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Letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity
The Scottish Parliament
For the attention of Mr Michael Matheson
Scottish Canals – Maintenance of Navigation
At the Lowland Canal Association meeting on the 16th November 2019 our committee were so concerned about the state of the canals that they wished me to draw your attention to their concerns. We are an organization who represent the boaters on the Lowland Canals between Bowling, Grangemouth and Edinburgh. I have enclosed a leaflet to give you a background to our aims and objectives.
One major outstanding issue is the gap between what dredging is required to keep the canals open and what is actually happening in practice. We continue to be concerned that Scottish Canals are prioritizing asset management to the detriment of its statutory obligation to maintain the canal as a navigational highway. Unfortunately, if you use the canal as a biker, canoeist, walker, fisherman etc, you are not aware of the hidden problems under the water, a slow creeping build-up of silt below the water is not obvious to most people. However, the boaters have been concerned for a long time that Scottish Canals have been ignoring the requirement for dredging and adequate maintenance of their infrastructure which has allowed the canals to deteriorate to their current parlous situation If you want a canal with boats that move, you need to keep the channels clear.
In fairness, Scottish Canals and the Scottish Government have undertaken substantial improvements to some locks and bridges, For example Bonnybridge, Twechar and Lock 6 are now functional and have allowed these stretches of the canal to be reopened. While we appreciate that there is no easy solution, we would argue that there is a slow attrition of damage that needs to be given higher priority and funding. Our understanding is that for dredging across the whole network SC state that it will cost £10 Million to deal with the outstanding work. In addition, there will be an ongoing annual maintenance cost of £600,000. The problem is that only £100,00 is being allocated from the present budget. This will clearly not even deal with the annual influx of silt and obstructions, let alone tackle the substantial backlog. To us, it looks like putting a sticking plaster over an arterial bleed. We have raised this issue at various forums and as recently as 3rd October 2019 at the Lowland Canal Users Group the question was again raised about finance for operational plans for dredging. It was very disappointing to hear Scottish Canals’ response, namely “they are only spot dredging from the current budget” which is extremely limited”. They go on to state that another proposal is the option to discuss a dredging programme with Scottish Government colleagues, including the cost of outsourcing the work to reduce the future annual maintenance dredging and weed cutting. Can you please give us an update on the progress of this proposal? Who are the Scottish Government colleagues? What is their remit?
The LCA have worked on a weeding proposal with Scottish Canals and have 2 ideas for dredging which are awaiting a response from them. Sadly, things often fall off the agenda and are lost as other items come along. The LCA believe that Scottish Canals must be allocated more money in order that they can comply with their statutory obligation to maintain navigation on the canals for the types of craft which have traditionally used the canals, rather than canoes. They must give it a higher priority with an ongoing 10-year plan with discernible regular reviews. It may be that Scottish Canals could have some of their capital budget reassigned to cover the cost of dredging. While it is lovely to have a coffee at the many visitor centres provided by Scottish Canals, keeping the canal clean and healthy for all to enjoy would be our heartfelt plea to the Minister and the Scottish Government. Hopefully at some point, Brexit and other demands on your time will fade into the mists of time but the canals for all should be a wonderful legacy for the Scottish Government and justify the decision to keep Scotland’s Canals in the public sector instead of following the English scheme of transfer to a charity.
One last comment. On 22/23 November this year, the LCA arranged a flotilla of lights with a bonfire, fireworks and BBQ. On the Saturday, the barges were lit up and some with musicians aboard as they made their way into Edinburgh, throwing sweets to the many children standing along the embarkment to view the spectacle. This is the third year we have organised this event and it is fun. Sadly, this year six boaters experienced problems with grounding in shallow water or engines overheating due to silt and weeds. The problem is only going to get worse without additional expenditure. While we appreciate that there are many demands on your time and purse can you please help prevent this problem getting worse and ultimately more expensive to fix.
Chairperson on behalf of the LCA
Letter from our chair to Catherine Topley re threats of eviction.
At the LCA meeting on the 16th September 2019, a serious concern was raised about Scottish Canals’ use of the threat of eviction as a first response to any perceived infringement of their terms and conditions as laid down in lease agreements. It was noted that in England the threat of eviction is the last resort and the normal procedure is to issue 2 warnings before threatening eviction.
Residential boaters are in a very vulnerable position. The boat is their home and is often a substantial financial investment and as such has a very different value from other non-residential boats. Residential boaters are paying customers but only have the right to be taken to court as part of the eviction process.
It was noted that Scottish Canals do not adopt a policy of investigating complaints on the basis of individual circumstances. They appear to have a policy of one approach fits all, i.e. threaten eviction.
For residential boaters, the threat of eviction can in many cases be traumatic. There may be occasions when this is the only option but surely every avenue should be explored and eviction seen as a very last option.
Imagine the stress caused by having to go to court.
