Anyone without a vested interest in the canals, bear with me here; I’ve got big news. The Canal and River Trust (CRT) has released its new mooring strategy for the London area. I accept this may sound super boring but trust me, it’s not.
Even if you don’t have one foot in the water, so to speak, the canals are a public asset and CRT’s report affects everyone's access to them. The plans will shape the way the capital’s waterways are used for the foreseeable future.
The CRT is the completely-not-unwieldy privatised charity that took over from the erstwhile publically owned British Waterways. It is hoping to address the fact that the number of boaters using the canal network has ballooned over recent years, placing new stresses and strains on a vast and largely neglected network.
With the CRT predicting a further 1,500 boats on London’s waterways by 2022, this report attempts to prepare the 100-mile network for the foreseeable future.
Having sifted through the benevolent buzzwords such as ‘fair sharing’, ‘balancing’ and especially ‘vision’, which one three-page supplement managed to use ten times, here are five things we’ve learnt from the CRT’s 2018 London Mooring Strategy.
1. The New Space Race
There’s a perception of a zero-sum equation when it comes to usable space along the waterways, leading to fears that this surge in boat numbers will lead to London’s canals clogging up.
Matthew Symonds, the CRT’s boating strategy and engagement manager, warned of the “enormous amount of pressure on what is, after all, a finite space.” The report stated that “If numbers continue to rise in line with recent years it will be to the detriment of all users of the waterways.”
But is there really a lack of space? While the central London and East End canals have seen huge increases in the number of boaters, there has only been a slight swelling in west London. West of Kensal are miles and miles of canals (with convenient transport links) that remain unmoored most of the time.
If the CRT was so concerned by space, you would think more energy would be put towards making proper use of existing space – rather than fearmongering that something (or some boaters) is going to have to give
2. The elephant in the room that’s probably going to mug you
Long unlit urban paths are always going to be a safety nightmare. On one night earlier this year, eight boats around Victoria Park were broken into. Last winter there was a particularly long spate of muggings along the Clapton stretch of the Lea. With similar stories heard across London you’d be forgiven for expecting that the CRT would suggest some sort of solution.
Yet in literally the last sentence of the report it merely suggests founding a “Canal Watch”, apparently oblivious to the fact that such a scheme was set up by boaters following the east London break-ins.
Nobody’s asking for the CRT to start arming hordes of retiree volunteers, but some sort of proposed anti-crime battle plan would be nice.
3. It’s not all rubbish
If you’re looking for a way to strike up a conversation with a boater in London, just start complaining about the CRT service facilities and off they’ll go.
Key talking points include trickling water points, broken sewage pump-outs, and overflowing bins. And when there’s rubbish strewn across towpaths and in canals, it’s about time the issue was addressed.
Luckily, nine new rubbish disposal sites are being brought in across the network; with more water points, better sewage disposal facilities and even waste oil disposal facilities.
While this looks promising, only time will tell if these will be delivered effectively or will even be sufficient.
4. Innovation on the canals
For a charity and local council partnership, you wouldn’t imagine innovation to be top of the agenda, yet there are some interesting schemes to be piloted.
A patch of “eco-moorings” are intended to address on-going issues with pollution from boats and their trusty solid fuel stoves. This will see greater policing of boaters in the Kings Cross/ Angel area, which is coincidentally right by some of the most expensive canal-side property on the network. But that is definitely just a coincidence, right?
The CRT has rightly taken notice of the new types of industries flourishing on the canals, from bookshops to bakers, and ice cream boats to community spaces like the formidable Village Butty, a floating village hall.
New permanent business moorings are to be setup across London, but more interestingly ‘Roving Trader’ moorings are going to be tried out so travelling canal boat businesses can ply their trade in the big city.
5. Opening up the canals
The CRT is gunning hard to ensure “access to the water for all”. Although this sounds like a crowd-pleaser, it’s controversial among boaters; when you’re trying to steer an unwieldy 15 tonne barge through London’s narrow waterways, the last thing you want to worry about is kamikaze kayakers getting tangled in your propeller.
The CRT will be encouraging more spaces for water sports and fishing by imposing restricted moorings on certain areas of London, which, despite being at the expense of boaters, will probably be worth it if it brings more of the public to the canals.
But one things for certain from the report: the CRT’s move towards being a “wellbeing” charity as well as one that actually manages the waterways is being treated with healthy amounts of scepticism after it blew £60,000 on a rebranding that included a significantly inferior logo. So we’ll just have to see how this plays out.