Concern for future of holidays on Scotland’s lowland canals

CAPERCAILLIE Cruisers Limited (CCL), which has provided narrowboat holidays on Scotland’s Lowland canals since 2003 and currently operates 21 boats based on Falkirk, is to tie up its craft for good at the end of the 2017 season.

The company, owned by majority shareholder, Re-Union Canal Boats Ltd, and Tim Ford, with a franchise operation involving ABC, Black Prince and Marine Cruises companies, is blaming a range of factors outwith its control.

These include what CCL describes as an ‘unsuccessful outcome’ to recent fee negotiations with Scottish Canals involving higher future charges, as well as restrictions on boat numbers based at Falkirk Wheel, removing confidence about growth and long-term sustainability.

The boards of Re-Union Canal Boats Limited and CCL have now reluctantly agreed that CCL does not have a long-term trading future, and have claimed that the relationship between CCL and Scottish Canals has effectively broken down.

“The conclusion of both boards is the same, namely that the CCL does not have a long-term trading future and CCL will cease trading at the end of the 2017 cruising season,” said Sheila Durie, Re-Union Canal Boats Ltd chairman.

“That decision has been taken with great sadness. We will honour all our commitments to holiday customers over the forthcoming season and thank our staff, customers, partners and supporters for their efforts over the last eight years, a period in which we grew the business from 16 to 21 boats.”

Scottish Canals says that it has done all it can to negotiate with CCL, and has revealed that CCL has been trying to sell the business over the last two years, and has twice approached the waterways body to buy over CCL and operate the cruises directly.

A Scottish canals spokesman said: “We engaged in positive dialogue on both occasions, but, unfortunately, in our view, the present operators had excessive expectations of what their business is worth.”

The spokesman said that Scottish Canals regretted that negotiations on fees had broken down and that the body had made every effort to accommodate CCL, while the review was part of its Scotland-wide review of charges which were arrived at after a full consultation process.

“Capercaillie is the last commercial operator we have to agree a new arrangement with,” added the spokesman. “We offered to have the negotiations independently facilitated so we could come to a mutually-agreed position, but Capercaillie rejected this proposal.

“Unfortunately, before we were able to agree a reasonable settlement for both parties, Capercaillie decided to walk away from the negotiating table and has not changed its position, despite numerous attempts by Scottish Canals to resume discussions.”

However, there is a ray of hope that Lowland Canal cruising may continue from Falkirk next season as CCCL says that it is still open to offers from interested parties. Scottish Canals says that, if Capercaillie is still determined to cease trading, it will negotiate a deal with operators in England, to maintain cruising while, hopefully, securing the existing jobs provided by Capercaillie Cruisers.

Tourism interests in and around Falkirk and Falkirk District Council say that they hope a solution can be found as loss of canal cruising would have a severe economic impact on the area.

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