Imagine the stress and financial hardship of the cost of getting a lawyer to represent you.
Imagine the stress if you are evicted.
Scottish Canals will have the first claim on your assets if you cannot sell your boat.
What are your options?
1 Sell your boat to Scottish Canals, this option puts you in a poor bargaining position. Does it represent a conflict of interests for Scottish Canals?
2 Alternatively you sell your boat to another customer and again the old catch 22. The new owner cannot have a boat without a mooring and can only get a mooring from Scottish Canals.
3 You sell your boat abroad or to England/Ireland, again a huge expense in removing the boat from the canal and transporting it to its new mooring.
4.However, much worse than all the above is the fact that you and your family are now homeless. This is a nightmare situation and will only serve to increase the problems of homelessness.
Residential boaters are a small group on the canals. Scottish Canals has a duty of care under the 1974 Health and Safety Act. This being the case, it goes without saying that the threat of eviction is both stressing and distressing for families and children. The LCA would argue that Scottish Canals is in breach of its duty of care. Residential boaters are in a vulnerable position in that they would be required to move their home to another canal or sell their home. All research shows that in terms of stressful events in people’s lives, homelessness and house moves are in the top section. Some symptoms of stress include failure to sleep, eating disorders, high anxiety and raised cortisol levels. All of these impact negatively on people’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
The LCA has been advised that Scottish Canals use the threat of eviction as a first reaction. The reasons given are often trivial and not based on any assessment of the person’s circumstances. For example, there are times in peoples lives when personal circumstances such as bereavement, physical or mental health issues result in a person being unable to function at their full capacity. It appears that Scottish Canals does not make any assessment of the above. It is also very worrying that a neighbour can make a complaint about a boater and Scottish Canals accept the complaint without proper investigation as has happened recently. The underlying reason for the complaint may be spiteful, trivial or malicious. Any threat of eviction will only make the matters worse and should only be used as a last resort if other approaches do not work. Perhaps a procedure of one verbal and one written warning would be more productive to both parties.
The LCA would like to suggest that Scottish Canals undertake an overhaul of their present policy.
Can you please advise if Scottish canals have any policies about protecting the welfare of the residential boater?
The Canal and River Trust have a welfare officer, would Scottish Canals consider this as a productive and progressive asset to alleviate tension. Can you confirm if Scottish Canals as BWB have a welfare officer, either now or in the past?
Thank you for reading the submission as I appreciate the many demands on your time.
Recent concerns raised and SC answers 18/9/19
1. Could I raise my concerns about the state of the South towpath at Auchinstarry between the Boathouse Hotel and the forestry commission land at the end of the pontoon. There are dips and puddles and the path is very uneven. The path gets a lot of use and I am concerned that there may be an accident. People with a physical disability find it uneven and difficult to manoeuvre. It is not very aesthetically pleasing compared with the work on the forestry commission path further on. Are there any plans to upgrade this section of the towpath? Can this be added to Chrissie’s tracker?
2. As a residential boater have I been allocated a postal box for mail. I notice there are 7 boxes and one appears to have been vandalised.
Scottish canals answer
I have spoken with the Senior Engineer who oversees the towpath upgrades. As you know, we rely a great deal on Sustrans funding to allow us to carry out upgrades to towpaths, unfortunately as the area to which you refer is on the offside, they would not assist us with the monies required to carry out work on that side. In the past we have drained this path but am afraid with the lovely Scottish weather, this was only effective for a very short period of time. The detail of how we prioritise works is detailed within our Asset Management Strategy https://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/news/scottish-canals-launches-new-asset-management-strategy/
With regard to the mail box allocation, I have copied Scott McMurray into this email as he will be able to confirm any arrangements in place for residential boaters. I am aware of the vandalised box and am in frequent contact with the boater who is allocated this one and we have a temporary measure in place at the moment which suits them.
NEXT AGM – 3rd December 2019 at 6.30pm – Union Inn Falkirk.
15/08/19 – Christine (Chair of LCA) recently raised a complaint regarding residential boaters storage. Below is the latest response from Scottish Canals.
Thank you for your email on behalf of the Lowland Canal Association regarding storage for residential moorings customers.
I am sorry to hear that you feel that there is unfairness in our allocation of storage huts but rest assured we always endeavour to manage this in a fair and transparent manner.
Whilst we do not have a written policy regarding storage sheds these are allocated to residential boaters on a first come first served basis and always subject to availability. Unfortunately not all of our sites nor all moorings at each site have storage allocated. There are currently 125 residential mooring customers across Scotland but only 67 storage sheds across the network. Ideally we would like to be able to provide storage to all residential customers but limitations around this are cost, proximity to the Scheduled Monument and our land ownership. In the event a customer with a shed leaves that shed is then offered to the customer who has resided at that location longest without storage. We maintain an internal list in this regard.
