Canal maintenance and engaging with the public

Mark Tizard, co vice-chairman of the National Association of Boat Owners (NABO), comments on some more topical issues.

WE HAVE seen both the good and the bad of Canal & River Trust maintenance in the last few weeks. Firstly the Birmingham & Fazeley canal at Minworth was closed for quite some time for repairs to the embankment. This involved rock and timber being laid on the canal bed to provide support with the plant that was used.

At the end of the works , apparently against the recommendations of the contractor, CRT refilled the canal and announced the canal open. Almost immediately boaters began to experience problems of grounding due to the rocks that were left in situ. It would appear that CRT was hoping to save money by not having to decontaminate the rubble prior to disposal.

The complaints increased resulting in a further closure for several days while the contractor returned and removed the rubble presumably at greater expense.

However contrast this with the leaky culvert discovered near Bridge 38 on the summit of the Macclesfield Canal. CRT was prompt in closing the canal and communicating with local boaters, working late and finally opening just in time for the bank holiday traffic.

Keeping on the subject of PR, much will be made this month of CRT’s new logo (below) and the desire to widen public awareness of the benefits of the canal. I was reminded of an article in The Guardian in December 2011 by Simon Salem, CRT’s then director of marketing. “The challenge is to make this fresh start real to people, without spending much money and against a backdrop of scepticism about ‘rebranding’. First things first, we did our homework and all the research both quantitative and qualitative told us that the waterways had a tremendous ‘from the heart’ emotional appeal which was summed up as ‘a haven for people and nature’. What we needed was top-quality brand and design thinking.

“Starting from the positioning statement, Pentagram decided that we needed to continue with a combined logotype and symbol because our 13 million visitors would have many opportunities to see them together and associate the new name with the new charity’s values. They also added to the positioning with thinking that suggested the new charity should be felt to be both ‘protective’ and ‘accessible’.

Element of evolution
“It was the symbol that had an element of evolution – it retained the characteristic humpbacked bridge of the British Waterways version (remember your road signs) but gave us a new hero – the swan. This magnificent bird evokes serenity, grace, calm, protectiveness and much more in people’s minds – the research was very positive.”

It will be interesting to learn why CRT feels that the extensive market research leading to the existing logo has failed and the results of the market research leading to the new logo.

I was contacted by a NABO member contrasting the £2.9 million being spent on towpath improvements in West Yorkshire as announced in a recent ‘boaters update’ with the likely cost of repairs of the Middlewich breach and the appeal which currently stands at £20,000. Not a direct and indeed an unfair comparison but an example of the PR struggle CRT faces in engaging with boaters.

Lastly a member writes to advise us of his resignation: “After almost 13 years of living aboard and continuously cruising I have sold my boat and bought a motorhome. I’m beginning to find it hard work to negotiate flights of locks single handed and I feel undervalued and occasionally harassed by Canal & River Trust who, in my opinion, disregard the terms of the 1995 British Waterways Act by trying to force boaters to move specific distances between moorings and minimum annual cruising distances. These were deliberately left unspecified in said Act as a form of protection to those of us who choose not to have a home mooring… no Act of Parliament can be changed, altered or modified other than by a new Act of Parliament. It is the law.”