Registered Charity No. 702429

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT - A.G.M. 2008

Welcome to our Annual General Meeting in this, the 20th year since the formation of the Trust. We are again meeting on a Friday evening as this has worked well on two previous occasions and resulted in good attendances. We have also chosen tonight as tomorrow represents a very important day for the Trust with the official inauguration of the Borrowcop Locks Canal Park, of which more later. This is the 8th time I have addressed this meeting as Chairman and it is, I think, the first time that I do not have to report that the Trust is facing an immediate crisis. 2007 was a year in which we addressed many important issues and have continued to progress a range of important projects.

We have tried to keep the membership up to date on all these issues through Cut Both Ways which is. I am sure, an excellent magazine and a tribute to all its many contributors and to our editor, Steve Pitt. For those of you who, quite rightly, await its prompt arrival each quarter, I have to warn you that the Spring issue will be delayed by a couple of weeks so that we can include reports and photographs of tomorrows events at Tamworth Road. It is so easy to include items in magazines which are months out of date and I am sure you will agree that immediacy is important. From time to time, as the budget allows we include colour photographs and this will be one of those occasions. We are always looking for contributions, be they letters, articles or photographs from a wider range of contributors so do feel encouraged to send in your items.

2007 saw continuing and important developments on both our canals and it is vital that we maintain equal attention to both the Lichfield and the Hatherton. To work on both is very demanding on our small core of active members and we would welcome anyone who can come forward to offer assistance. There is often a wrong perception that volunteering means site work and getting muddy. In fact, we are looking for help in a wide range of duties which can play to people’s own strengths and interests. There are plenty of openings for those who want open-air work be it with the brickies working with Brian Davis or the gardeners who have so much to do under the direction of Mike Battisson. We equally need help with fund-raising, publicity and selling things on our stall. David Moore would welcome many more helpers to his marketing team who do so much to raise money and publicise our work. (They arrange the AGM and provide the refreshments and our continuing thanks go to all of them). I am very aware that several of our Directors, including myself, have been in post for many years and the time must come when we need to strengthen our team if the Trust is to take its work forward. Although we all want to see re-opening of our canals soon we must be realistic and expect to see a further decade of work at least ahead of us. We will especially need people with engineering and site-work backgrounds.

Before I review the main activities of 2007 I will pay tribute to our hard-working Directors who have supported the Trust and me so ably and selflessly through the year. Peter Magee has been Vice-Chairman and has continued to provide us with technical support and advice. He is also amazingly effective in sourcing heavy equipment at little or no cost. Bob Mullarkey has kept a close eye on the health and safety portfolio and the Trust is keenly aware of its responsibilities in this area. We must safeguard the wellbeing of our own volunteers, visiting work parties and the general public. Trevor Morris has continued his work on Membership and we are pleased that his health has allowed him to return to Tamworth Road. Mike Battisson has worked hard in both the environmental/gardening aspects of our activities in Lichfield and has been a major inspiration in developing what has become Borrowcop Locks Canal Park. Mike has also worked on the development of a partnership with Great Barr School and is hoping to build a relationship both with the School, through the good offices of Andrew Williams, and with a computer software company which can be a major factor in improving our project planning. We have been joined on the Board by Vaughan Welch representing the Inland Waterways Association and we have already benefited from his wide-ranging knowledge and experience of canal restoration. We have also welcomed Ivor Caplan to our meetings as an observer with much experience in the waterways movement.

Also joining our meetings has been David Dixon who has been gradually taking on the land-officer portfolio from Mike Smith. Mike, despite his retirement last year, has continued to take a close and active interest in the work of the Trust. On the Hatherton, we continue to be grateful to Denis Cooper who runs our work parties there and is a continuing strong supporter of our work. We have also been grateful to John Horton who has emerged from retirement to lend us his bridge-building expertise for the Tamworth Road project. There are many others who are equally worthy of thanks and appreciation, several present tonight, who give unstintingly of their time and work.

When paying tribute to my fellow directors I must stress how much the Trust owes to Bob and Sue Williams whose house is so dominated by Trust activities. Sue is Company and Minutes Secretary but takes on so much more currently including tomorrow’s festivities at Tamworth Road, not to mention running our excellent website. Bob is officially Finance Director but has been the mainstay of all activities and ably supports me in our many meetings with external bodies. In 2006 he stepped in to supervise work at Tamworth Road and, with the winning of the £36,000 Aggregates Levy Grant, has found himself both finance and project controller. Needless to say, the project has come in on time and on budget. Now we need someone to take on project control at Tamworth Road and elsewhere.

Starting with the Hatherton we have continued our discussions with the Little Wyrley Estate and are now hopeful that we can find an alternative connection to the Wyrley and Essington Canal which will avoid the Cannock Extension Canal where there are serious environmental issues. Any new route will need discussion with other landowners and Directors intend to progress these in the near future. We have carried out informal surveys of possible routes and discussed these with Little Wyrley Estates. We have held meetings with both Cannock Chase and South Staffordshire District Councils and continue to work with them with the hope of forming a partnership and also to ensure that the route of the canal is safeguarded in their LDFs. The proposed widening of the M6 in the Calf Heath area could benefit the Trust and provide a way through for the Hatherton but we are aware that recent suggestions of use of the hard shoulders to relieve congestion may prove less helpful. At best we might find ourselves able to reinstate much of the section in BW ownership from the Straight Mile through to The Roman Way. We have been in discussion with Countrywide Homes and South Staffordshire District Council on the reallocation of land at Churchbridge which would benefit the Trust by providing a more viable route west of the David Suchet Tunnel.