I can advise that currently there are 14 vacant storage units across the network at Cadder Wharf, Kelpies Marina and Viewforth Quay. Each of these units are permanent storage sheds that are secured to the ground so it is not possible to relocate these. In the event a boater wished to temporarily make use of remote storage we would be happy to look at this on the basis that should all the moorings in that location be let the storage would be reallocated to the local moorings.
I can assure you that we always consider storage as part of the offer for any new moorings development. Whilst many of our older sites don’t benefit from as much storage as we would ideally like, wherever possible we aim to construct new moorings with a 1:1 ratio of sheds to residential berths. In addition we will continue to work to identity further opportunities and funding to provide additional storage at our original Living on Water sites.
I hope that this goes some way towards reassuring you that we will continue to use every endeavour to allocate storage huts fairly but please don’t hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss the matter further.
Waterways Ombusman Update – 2/8/19
Further Responses to Petition PE01693
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the recent submissions following the appearance of Scottish canals at the petition committee on 6th June 2019.
The Petition Committee asked 3 questions of Scottish Canals.
The first was in relation to the Advisory Group. The LCA wish to add the following points about the new Scottish Waterways for All group.
There are mutual potential benefits from cooperation between Scottish Canals and the new group. The establishment of Scottish Waterways for All should provide a useful forum where the concerns of users can be considered and matters of policy can be discussed. However, it is not a body which can function as an independent ombudsman.
SWfA is not independent as there are three members of SC’s staff are on the management committee. Indeed, the constitution states that in the event of a dispute, the matter will be put to arbitration between the chair of the group and the CEO of Scottish Canals. It is not set up to investigate disputes or complaints about Scottish Canals from individuals.
The group will have no real power to change SC policy which is decided in the board room. Policy decisions can be challenged but at the end of the day, Scottish Canals can ignore or fail to implement advice from the advisory group. There will be and are areas where consensus will lead to a better understanding by all parties by early identification of issues. There will also be a limitation on the work that can be undertaken as the group will only meet 4 times per year. As it is a pilot scheme, its success or otherwise will be reviewed after a year.
The second question asked by the Petition Committee was “how much of the £70m repair backlog was considered to be critical”. The LCA would like to draw the member’s attention to the following in Section 12 – Canal Strategies of the Asset Management Strategy 2018-2030
“There is therefore a need to consider a more rationalised approach to budget prioritisation. Consideration must be given to the primary use and function of the various canals, recognising the wider benefits to the greatest number of people. This may not necessarily include navigation, although this is an important consideration”.
The maintenance of all canals should be given higher priority on the principle that a stich in time saves nine. Analysis of Scottish Canals’ annual reports done for the campaign for bridge repairs last year showed that the proportion of their total budgets spent on their core statutory maintenance obligation fell steadily from near 60% in 2008 to 42% in 2016, although this has since increased slightly. This reinforces the questions asked by the Committee in respect of the priority given to the basic core duties of maintaining the canals in a useable condition. The most recent paper from Scottish Canals quotes only the minimum investment of £30m required over the next 10 years to deal with the backlog, which on their own prediction would still result in the closure of some navigations. On that basis, we do not believe that Scottish Canals give sufficient priority to their basic core and statutory duties.
The LCA have no opinion to express on the third question from the Petition Committee in relation to the governance arrangements. Common sense would suggest that the person appointed should have some insight and experience in the field of water management and proven financial experience.
Possible Options for an Ombudsman
We submit the following options for your consideration for the role of ombudsman.
1 The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
The current remit of the SPSO is extremely limited and he/she is only permitted to adjudicate in cases of SC’sfailure to comply with their procedures or maladministration. They were unable to adjudicate on the price increases stating that their remit specifically precluded them from any issues to do with rent and service charges. It is our opinion that an Ombudsman should also be able to review the procedures themselves to judge whether they are fit for purpose and ensure that SC comply with their statutory and legal obligations, especially in maintaining the structures of the canals and navigation. The Scottish Government could widen the remit of the SPSO to increase their role to cover additional water related issues.
2 Independent Water Ombudsman
An independent water ombudsman for Scotland would certainly be a financial cost but with a remit to protect our heritage and respond quickly to issues. It would be very good value for money as both a constraint and watchdog for SC. The issue of price rises will continue as SC have already stated that within the next few years there will be another pricing review. There are concerns that another set of price increases will lead to less affluent boaters having to leave the canal. At present there are no hardship policies in place, Scottish Canals are a virtual monopoly with the attendant lack of real competition in its practice.
3 The Waterways Ombudsman
The Waterways Ombudsman was appointed to oversee the operation of the Canal and River Trust (CRT) which manages waterways in England and Wales. The following information is taken from the annual reports for 2018-19 of the Waterways Ombudsman Committee and The Waterways Ombudsman. The water ombudsman provides a service for those who use the services of the CRT or any subsidiaries who may be affected by their activities. It is noted that the plan is that the committee is working to extend the work of the ombudsman into other canals and waterways where the services of an independent water ombudsman would be helpful. As this is part of their mission statement, the Scottish Government might wish to explore this option by contacting Kevin Fitzgerald CMG who is the chair of the Water Ombudsman Committee in the first instance.
