Registered Charity No. 702429

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT - A.G.M. 2006

We gather again to review the work of the Trust for the year which ended on 31st December 2005. It was a year which brought both success and challenge and one in which our determination to build our canals was sometimes very fully tested. Of course a number of us arrive here fresh from the ceremonies at Capper’s Lane which celebrated the happy ending of a project which began some years ago and where the building work began in 2005. So let us begin with this success.

The building of the aqueduct over the M6 Toll seems long ago now but it was this great achievement which enabled the Trust to obtain the ERDF funding to reconstruct the bridge at Capper’s Lane. We were able to persuade Staffordshire Highways to act as our agent for the rebuilding of the bridge and to manage the project for us. Dale Arthur and his team worked hard on our behalf and we are most grateful to all of them. On our side, much of the burden fell on Mike Smith who, as land officer, had what should have been the straightforward task of assembling the land portfolio. In the event this was a long and protracted business which delayed the start of building by many months. By the time the deal was done we might have been able to build the bridge from the great pile of correspondence. Finally, McPhillips were employed as the building contractors and they completed the project on time and within budget. I must pay tribute to David Piggott who supervised the contract on behalf of the Trust.

As we assemble here in Whittington Village Hall I am very aware that the closure of Capper’s Lane for 6 months caused considerable inconvenience to local people and to those who use the road as an access route to Lichfield. The residents nearest to the bridge also had their lives disrupted and we are very grateful to them for their forbearance. I must also thank everyone at Lichfield Cruising Club who have co-operated with the Trust throughout the project and have endured some disruption to the access to their moorings. I hope that they feel that the improvements to their car parking have made this worthwhile. As someone observed – “all we need to do now is to add water”. I hope that we can now all agree that, since we could not put back a traditional hump-backed bridge we have supplied a structure which is pleasing to the eye and more than fit for its purpose. However, there were times when we wondered why it can be so difficult to fund and build a bridge for the sole purpose of giving it back to the community.

I have already mentioned Lichfield Cruising Club and I must again record our gratitude to its members who have worked with us to put on events to the mutual benefit of both organisations. Our informal partnership with the Cruising Club has strengthened through the year and we have continued discussions to place this relationship on a more formal basis. Both entities in this relationship realise that we must work closely together to enable the Trust to reconnect the Lichfield to the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford. Together we will find the will and the funding to relocate the moorings and to restore through traffic. The building of such relationships is vital to our work. We must ensure that the local communities on both our canals see the restored canals as of benefit to them and not just something which members of the Trust and the waterways community are trying to achieve just for themselves.

Of course, not all our news in 2005 was as positive as we would have wished and the problems presented by the imminent building of the Lichfield Southern Bypass made the headlines in late summer and early autumn. This is an issue which is still very much a live one with the outcome still not fully determined. We have long realised that the original route of the canal from above Lock 19 almost to London Road could not be used and that a significant diversion route would be required. The planned Lichfield Southern Bypass offered a means by which the canal could find a new route within its footprint. There would be room within the 40m environmental strip to take the canal under Birmingham Road to the railway and ultimately on to London Road. Any other route would be difficult to achieve due to the adverse attitude of two investment trusts which own significant land in the area.

Initially, we believed that PPG 13, the government planning advice issued when were working to cross the toll road, would apply to the new road and would require the developers to provide the road crossings as part of their own basic costs. Sadly, and expensively, this has proved not to be the case. Planning permission for the new road and the housing development was given in September 2005 without any provision for the canal. The Trust brought pressure to bear at every level to try to get this situation changed. A petition was sent to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and our MP, Michael Fabricant, facilitated a meeting with Jim Knight, Waterways Minister, but the situation remained the same and the future looked bleak.

