 2028: Standard licence fee +50%
Boats without home moorings over 3.24m/10ft 7½” (Band 3) will see an increase from the existing 20% surcharge to a 75% surcharge. It will be phased in, so that the surcharge in each year is as follows:
- April 2023 (existing): Standard licence fee +20%
- April 2024: Standard licence fee +31%
- April 2025: Standard licence fee +42%
- April 2026: Standard licence fee +53%
- April 2027: Standard licence fee +64%
- April 2028: Standard licence fee +75%
Prompt and online payment
There will be a reduction of the prompt payment discount from 2.5% to 2% and a reduction in the online payment discount from 2.5% to 0.5%.
The licence fee makes an important contribution to the Trust’s income, accounting for 11% of revenue. Whilst the cost of the licence has largely kept pace with inflation since the Trust was formed, the increases being introduced from April 2024 will help with the increasing cost of looking after the ageing canal network – at a time when government has announced significant cuts to public funding. Alongside the changes to boat licensing, the Trust continues to grow income from its property and non-property endowment, and from other commercial sources such as hosting utilities and water transfer. The Trust is targeting a step-change in income generation from towpath users and other supporters, with fundraising income projected to grow by 10% each year – whilst other commercial waterways income, including from anglers, paddle sports and moorings, is also set to increase.
For more information on the changes to boat licensing including Frequently Asked Questions visit:canalrivertrust.org.uk/national-consultations
For more information on boat licensing, visit: canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/licence-your-boat The Trust supports boaters who may be struggling to pay their licence fees on a case-by-case basis. This can include arranging flexible payment plans and signposting to relevant services, for example the Waterways Chaplaincy, local authorities and Citizens Advice. For more information visit: http://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/do-you-know-a-vulnerable-boater.
Smoke Control Areas – what boaters should know
The recent change in weather leaves us in no doubt that we’re on that towpath towards winter. If you’re on your boat as the temperature drops you’ll be warming it one way or another. If this means stoking up a wood burning stove then it’s worth remembering that the restrictions of Smoke Control Areas can now be applied to boats.
A Smoke Control Area is a legally defined area where you cannot emit a substantial amount of smoke from a chimney – this interactive map* from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) shows where they are. You can be issued a penalty by the local authority of between £175 to £300 if you break this rule.
In addition, you must not buy unauthorised fuel for use in a Smoke Control Area unless it is to be used in an exempt appliance. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you break this rule. A lot of wood burning stoves are classed as an exempt appliance – you can find a full list of those classed as exempt here. If your wood burning stove isn’t listed then you are only permitted to burn authorised fuels in Smoke Control Areas – a list of authorised fuels can be here. Note that different rules apply in England and Wales and the differences are set out when you look at the lists of appliances and fuels.
Even when you’re not moored in a Smoke Control Area – some hubs on the waterways, such as Gloucester Docks, aren’t – you should always try to be a good neighbour and limit the amount of smoke you emit. Some top tips from one of our readers are:
- Keep fuel dry as far as is practical and use the right fuel for your stove.
- Use smokeless fuels.
- Only add fuel a little at a time, adding a lot in one go produces lots of smoke, especially if it’s damp.
- Never ever burn plastics, chipboard, treated wood (including pallets) and other types of rubbish as they can emit harmful fumes and toxic pollutants.
In summary, wherever you are, try to create as little smoke as possible. If you are in a Smoke Control Area then check that your stove is listed as exempt before using it to burn wood. If it’s not listed as exempt then only use authorised fuels (linked above). Some more hot tips can be found here!
If you’re struggling with the cost of smokeless fuel then help might be at hand in the form of the Government’s Household Support Fund. Your local licence support team can help direct you to the appropriate local authority department.
In addition, if you were born before 25 September 1957, you could get between £250 and £600 to help you pay your heating bills. This is known as a ‘Winter Fuel Payment’. Most people get the Winter Fuel Payment automatically if they’re eligible. If you’re eligible, you’ll get a letter in October or November saying how much you’ll get. If you do not get a letter but you think you’re eligible, check if you need to make a claim.
Finally, there’s great website called www.turn2us.org.uk/ where you can check which benefits and grants you’re eligible for.
*DEFRA point out that the data on the map is indicative only and you should always contact the local authority to confirm if you are in a Smoke Control Area.
Maintenance, repair and restoration work this weekend
As someone who’s out on, or by, the water more often than most, you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. So, below, you’ll find a list of navigations that have ongoing restrictions that may affect you if you’re planning to get out on the water this weekend:
- Bridgwater & Taunton Canal
- Calder & Hebble Navigation
- Chesterfield Canal
- Coventry Canal
- Leeds & Liverpool Canal
- Millwall Inner Dock
- Montgomery Canal
- Peak Forest Canal
- Rushall Canal
- Shropshire Union Canal
- Soho Loop
- Weaver Navigation
When restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off. As set out in the article above, you can set up your smartphone to automatically alert you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you’re interested in. Check out this guide to setting it up.