In the annual report this year, the Water Ombudsman advised that there had been 48 enquiries but only 12 were eligible for investigation. The procedures are like the Scottish Canals’ procedures in that the first stage of the complaint must go through the organisation in the first instance to seek an early resolution. When an investigation is implemented there is a 90-day time constraint to complete the investigation and reach a decision. The Water Ombudsman’s decision is open and transparent, the process clearly identified with reasons given for the conclusion. The decision is independent. The report cites several examples. It is of interest that there is an annual conference of the Ombudsman Association where information is shared and networking improved the service.
What the Lowland Canal Associations petition is requesting is an independent water ombudsman with a similar remit to that of the English Counterpart. Their mission statement is easily transferred to a similar body in Scotland, Quote “the purpose of the scheme is to make available a water ombudsman who is independent and accessible, to investigate in an efficient, effective, transparent and fair manner complaints of injustice suffered by a complainant that arise from maladministration or unfair treatment by the Trust or any its subsidiaries in carrying out their activities“.
Summary and Conclusion
In conclusion, the L.C.A. agree with Ronnie Rusack MBE who, in his submission of 17th May 2019, stated that ”it is imperative to have an independent ombudsman or body to watch over and protect these historical assets”. The principle of an Ombudsman is generally to ensure that consumers get a fair deal. The LCA would respectfully request that an independent water ombudsman be given the legal power to act in the best interest of all the users of all the waterways and canals in Scotland. In the past, Scottish Canals were believed by many to be focusing on asset building to the detriment of navigation of the canals. Although there appears to have been a change in leadership with the appointment of the new CEO, we believe that it is essential that pressure to improve the maintenance of the canals must be kept up. There has not as yet been any change in policy. The goodwill is there but a valuable backup for the canal/water users would be an independent water ombudsman. Without this, the voice of the canal users might only be given lip service. An Ombudsman, together with some form of proper scrutiny of policy is the best way forward.
Finally, SC need to give higher priority to their core responsibilities rather than focusing on empire building and visitor centres. The only way to do this is by changing their policies. This may not be pertinent to the petition but it is extremely relevant to the efficient functioning of these historic canals.
The LCA submitted the petition early in 2018 and along with others have brought their concerns to the attention of the Scottish Government. The issues have been complex and multifarious. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to a positive outcome.
On behalf of the Lowland Canal Association
Waterways Ombusman Update – 4/6/19
Apologies for the late warning but we have only been told recently of the imminent deliberation of the parliament petition committee regarding the request of a water ombudsman.
Members of the public can make arrangements to attend the petition committee discussions if they want to.
Scottish Canals are being questioned about our request for an independent water ombudsman by the Petition Committee at the Scottish Parliament, 09:30hrs on Thursday morning (6th june).
They have submitted a written statement in advance of the hearing. The Inland Waterways Association and Ronnie Rusack have also submitted further statements. Copies of all three documents are attached.
We were permitted to make a further statement and our response to these submissions is also attached.
The proceedings will be shown live on the Parliament website or you can view a recording at your leisure by using the
We will advise you of the outcome when the Committee have completed
CANAL CARNIVAL; Update. 12/4/19
Please find below a little update from Robin regarding the coming Canal Carnival….
Please remember the dates; Friday 24th May..Sun 26th May!
We now have over 70 boats registered to participate in this event. This means we have reached capacity on boats registered to partake in the Saturday Flotilla from The Wheel (TFW) to above Lock 20.
Vessels already West of lock 20 can still register to participate in the remainder of the event; but we can no longer guarantee places for boats from the East. You can still register for the reserve list and will be notified if space becomes available.
Can all participating boats now please register their inward and, if possible, return movements with SC Boat Movement/TFW in the normal manner. This includes descent of TFW on the Friday or earlier if possible.
Moorings will be available at TFW for those planning early arrival which will relieve pressure on boat movements on the day.
Remember, the sooner you book, the more likely you will obtain your desired schedule.
Thankyou All for joining in what should be a great celebration of the value of our Lowland Canals.
SC will be circulating a final time-table and details of performers and activities in the near future. We will put this on this site when it becomes available.
They will also be asking people to make bookings for in-house catering on the Friday evening.(expected around £10 a head.
Outside catering on the Saturday will be on a pay as you eat basis.
The LCA event at Spiers Wharf on Sunday evening is going ahead as promised. More details to follow.
CANAL CARNIVAL; Update.
The organisation of this event continues apace.
The final list of main acts and entertainment has not yet been established; but a number of acts have expressed their willingness to attend. We expect a good line-up for both evening events and performances en route on a stage on the Volunteer Boat ‘Lochrin’.