Most of the rest of this story lies within the year 2006 and has yet to reach its conclusion. At the critical moment, in late autumn 2005 British Waterways took up our cause. It had received an emergency inclusion in Chief Executive, Robin Evans’s address to the BW AGM when he stressed the importance of finding a solution, both for the Trust and for the whole restoration movement. BW has recognised that the whole question of PPG13 must ultimately be revisited and the situation clarified so that the viability of restoration schemes is not again threatened. In the shorter term, Tony Harvey, who is the BW Manager for Central Shires, was tasked with reopening the dialogue between the Trust, Staffordshire Highways and Persimmon to find practical engineering solutions for getting the canal around Lichfield. This proved a very delicate task and one which is still on-going. I must thank IWA and many others for their help, support and lobbying on our behalf.

By the end of 2005 we were a little more optimistic that answers could be found and that remains the situation today. We will only safeguard the route of the Lichfield Canal by working with the County Council and Persimmon no matter how unlikely this had once seemed. We are most grateful to our friends at BW for their invaluable support at such a critical time. The ultimate cost to the Trust will be very high and will strain our finances as we work to meet a cost anticipated to be close to £500,000 and we hope that support for the relaunched Suchet Appeal will be as impressive as it was when we had to bridge the Toll Road. I can only appeal to our members and to the wider waterways community to be generous. Certainly, many eyes will be on us through 2006 and beyond.

These major challenges absorb much time and energy and I must pay tribute to all my fellow directors for their devotion to our cause. A very heavy load falls on our Board, much of it unseen and unrecorded. Meanwhile the routine work of the Trust must continue. We produce four issues of Cut Both Ways each year and this remains the central means by which we reach our membership and keep them and the wider world informed on what we do. Steve Pitt has ensured that our magazine reaches and maintains the highest standards and ranks high among publications in this area. (If you have been expecting CBW47 to reach you in the next few days I have to warn you that this has been deliberately delayed to bring you up to date colour photographs and reports on the ceremony at Capper’s Bridge this afternoon.)

Our membership continued to grow steadily through 2005 and I was delighted to be able to welcome our 1500th member (and his dog) at an informal ceremony at Huddlesford in the Spring. L&H has one of the larger memberships among restoration trusts and we are grateful to Trevor Morris for administering this side of our operations. Most of the increase comes from the work of our marketing team and all those who help to staff our stand at events large and small. Our major recruitment comes from the annual Show at NEC in February each year and at Crick at Spring Bank Holiday but we see a steady trickle of applications throughout the year. Membership is our life blood and all of us should never miss an opportunity for signing up someone new. The subscription income is essential to our work.

David Moore took over as Chairman of the Marketing Group and the retail Trading Company and has provided firm and effective leadership. The reliable flow of funds from Marketing is vital to our financial viability and will be even more so as we work to finance the Birmingham Road crossing in Lichfield. Most of us see only the end result of this work as we see the stand, or the trailer, set up at events and shows. Yet much of the work goes largely unseen as the sales products have to be sourced and transported. The displays have to be constantly up-dated and arranged to suit a particular audience. All this is demanding work which takes time and devotion. The administration of major events falls on Marketing as we can see around us this evening and as we saw at Capper’s Bridge this afternoon. During 2005 we benefited from social and fund-raising events which were enjoyable but also brought in vital income. We were sorry to lose the services of Janette Horton who worked so hard within the Marketing Group and as publicity officer in the Lichfield area. We are still looking for someone to take on her publicity duties. Our thanks go to everyone in Marketing.

We are now well into our two year Dig Deep project at Tamworth Road. Anyone who visits the site cannot fail to be impressed by the scale of these works and the high quality of what has been achieved there. Our thanks go to Phil Sharpe and all who have done so much at Tamworth Road and elsewhere on the Lichfield Canal. We must also thank everyone who turns out regularly to carry out routine work and we much appreciate the continuing support of Denis Cooper for supervising work on the Hatherton through a period of ill-health.

We continue to monitor both our canals very closely, especially looking for opportunities to acquire land which is essential to us. This is a long and painstaking task which falls very largely on the shoulders of Mike Smith. Inevitably, what we can achieve in this area is heavily circumscribed by what we can afford. Even so, it is vital to keep in touch with those who currently own parts of our route which we will ultimately need to re-acquire. We have to ensure that landowners know what we want to do and the sort of time-scale we envisage. Opportunities have arisen on both canals through 2005.

