From the controversy of its new logo, selling its Marinas, and its big shake up in management, there are a lot of concerns as to where CRT is heading and what lies in store for the boating community as a whole. Many are confused as to where CRT’s responsibilities lie and what a Charitable Trust even looks like, in an ever more profit driven world.
By the end of the 2nd World War, the waterways came under the control of the Ministry of Transport. This was reformed by the British Transport Commission and became the British Waterways Board after the 1962 Transport Act was passed. This turned a previously public owned body into a “quasi”, which is defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘seemingly; apparently but not really’! This new board was a public Corporation and mainly concerned with commerce and inland waterway assets. It was an ‘arm’s length’ institution and owned by the British Government, sponsored in 1963 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England and Wales, and by the Scottish Government in Scotland.
By late 1969, early 1970, commerce on the canal system had all but ended. Stretches were filled in and it looked like we might lose the canals for ever. The much hated 1971 BWB Act and consequent 1983 BWB Act were brought in to evict traders and live-aboards from the water; Section 8 and Section 13 of the enforcement process.
The main body fighting to save the canals back then was the IWA and through lobbying and direct actions, a small but determined group of bargees and boaters managed to save this historic asset for the future. Volunteers and enthusiasts reinstated cuts and dug links that had been left as rubbish dumps, to make it a new viable leisure industry.
In 2010/2011 the BWB had a revenue of £176,500,000 with total assets of £676,900,000 andon 2nd July 2012, under the Cameron government, all British Waterways’ assets and responsibilities in England and Wales were transferred to the newly founded CRT.
All land transferred to CRT in 2012 was ‘to be held permanently for the benefit of the public’.
Regardless of this, CRT have been busy bringing in developers to ‘adopt’ CRT land, with big corporations buying up water side sites for private developments in the future. This has happened at Limehouse with a 380m stretch of the Lea on the Bow Free Wharf going to ‘Vastint’, the developers’ branch of furniture giants IKEA. The Birmingham network and the ‘Icknield Port Loop’ saw CRT and Birmingham Council working in collaboration to secure planning consent on a massive swathe of public land.
It is very difficult to see how selling these public assets and paying nearly three times the price for labour makes good business sense. To the more cynical amongst us it looks like it has been set up to fail; to be asset stripped with a view to privatisation.
Even those who still believe in CRT must see this as terrible mismanagement and a huge waste of funds.
So this begs the question; how does an institution, or our country for that matter, survive by selling assets to break even? The very simple economic answer is: it can’t.