A substantial fleet of Steam Yachts and an armada of Coastal Skiffs are planning to attend; and some Paddle-boarders will be joining us for the last stretch to Auchinstarry on the Saturday afternoon.
As you may have heard elsewhere the bridge works on the Glasgow Branch have been postponed to the Autumn, thus allowing Glasgow Boaters to participate so please come along if you can.
Boaters are continuing to register although, so far, no-one from Southbank. Come on Folks; even if you can’t make it to the Wheel for the Friday evening, there’s still the rest of the weekend. Dont miss out on what promises to be a fun event.
Prizes will be awarded for: Best Decorated boats Day & Night and the furthest traveled to attend.
Food & Drinks will be provided at the events at the Wheel and Auchinstarry for an expected charge of £10 a head.
There may be a small official opening ceremony at Bonnybridge earlier on the Friday at which anyone heading towards TFW would be welcome to attend.
On Friday evening it is planned to load the Wheel with one gondola of Steam Yachts and the other with Coastal Skiffs to give them a chance to ride the Wheel and add to the gneral spectacle. There will be performances both outside and in the Main Building.
Boats will begin moving through towards Auchinstarry from 08.30. There will be entertainment at the Wheel while boats are dispersing.
This, and the progress to Lock 20 will be fragmented and subject to hold-ups; but everyone will be in company and any onboard buskers and music should enliven any delays.
It is hoped to bring the entire Flotilla together as we pass across Dullater Marsh on our run in to Auchinstarry.
The Boathouse at Auchinstarry is providing the main venue for Saturday evening’s entertainments.
A Civic Reception is still planned for the Sunday afternoon at the Council Offices in Kirkintilloch next to Southbank Marina.
With the Glasgow Branch open; LCA are considering the possibility of a less formal gathering in Glasgow on the Sunday evening.
CAMPING & TOILETS:
For those without or with insufficient onboard accommodation: space for Camper Parking and tents will be available at TFW.
Camper Parking will be available at Auchinstarry. SC are discussing if they can also provide space for tents. We shall update when further information is available.
Toilet Blocks will be accessible by all participants and it is planned that some boats will provide facilities en route. Those with adequate facilities on board are encouraged to take pity on the needy.
Keep those registrations coming in to:<email@example.com>. Closing Date: 30/04/19.
Proposal for Proactive Weed Control by Boaters
As boaters regularly raise weeding as an ongoing concern, the LCA committee undertook to look at the issue from a boater’s perspective.
In the first instance, the group looked at an article from the Canal and River Trust as a starting point. The article noted that keeping vegetation clear from tunnels, culverts and bridges on a regular basis would extend the life of the structure and save money on costly repairs. It also talked about the work being contracted out or undertaken in house. It drew attention to the importance of local knowledge and areas of need and suggested that there could be an online facility for people to use to provide feedback. Vegetation management is often for a fixed time in the year and it is therefore good practise to make a programme looking at costs and deliveries. The article was written in April 2018 and gave an overview of the situation. It looked at how aquatic vegetation management could be used in parallel with a dredging programme. One serious concern was that canals choked with vegetation will have a very negative impact on the wildlife along the banks of the canal. Different plants require individual methods or treatments. “Weedboats”, spraying with herbicides and digging out were all suggested as solutions for differing plants. Intrusive plants like Himalayan Balsam, Ragwort and Japanese Knotweed are additional factor that need to be included in the equation. There can also be intrusive wildlife like the American Signal Crayfish and Mink. Trees and woods growing beside the canal require a different type of management to prevent overhanging branches obstructing the waterway. It was clear that the more we learned the less we knew about weed control. It was therefore time to look at the second article that John, our environmental consultant had suggested.
The second article was Technical Report W 111 issued by Research and Development Department of the Environment Agency entitled “Aquatatic Weed Control Operations – Best Practice Guidelines”
It was written by PR Barrett, MP Greaves and JR Newman from Long Ashton Research Centre for Aquatic Plant Management.
It is a document of 132 pages covering every aspect of aquatic vegetation management. Its aim is to look at the best practise for the control of individual weed species and communities of weeds using mechanical, chemical, biological and environmental methods of control.
One contributor to the report was the British Waterways 1998. The aim is for weed management to be both cost effective and environmentally beneficial. Problems and techniques are constantly changing and evolving. The report looks at the pros and cons for the different control techniques which were tried and evaluated. The following sections are of particular interest to boaters.
Section 2.2 notes that weeds can be controlled by frequent boat movements as weed growth is limited both by the chopping action of the propellers and by increased turbidity/surface disturbance.