If you have any questions about a specific closure, or spot an error in our system, please get in touch.
Update on Weaver swing bridges and Glasson Dock on the Lancaster Canal
We are happy to confirm that all five major historic swing bridges on the River Weaver Navigation are now operational again. Sutton Weaver Bridge near Frodsham, Acton Bridge and Northwich’s Town, Hayhurst and Winnington bridges can now all be swung on request to accommodate the Danny steam ship and other large vessels, after we carried out a programme of repair, maintenance and testing this summer.
Earlier this year, the ageing iron swing bridges had suffered reliability issues caused by age-related defects. All the bridges, which carry busy main roads over the river, were designed to swing with a minute tolerance level and occasionally they were unable to swing back into place. To combat the challenge of dealing with today’s heavier carriageways and more extreme weather, we have now introduced a revised operations and maintenance regime, which aims to improve the reliability and resilience of the swing bridges. This involves swinging all five bridges twice a week and regularly monitoring bridge/road gaps to ensure the bridges remain in good working order for the future. Further upstream between Hartford and Winsford, a sixth smaller swing bridge, which carries a footbridge over Vale Royal Lock, should also be operational again by mid-October. This has been out of action to lone boats over 10m/32ft since June due to a faulty gearing system. Custom-made new gearing has had to be manufactured specially and this is due to be installed the second week in October. Glasson Dock
We are also working closely with partners at Glasson Dock on the Lancashire coast, to increase control over water levels in the popular dock, marina and Glasson branch line of the Lancaster Canal.
Along with the Canal & River Trust, the Port of Lancaster authority, Environment Agency and Aquavista Marina are all responsible for different elements of Glasson Dock infrastructure and each of us plays a vital role in the complex challenge of maintaining adequate water supplies for commercial shipping and leisure boaters.
Of course, we maintain the 200-year-old Lancaster Canal and Glasson Flight, and keep a close eye on water levels to ensure the safety of people, property and protect local ecology and biodiversity. Every day, including weekends and bank holidays, we carry out a full inspection of the Glasson Flight and clear away unwanted vegetation or other obstacles to navigation.
The canal is fed by the River Condor under licence from the Environment Agency, which limits the amount of water extracted. Occasionally during prolonged dry periods, the lock flight needs to be closed to boaters to conserve water. Compounding the water supply challenge, Lock 7, which is a Scheduled Monument located in the dock, has experienced gate leakage issues in recent years.
Added to this, in the early hours of Saturday 2 September, extreme pressure, caused by a faulty sea gate and the first September high tide, led to the head gates being forced open and the gate chain breaking. To protect the dock area, the local operations team were on duty on consecutive nights until our emergency repair team, including professional divers, fixed the problem and refitted the chains, allowing the lock to operate again.
Engineers and contractors are currently working on a detailed plan to carry out more extensive repairs over the next few years. This will involve draining Lock 7 and repair work to the lock and gates to reduce leakage. As mentioned in our Annual Report, our canals are facing significant pressures from climate change, with more extreme weather taking its toll on the ageing network. It’s more important than ever that they are properly funded and supported, so we can keep them safe and available for the communities on and around them.
Bits & bobs
The Accessible Waterways Association is pleased to announce that it is hosting ‘Towards Accessible Waterways - Showcasing working towards Accessible Waterways’, in Birmingham on 2 December. The day is aimed at anyone with accessibility needs and will be open from 10:30am with registration and refreshments. Further details will be made available soon, but get your booking in early (application form to be published shortly), as places are limited and will be on a first come first served basis. The day is being run by the Accessible Waterways Association in conjunction with us.
We’re now taking bookings for our autumn West Midlands user forum, taking place in Wolverhampton on 17 October. As always, it’s open to anyone who’d like to attend and find out more about what we’ve been doing, and are planning to do, in the region. We’ll be sending out invitations to everyone who’s expressed an interest before and/or is an official representative of user organisations.
As mentioned in a few previous editions we’re updating our customer service facilities so that you can make contactless payments. More details will follow on how you can get refunds on any existing paper cards – it’s not a straightforward exercise – so, in the meantime, try to use up any paper cards you still have before the payment method changes.
Finally, do you watch or create videos about your boating life? Do you have a favourite vlogger who you always watch? If you answered yes to either of those questions I'd love you to tell me. Email me at [email protected] with subject 'boating videos'
Happy boating, Damian
Last Edited: 06 October 2023
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