Subject : Friends of Regent's Canal - Goodbye to British Waterways

Dear Friends,

Earlier this month British Waterways ceased to exist and its successor, the Canal & River Trust, was launched on 12th July.

I would be interested to hear your comments on how this might affect you and whether you think we should approach things in a different way. This could be a topic for discussion at our next public meeting (provisionally scheduled for Wednesday 5th September) and I think it would be worthwhile creating an area on our website to provide news and comment about how this affects the Regent's Canal in particular. As a group, it is important that we remain independent of the Trust, because if we are to add any value then we will need to be able to work as partners on some projects and as critics on others.

This is a nationwide change, but I fear that the Regent's Canal is at greater risk of exploitation than the rest of the network. If the new Trust ever faces financial difficulties then it could be very tempting to rely on construction or other opportunities to raise money at the expense of the heritage and charm of the canal. This is more likely to happen in London than anywhere else, partly because the high rents collected in London can help to subsidise other areas, and partly because many Londoners are less likely than people in other regions to notice or complain. If anybody thinks that I am just imagining that the Regent's Canal is at risk of losing its charm and of being overshadowed then I will refer them to the widely criticised Rosemary Works redevelopment that was approved by Hackney Council last year.

If there is one thing that unites the Friends more than anything else then it is a desire to make better use of the canals for water-borne freight. This obligation was virtually discarded as an anachronism in the DEFRA consultation document last year, but fortunately the public cannot be fooled that easily; and it was encouraging to hear Prince Charles, the Trust's Patron, suggest that the waterways could be brought back into productive use as part of an environmentally friendly transport network. This is a topic that we can start to raise both with the Trust and with the newly formed London Waterways Partnership.

I would be particularly interested in hearing from boaters, because there was a perception that boats and boaters were being sidelined in the mission to attract new users and donors to the waterways. One explanation for this is that boaters are so well established on the waterways that they were not the target of the recruitment campaign; but I was sufficiently concerned that I now think this apparent oversight needs to be monitored closely in the coming months. We probably also need an assurance that boating costs are not going to escalate in the next few years.

The transition of British Waterways to a Trust is going to create a mixture of opportunities and threats, and with a huge influx of new supporters and investors there will be some conflicting priorities that need to be addressed from the outset. So I am convinced that we need to be more proactive than ever in protecting what is left of the industrial heritage in London.

Please send in your comments, so that I can expand on these issues, and please also visit the Trust's new website, which is now taking shape.

Best wishes,

Ian Shacklock
Chair, Friends of Regent's Canal

31st July 2012

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