Section 4 describes mechanical, chemical, biological and environmental techniques, looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Section 4.12.1 of the report discusses turbidity in detail. It states that British Waterways has shown that regular boat traffic along a canal has a significant effect on weed density. As the number of boat movements along a canal increases, plant diversity increases and monocultures of weeds are controlled and then at higher numbers of boat movements both species diversity and plant density decrease. Some control may be due to the wash and the propellers but turbidity also plays a part. Boat activity, the report states, is more significant in shallow channels with muddy bottoms like canals. Turbidity is also created by bottom feeding fish, so stocking the canals with carp and bream could eradicate submerged vascular plants within a year.
One problem of early season cutting is that reemergent weeds result in a rapid regrowth and will require cutting later on leading to additional costs. Other information that the group found interesting was that barley straw can give effective selective control of algae, Chinese grass carp eat a range of floating weed and filamentous algae. Ducks, geese and swans eat waterweed. Carp and bream act as biological control agents. Buffer strips along the canal can help lower the level of nutrients and pollutants draining into the watercourse which would reduce weed growth.
The report also looks at what uses weeds can be put to e.g. mulching or composting which is a very popular use in the Netherlands. Table 4.3 gives an example of a detailed integrated management plan over 7 to 8 years.
In section 5, there is a section in which individual weed control is described in detail.
Weed growth is a perennial problem and the cost of weed control is likely to rise each year. Weed growth is time limited to the summer months. Storage of weed cutting equipment requires space and machine maintenance, depreciation and replacement costs have also to be considered. Boaters find weeds tangling up their propellers and blocking cooling water intakes, causing damage to their engines. When the canals are open for navigation, boaters are the eyes on the canal, gathering knowledge about changes and hazards and they are able to identify blackspots. With better and structured communication, SC staff time would be saved as they would not need to duplicate the inspections and save on transport costs.
SC have presented a new plan for the coming year detailing man hours, machinery and labour costs within a limited budget. LCA would like to submit a proposal for discussion between SC and the canal users which would be mutually beneficial to both parties.
In the light of the evidence presented above, LCA would like to know if boaters would be prepared to join a working group with SC with the aim of improving weed control. The management of the canals can be broken down into manageable sections. SC could agree to pay boaters either casual, sessional or expenses (to be negotiated) to take their boats over certain stretches of the canal at regular intervals during the weed growing season as required. They could consult boaters and a rota could be drawn up with backups in case of emergencies. SC would be able to respond to areas that were becoming problematic with their weed cutting equipment or herbicide control. A preventative approach would save money and lead to good practice.
If SC did a costing, they would probably find that this proposal would be cheaper and more cost effective, both in the short and long term. Establishing a pilot scheme for one year would allow SC and the boaters to sit down and review the impact of the plan. If the weed problem is dealt with early this would result in the weed being less abundant and less expensive to deal with. The benefit to SC is that the boaters are part of the solution and not part of the problem. Knowledge and research can be shared. Records could be kept and shared with other canals and canal users.
LCA would welcome comments from boaters and permission to proceed to the next stage of presenting the idea to Scottish Canals for their opinion. Please send comments to LCA Secretary Pierre Potel at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Canal and River Trust Paper –
- Environment Agency Paper
REPORT FROM NAVIGATION AND SAFETY COMMITTEE 2018/19
2018 was a particularly busy year.
The first meeting with Scottish Canals took place 1/8/2017 and the last 26/10/2018. Over this period, 61 queries were raised, 43 were closed and 18 are still awaiting further information. We have had a number of life rings, throw lines and escape ladders installed. Other areas covered include leaking bollards, broken bridges, lighting, pathways, moorings and issues with water supplies.
We have asked boaters to raise concerns with SC as per their procedures in the first instance, this should be done through email@example.com. If the matter is not resolved we ask boaters to bring the matter to our attention. This helps filter out and deal informally with some queries. This has the benefit of saving SC time so they can focus on other concerns. If SC fail to respond, then we can help to resolve the issue. In the main, we have seen an improvement in communication with SC which we want to see continue. However, what would be useful would be for them to identify 2 named contacts so that if someone is on holiday, we can deal with matters quickly and efficiently. There has been a drop in communications from SC over the last 3 months; however, we are working hard to rectify this and have now secured Mark Smiths attendance at the next meeting on the 19th Feb.
One of the main concerns raised by the boater’s group is weeding and dredging. In January this year, SC brought out a plan entitled “Lowland Canals Update”, Item 3 is Weeding Proposals. We are carefully studying the document and will respond to it when we have reviewed it’s content. Robin and Chrissie have been working hard on our behalf attending meetings and putting their specific knowledge at the disposal of Scottish Canals. Weeding and dredging was one item they raised last spring at a meeting at the Falkirk Wheel with Richard Miller and other Scottish Canals’ personnel. SC agreed to provide a map of the canals regularly updated to show areas where weeding and dredging were to be carried out but so far they have not yet provided it. At that meeting, Chrissie and Robin argued that if SC would work in partnership with LCA then all parties would gain. For example, the boaters would avoid having their propellers snagged or engines damaged by cut weeds if they had notification of where and when work was taking place. Last year, with the lock and bridge closures, there were serious restrictions on boat movements which allowed weeds free reign to grow unimpeded. Spring brings fertilisers to the fields, rain and run off feeds the vegetation and growth is inevitable. With improved two-way communication LCA could inform boaters early and thus avoid propeller trouble, SC staff could then work uninterrupted. For whatever reasons, the meetings were less successful than LCA had hoped, especially in addressing the weeding issues.