On the Hatherton Canal we have talked to the Hammond family who hope to build a marina near the A5 at Hatherton and have examined their proposals with them. We have also kept in close touch with possible developments in Bridgtown. We have renewed contacts with Wyrley Estates to achieve a route across their land acceptable to both the Trust and the Estate.

On the Lichfield Canal we have been fortunate in being able to purchase a small but essential piece of property. BCN Cottage 272 came on the market during the year presenting an irresistible challenge. This is an attractive property which stands in a key position at the head of the Lichfield canal where it once joined the BCN. Part of Lock 1 is buried in its garden. When we built the aqueduct Sir John Smith of the Manifold Trust gave us significant financial support but also indicated how important he saw the reconnection of the whole canal to the main system. With this in mind we approached Sir John for further help and he made the full asking price for the cottage available to us. Ownership passed to the Trust late in 2005 with an appropriate flourish of publicity. The cottage has been rented to a tenant in a commercially managed contract. This is a small but very significant step forward. We may own only half a lock but it is a vital first step. Again, we are intensely grateful to Sir John Smith and the Manifold Trust. There are other parts of the canal which we wish to purchase but which must await the availability of funding.

During the year the Trust explored opportunities for further funding. The chances of obtaining further income form European sources has been greatly reduced with the accession of countries from eastern Europe to the EU. The administration of such money is, in any case, highly complex and we are greatly indebted to Bob Williams for his patience and expertise. We also find ourselves bidding in the same market as major schemes such as the Droitwich and Cotswolds Canals which each have a strong partnership in place and direct help from British Waterways and local authorities. I am sure our turn will come but in the meanwhile it is all down to us. Bob Williams put together a major bid for lottery funding which could have been applied to the Hatherton. Despite clearing the first hurdle we have very recently heard that this bid has not been successful. Those of you who read Waterways World will have seen just how many other bidders there were and how many of them were waterways based with British Waterways support.

The message which comes through all these challenges, and disappointments, is that we need to broaden the basis on which we work. We need to build an alliance or a partnership or whatever the current terminology might be. We need to bring on board local authorities, BW, IWA and local communities so that we present a wider spectrum of interests. Despite our best efforts there is still a considerable perception in the public at large that we, and other similar organisations, are simply seeking to expand the navigable waterways network for the benefit of boaters. Although this is a worthwhile objective we have to promote a much broader agenda.

We have to demonstrate the regeneration value of restored canals and the great benefits they can bring to the whole community. While we have gone some way towards convincing those who live near our two canals that the restored canals will benefit them there is much still to be done. In particular, we must now demonstrate the enormous regenerational benefits which our scheme will bring to the neglected northern BCN and its adjacent communities. We must not assume that this is understood even by councillors and their officials. How many people who know the canal in their own localities can place it in the whole canal network. So often they see their small part of the jigsaw but have never seen the big picture into which their part fits. We may know our canals but most do not. Only when Walsall, Birmingham and Wolverhampton see the potential of what we are trying to do will we succeed. Every year I am asked to ensure that our news is carried in the press in Wolverhampton. Believe me – we do try but local press organisation is very parochial and know that it is parish pump issues which sell newspapers.

We generated some newsworthy items of our own during the year. Barry Ken courageously undertook a parachute jump to raise funds for the Trust – what a brave man! In September we entertained members of the Canal Society of New York who were on a comprehensive tour of the UK canal network. Dr Ted Hiscock completed his oil painting of a scene at Huddlesford which we hope to use to raise funds in the near future. Sue Williams continues to give us an excellent web-site and has also taken on the duties of both Company and Minutes Secretary. I happily pay tribute to these and all her other contributions to our work.

2005 was certainly a year of great challenges and significant achievement. As we all well know, the year ahead will present us with demands which will be equally daunting. With good will and determination your Trust will meet all these and will come through to sunlit uplands and ultimate success. I can only ask you to continue to support this great project to which we are all so fully committed.

Brian Kingshott
Chairman

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