LOWLAND CANALS ASSOCIATION – AGM 3rd Dec 2019
(Minutes can be found below the report)
Firstly, it has been a very productive year for the association, and I would like to thank the committee members for their individual contributions and say that without the help and enthusiasm of the committee the LCA would have been a less effective group.
I was appointed chair on the 15th January 2019. The post has been a real roller coaster and continues to be a learning curve. The first major change introduced was regular monthly committee meetings which took place on 4th March, 8th April, 13th May, 10th June, 15th July, 12th August,16th September and the 21st October. The minutes are available on our website.
Historically, the Boaters Group was originally formed as a reaction to the price increases imposed on boaters by Scottish Canals in 2015 but Scottish Canals were reluctant to discuss issues with them as they were described as a unconstituted group. The LCA was formed as a formally constituted body and was recognised by Scottish Canals. There were many concerns about the pricing review which were raised with Scottish Canals and the Public Service Ombudsman. He advised that he was unable to adjudicate on the matter because the complaints were out-with his remit. The LCA submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament asking for an independent water ombudsman to look at a range of concerns. England has a water ombudsman with a wide-ranging remit and powers. To date the LCA has delivered the petition to all Scottish MSPs, attended three hearings at Holyrood and is awaiting the final verdict from the committee. Even if our petition is unsuccessful, we have succeeded in raising the awareness of the many problems with Scottish Canals at the highest level of government. Further details can be found on the parliamentary website or LCA website,
A regular item on the agenda is safety and navigational issues, an action tracker is used as matters are raised and resolved at bi-monthly meetings with Scottish Canal staff.
Each month there is an update on financial and membership status.
Looking back over the year, in March the LCA produced a very detailed and comprehensive directory of services for boaters. Don completed this work the following month and it has proved to be very useful. The directory is on the website and monitored on a regular basis, other services are added as they become available.
The LCA agreed to facilitate boat movements for the flotilla in May from Falkirk to Kirkintilloch.
We also submitted a letter of complaint to Scottish Canals about the closure of the Glasgow branch to construct Garscube Bridge at Firhill Basin. Scottish Canals agreed to delay the work until the autumn to minimise the impact on navigation.
In April, after extensive research, the LCA presented a weeding proposal to Scottish Canals. The suggestion was that turbidity keeps the weeds down therefore if Scottish Canals paid expenses for boaters to travel along the canal then the resulting increase in turbidity would go some way to controlling the growth of the weeds. Discussions are taking place with Richard Millar and details of the proposal can be found on the website.
In the months of May and June the LCA focused on the flotilla, making leaflets and banners to increase membership, safety and navigation issues continued to be promoted, the website was updated. A nautical route finder is presently being updated and will be added to the website for use by members.
It was agreed that LCA would organise the fireworks and flotilla of lights in Edinburgh in November. In addition, there was a trip to the petition committee and a further submission from the LCA.
Earlier in the year, LCA attended meetings with Keep Canals Alive (KCA) to contribute to the discussions with Government and Scottish Canals. Scottish Waterways for All (SWfA) was established as an advisory group to work with Scottish Canals and has effectively superseded KCA. LCA were involved in establishing the constitution and proposed a code of conduct. LCA attend the SWfA meetings to represent boaters’ interests. Don will give a summary of their work later He was also the person who compiled the directory.
At the July meeting, as well as the normal business storage for residential boaters became an issue. Some residential boaters have storage and others have not. The complaints were not adequately dealt with by Scottish Canals and other options are being explored.
In August and September awaiting procedural guidelines for the weeding proposal from Scottish Canals and discussions about involvement in the canal festival were new items on the agenda.
In October concerns were raised about Scottish Canals’ use of the threat of eviction for non-compliance with their conditions. LCA formulated a letter to C Topley which is on the website.