However, 2019 is now upon us and weeding will again be raised in the formal settings when meetings are arranged. When navigation re-opens later in the year, boaters will be travelling along the canal observing first-hand the growth of weed. Such information would be useful to help SC deploy their weed cutters in areas of greatest need. There maybe other ways we can pull our knowledge. Details of our work is on the LCA website but feel free to contact Chrisy or Robin as they are very knowledgably about canal issues.
Chrisy – 07792159701
Robin – 07470486333
Summary of LCA Petition for an Independent Water Ombudsman
This is a summary of the actions taken by the LCA to raise a petition to the Scottish Government asking for the appointment of an Independent Water Ombudsman.
The reasons for this request are self-evident. In the last few years, the canal has been allowed to deteriorate through lack of maintenance with the final outcome being the closure of the Forth and Clyde canal to through traffic due to the bridges at Bonnybridge and Twechar being inoperable.
There was also failure of Bascule bridges in the Glasgow area of the Forth and Clyde canal.
Previous to this there have been various changes to canal operation, including mooring allocations, and more importantly mooring pricing.
As Scottish Canals were not as helpful as could be in answering any questions relating to these and other issues on the Lowland canals and issues on the Crinan and Caledonian canals it was obvious to the LCA and many boaters that the management of the canal system was out of control.
In fact, without a strategy of any sort, the canals were being run on a day to day basis which was troublesome, compounded by lack of funding and resources.
The LCA committee decided that it would be a huge improvement if the questions being put to the Scottish Canal board and directors could be passed onto an Independent Ombudsman if no fair solution was afforded by Scottish Canals. An Independent Ombudsman would not be funded by
Scottish Canals and would be the sole arbitrator to questions not answered in a fair manner by Scottish Canals. The Ombudsman would ensure that
Scottish Canals were complying with their statutory duties in regards to keeping the canal open for all traffic and for ensuring that any
decisions made by Scottish Canals reference pricing and mooring structures was fair to all.
To this end a petition was raised to the Scottish Parliament, in particular for the Public Petitions Committee to look at accepting the requirement for an Independent Water Ombudsman. The petition was raised by the LCA committee and the content of the petition was produced by Christine
Cameron who is the legal and governance chair on the committee. The petition was signed by over 200 individuals and was accepted for debate by the Public Petitions Committee.
The Committee members are Johann Lamont (convenor), Angus MacDonald, Rachael Hamilton, David Torrance and Brian Whittle, who you may remember as an successful Olympic athlete. This committee requested submissions from various organisations to enable them to consider the original petition from the LCA. These organisations were Audit Scotland, Scottish Waterways Trust, Royal Yachting Association Scotland, Inland Waterways Association, Scottish Public Service Ombudsman, Scottish Canals and the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and
They all replied to the committee with very detailed submissions in response to the petitioner. It has to be noted that Scottish Canals were not in favour of an independent ombudsman.
The LCA were invited to Parliament to present the petition and to answer any questions asked by the Public Petitions Committee. The LCA members present were the chairman at the time, Graeme Harvey, Christine Cameron, who had prepared and was in charge of the petition and Mr Ronnie
Rusack MBE. Mr Harvey gave a presentation, ably assisted by Christine Cameron and Ronnie Rusack all on behalf of the LCA but for the benefit of all boaters and organisations on the Scottish Canal system. The committee meeting was filmed and is available for all to view on the first 45 minutes of the attached link.
It is important to note that the Public Petitions Committee were involved enough and interested enough to allow the normal time for petitions to be heard to overrun by a good 15 to 20 minutes.
Further to the meeting in parliament, Christine Cameron was invited to respond to all of the submissions from the organisations mentioned above. This was no mean feat especially as it had to be returned completed to the Public Petitions Committee by the 7th December 2018. A challenging
task as the submissions contained legal procedures which had to be interpreted, challenged and answered by Christine. In fact, a document of over 2500 words was returned to the Public Petitions Committee on 3rd December. A very detailed and comprehensive reply which answered all of the legal and procedural questions submitted.
The Public Petitions Committee sat again in December 2018 and decided that with the information available that they would allow the Petition to go forward for further consideration by their committee. This in itself is a success for the LCA and boaters on the canal system as the petition
could have just been ended there and then, with no appeal. The Committee have however asked for further submissions from the RYA Scotland and one other association before they can have further debate and decide to propose the petition to the Scottish Parliament or to let it fail. At the present
time we are full of hope that it will be accepted and the LCA has even proposed some positive solutions for funding and perhaps the return of the Inland Waterways Advisory Council which was disbanded around 5 years ago.
