SCARS ANNUAL MEETING, MARCH 2005:
The Address by Dr. George Greener, Chairman of British Waterways
Two years ago, Dr. George Greener made his first visit the Sankey Canal. He was taken, with dignitaries from Halton, St. Helens and Warrington, on a whistle stop tour of the canal from Spike Island to the Hotties, ending up at the World of Glass. On that occasion he expressed his interest in the Sankey and his willingness to help the Society in any way he could.
At the AGM in march 2005 he was as good as his word, travelling up from London to address the Society then driving south again on the same evening. His brief was to explain the current role of British Waterways in canal restoration, and to suggest the way ahead for SCARS.
He first of all wished to dispel the myth that BW was not interested in restoration but only in selling off its property assets. Before the tranche system of restoration projects was introduced very little was being spent from BW's budget on restoration, up to a maximum of £1m per year over the whole waterway system. During the five years during which tranche one was implemented £192m was spent on restoration schemes including the Forth and Clyde Canal, the Huddersfield Canal, the Rochdale Canal, the Ribble Link and the Anderton Lift at a rate of about £38m per year. In 2005 £5.6m will be spent on restoration.
Restoration is of course only one aspect of BW's work. The yearly maintenance and backlog of repair work, not to mention the unforeseen breeches in canal embankments, also demand funding along with staffing, accommodation and so on. It had been clear for some years that BW as it stood was too large and unwieldy and that massive reorganisation was needed, staff needed to be reduced and more modern business practices introduced. 2005 is the third year of the Corporate Plan aimed at achieving these results and good progress has been made.
The current tranche of projects include the Northern reaches of the Lancaster Canal, the Liverpool Link, the Droitwich Canal, the Cotswold Canals and Port Dundas in Scotland. Whereas tranche 1 followed the "Big Bang" theory where projects were carried through en masse, tranche 2 will be implemented on a more gradual basis, allowing potential funders to appreciate the benefits available from good restoration projects and hopefully to come forward with investment.
Much has been learned from tranche 1. In some cases problems were created which had not been anticipated, in others further income development is needed, whilst pinch points and water supplies need to be tackled on yet others. To be of any help, BW needs to consider 100+ restoration projects, prioritise them, and tackle only those considered to be practicable. Those being considered in Local Authorities' 3 year plans are good candidates and vice versa. Good planning is essential, but at local level rather than national and there must be benefits on offer. River restoration in London will only go ahead if London wins its Olympic Bid. The Bedford-Milton Keynes project is not considered practicable at present although this may change in the future. The Manchester Bolton and Bury project is only part of a much larger regional regeneration scheme and as such is worth supporting. Work goes ahead on this project in autumn of this year.
As a result of John Prescot's policy framework, BW has produced a working philosophy to include a number of objectives. First there is Economic Value Creation through Good Commercial Business Practice, and lastly to act as Risk Evaluator when considering the future of the waterways. BW is regarded as an exemplar organisation, capable of translating Government policy into reality through openness and flexibility.
Every five years BW undergoes a review to set new objectives. Most recently it has introduced the idea of the creation of future development rather than the criticism of the past. It wishes to move away from deficit funding to more increased efficiency, to the benefit of the whole waterway system. The Government is prepared to take B.W. seriously participating in schemes as shareholders just as it does with private commerce. The more trust and openness there is the less need for the reviews exists. Investment will be based upon future work rather than past performance.
The "Killer Facts" which will affect the success or otherwise of B.W. in the future are first that leading edge commercial performance is essential, to ensure the survival of BW without the need to dispose of its assets. Secondly, Britain's waterways form part of its national heritage and their increased usage over recent years means that no political party should consider any action which might put them at risk.
Dr. Greener went on to discuss the Sankey Canal. He remains convinced of the attraction of parts of the canal and of places capable of development, a "string of pearls" as he put it. Although the heritage value of England's first canal is not powerful enough on its own to make the Sankey a high priority project, other factors add weight to its claim. The support of the three local authorities and the comparative simplicity of ownership are major pluses compared to some other schemes. Some years ago the Sankey was not even on the waterways map but today it is there, raising national awareness of its existence.
There are eighteen restoration schemes which BW genuinely believes to be capable of being completed by 2025 and the Sankey is one of them. Its major draw backs are its lack of a link to the national network and the difficulty of raising sufficient funds to carry out the work. The first problem can be solved by the construction of the proposed new link to the Leeds Liverpool Canal whilst the second might be positively changed as a result of the benefits offered by this link. The Local authorities are working towards restoring the canal and therefore must consider it to be worth spending the time and effort in obtaining funding to put the theory into practice.
Dr Greener concluded by wishing SCARS every success in the future and the Chairman proposed a vote of thanks.
Below: Dr. Greener with some of our Members after the AGM.
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