At the November meeting, in addition to the standard items on the agenda, there was discussion about Ratho’s wave garden, the flotilla of lights and arrangements for the AGM
I have tried to give an overview of some of the work undertaken on behalf of the lowland canal boaters. It is impossible to cover everything. We see ourselves as a grassroots organization and encourage member participation. We are all volunteers who are passionate about all aspects of canals and waterways in Scotland and ensuring that the world’s first sea to sea ship canal can be handed on to our next generation as a functioning waterway. In this age of concern over climate change perhaps the canals could be revitalised to carry freight again. Food for thought!!
SWFA progress report
Scottish Waterways for All
SWfA was set up to gather all of the canal organizations together as one unit to assist Scottish Canals in the planning and execution of maintenance, projects, and operational issues.
The organization was set up as an umbrella group of the Lowland Canals Volunteer Group, using their bank account and with an amended volunteers group constitution.
LCA were successful in having a code of conduct added to the group processes.
A committee was picked and because of the time limitations, it consisted of mainly the people who had attended each meeting.
Ronnie Russack was chosen to be chair and Pat Bowie as vice chair.
The initial proposal was for the members of the group to each pick 3 priority issues they wished to be addressed. Unfortunately, this wish list came back as an extended tracker with over 40 items on it. There was no attempt made to reduce the list as per the initial agenda of the group.
Scottish Canals are represented on this group by 3 members. Richard Millar, Josie Saunders and Mark Smith. The CEO Catherine Topely has attended all meetings with exception of the last one on November 4th.
There have been 5 meetings to date.
Some positives have been achieved in that Scottish Canals have given excellent presentations on weeding and dredging and the costs involved. Also, at the last meeting, the boater’s consultation survey was presented and amended before being sent out to boaters.
Further meetings will give presentations on training, and operational staff numbers on all canals.
On a negative note, the tracker items have not decreased as the number of items is too long and no sub committees set up to address or prioritise the ones which should be worked on.
Also, the committee is too large, from its initial proposal it has never been formalized as such and the numbers around the table have actually increased.
Although this group has been given the stamp of approval by the Scottish Canals operations board, it was not given official approval by the Non-Executive Board. The Chairman of that board Mr Andrew Thin has been invited to attend and to date has not taken up that offer. A further invite to other members of that board has now been made. This did not go down well with the SWfA committee members as the initial reason for forming this group was to close the gap between, canal organisations, the SC Operations Board and the Non-Executive Board.
At the meeting on the 4th, one of the committee members informed SC that they were not in fact meeting their statutory requirements under the Scottish Government guidelines. As they cannot meet the depth of canal for coast to coast traffic and are only operating through traffic on one day of each week in each direction, this is seen by some to negate the canals cruising status. A sub committee has been set up to look into this further with the output to be presented shortly as it could affect operational hours. There is a danger, however large or small that the canals could lose cruising status if SC are found to be in breach of their statutory obligations. We all hope it does not come to that, and it is an issue that the SWfA committee and any sub group will endeavor to prevent.
In summary, the new group, although well intentioned and all working together, is not moving forward quickly enough. It gets bogged down at each meeting and very little seems to be achieved apart from receiving some good information from Scottish Canals. There is a push to have more volunteers and to have the different canal groups to raise funds. Volunteers will be trained to carry out more of the traditional staff duties. i.e. driving and operating the weed cutters. Cutting grass and some of the more menial tasks, which all require specific training to be carried out.
Waste within the SC organisation has been pointed out to SC, but is falling on deaf ears. Some of this information has been excellent and well presented by members from the Caledonian and Crinan canals.
The group was to be reviewed after 1 year of being established. And so far, if it was a teacher report, it would read as could do better.
Minutes from this group,s meetings will be available shortly on a website space provided by the IWA, through Jonathon Mosse. Once this has been completed, a link will be provided and put on the LCA website, to enable all to see group progress and issues.
Post AGM please find attached link to SWfA minutes hosted on the IWA website. https://www.waterways.org.uk/swfa/swfa