All in all, this has been a huge amount of work, very detailed in some instances and worked diligently on by the LCA and Christine Cameron in particular.
We the LCA committee hope that this summary gives you more information on the petition and gives you hope that we could actually achieve the goals of the petition. So far it has all been positive. We will keep you all updated on the progress of this petition through the Parliamentary
NEWSFLASH – From Christine Cameron 29/01/19
The committee of the Lowland Canals Association (LCA) had an emergency meeting on the 18th January 2019 in response to the resignation of the Chairman Graeme Harvey on grounds of ill health. Graeme had made a very valuable and valued contribution in his role as the first chairman of the Association. Perhaps he will be best remembered for his tenacious and passionate appearance at the Petition Committee of the Scottish Parliament last year when a star was born.
The LCA is a relatively new body on the canals and came about due to concerns about the pricing review increases 2 years ago but our remit has expanded to cover any issues raised by boaters.
One of the actions taken by the Association was to draw up a petition asking for an independent water ombudsman which was supported by over 200 people. It is still progressing through parliamentary Petitions Committee. In addition to the submission to the Committee, a copy of the petition was also delivered to all the Members of the Scottish Parliament last year. There was a mixed response from the MSPs but they were all notified of the issues. We did receive a very positive response from the Petition Committee which is currently consulting with different organisations with an interest in canals before coming to a final conclusion. As a committee we will keep members updated of the petition’s progress.
We have also been very active in other fields, like safety and navigation issues, and this will continue. At the emergency meeting it was agreed that Christine Cameron would take over as the chairman with Robin Fryer as the vice chair. It is a very interesting time to be involved in the lowland canals We were pleased to note the formation last year of Keep Canals Alive, an umbrella organisation which is now participating and sharing the work load.
Another very positive change has been the change of leadership at the top of Scottish Canals. The new CEO, Catherine Topley, has already organisedbmeetings at which LCA has made valuable constructive comments. One of our concerns had been poor communication and this has certainly been improved. However, we still have a long way to go and to use buzz words, there are lots of challenges ahead..
It was also agreed at the meeting that the principle of representing the boaters on the lowland canals would be our overriding priority. Like most organisations, we are only as strong as our members so we ask you to get involved in any way you can and support the committee. If there are issues you want raised, please contact the secretary Pierre Potel, if requested confidentiality will be honoured.
Little did we think that Pierre’s idea for a bonfire would grow with a little help from his friends into the Christmas carnival of lights. Hopefully it will not turn into a competition with Shetlands Up Helya. The flotilla and weekend celebration in May this year is certainly an event to which we are all looking forward. It will be in partnership with the other organizations on the canal with LCA specifically responsible for the boating arrangements. Your support, with or without your boat, will be greatly appreciated. We will regularly update our website with the details and other issues that might be of interest to you.
Finally, our boat, The Duckling, is berthed at Auchinstarry and Robin’s is at Causeway End. Please feel free to stop and chat if are in the area. We may have had a change of chair but the aims and objectives remain the same. Thank you again Graeme Harvey, you will be a hard act to follow.
Successful 2018 Events
In 2018 there was some fantastic events, the latest of which included
The Bonfire and Flotilla of lights – 23+24 Nov 18
See our events page for how you can get involved in 2019.
26/9/17 Evac Point at bridge 52a
Concerns were raised about the position of the evac point at bridge 52a due to it been on the east side. As many of you will know larger and wider boats need space to make the bends and bridge and therefore it was not a great place for a boat to be. Scottish Canals have advised that the sign is in the wrong place and will be moved to the west of the bridge where the mooring rings are.
24/7/17 Lock 9 on the Forth & Clyde Canal reopened
Lock 9 has reopened following a cill failure. The timber cill was refitted and reinforced with concrete.
16/6/17 – Rotate project update
This statement has been issued by Scottish Canals:
Last year’s operational capital spend focused on our Top 20 Assets as well as a short, medium and long-term review of all our assets, including The Falkirk Wheel, which this year marks its 15th anniversary.
During this work it became clear that significant investment is required to ensure the ongoing maintenance of The Falkirk Wheel over the next few years. Safe, continued operation of the Wheel is our main priority and as this will require additional time and money, we have decided to delay Rotate for the next few years.
Rotate remains part of our plans to refresh the customer experience and we will continue to develop the concept for this unique addition to The Falkirk Wheel as part of our commitment to ensuring it remains one of Scotland’s top visitor attractions. However, we are also committed to ensuring that our customers are involved in the development of this project once we are in a position to progress.
16/6/17 – Updated FAQs and concerns relating to Electricity for visiting boats.
16/6/17 – New Volunteering page added to the website