We have tried to refocus the aims and objectives of the Trust on the regeneration of the Northern BCN. There have been many concerns expressed recently about the continuing decline of the Wyrley and Essington Canal. When the Trust was founded it was always intended that it should promote greater use of the underused routes north of Birmingham by providing two alternative routes into the system from the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and from the Coventry Canal. Congestion on the most popular cruising routes could be relieved and the regeneration of currently rundown areas of the Black Country greatly accelerated. The Trust has considerable support in Brownhills and parts of Walsall and has held meetings with councillors and officials of Walsall MBC. An alternative route for the Hatherton could deliver a connection to the main system within the boundaries of Walsall.

There has been major activity on the Lichfield Canal. The culvert under the Birmingham Road has been completed and the Trust is continuing to service the mortgage on the Ogley Top Lock Cottage to pay for the work. The Trust has continued to discuss issues affecting the canal’s route alongside the Lichfield Bypass with Lichfield District Council and Staffordshire Highways and it is reassuring that both these bodies are prepared to work with the Trust to establish the new route. There are still issues to be resolved where the new route rejoins the original above Lock 19. Vigilance in this area is essential. Directors continue to work with Lichfield DC to ensure that the route of the canal is guaranteed in the new Local Development Framework which is still several years away from completion. We are grateful to councillors and officers for their goodwill.

At Muckley Corner Trust Directors have been involved in the regeneration and environmental project to improve Wall Butts Common instigated by the parish council. Elsewhere discussions have been held with land owners to ensure continuing good relationships with the prospect of purchase at a later stage. Meetings have been held with Severn Trent to establish the status of the large drainage pipe which lies in the bed of canal in much of its route through Lichfield. This also involved a visit to the British Waterways archive at Gloucester which was most informative and helpful. The final verdict has yet to be reached but it does appear that removing the pipe and possibly using the water within the canal might be far easier to achieve than we once thought.

Now to review our major activities in 2007. Perhaps the most memorable was the Canal Walk in the Spring when we were joined by Michael Fabricant MP, the Mayor of Lichfield and an excellent turn out of members and the general public. It was an excellent opportunity to walk the line from Huddlesford to Fosseway Lane and to draw attention to our work. Michael has enthusiastically taken to his role as our newest Patron further expanding his great interest in waterway matters. He agreed to be interviewed in our up-dated DVD “Missing Links”, produced by Laurence Hogg, and has added a new sparkle to it. He has also initiated two debates in the House of Commons taking the opportunity to highlight the work and challenges facing our Trust. In the autumn we enjoyed another Boat Gathering at Huddlesford with the kind co-operation of Lichfield Cruising Club. Both occasions generated income plus goodwill. We also enjoyed other social occasions including an evening of entertainment in Whittington Village Hall where once, again, our catering staff excelled themselves. We hosted a joint meeting of the Northern and Southern Canals Associations in the Lichfield Guildhall where our caterers again received well-deserved praise.

Undoubtedly, the major project of the year has been the establishment of Borrowcop Locks Canal Park between Cricket Lane and the A51. This has been our site of greatest activity for several years and the one which has been concentrated on both by our own work teams and visiting volunteer groups: and the scale escalated after we received an Aggregates Levy Grant of £36,000 which had to be spent by March 2008. Following an earlier grant which paid for the design of a park project below Lock 24 extending to the A51 this was the obvious area on which to spend the grant. The most noticeable feature is the new steel bridge built across the tail of Lock 25 to replace a temporary structure and which is both aesthetically pleasing and also will give access to users of wheelchairs and others with special needs. This will be officially inaugurated by the Mayor of Lichfield and the visiting Mayors of the City’s twin towns in France and Germany. Below Lock 26 the towpath wall has been significantly extended towards the A38 using an innovative concrete block system which will be brick-faced. We have purchased a strip of land parallel with the A38 which will enable us to provide public access from the A51. We have received excellent co-operation and support from Jack Moody who sold us the land and has made a work base available to us at virtually no cost.

Between Locks 25 and 26 the offside wall has been largely built, using a grant from the Inland Waterways Association. Mrs Attwood’s garden has been much improved and we are very grateful to her for her continuing forbearance and understanding. Meanwhile we have been considering schemes for removing the large drainage pipe which will take us a step closer to re-watering a section of the canal. The landscaping work will enhance the area greatly but is only a holding measure until the canal can be fully restored.

At Darnford Lane, we carried out major work to restore the proper flow of the brook and to reduce the risk of flooding. We are grateful to Peter Magee for facilitating this work through Chasetown Civil Engineering Ltd. We were also grateful to teams of workers from Jaguar-Land Rover who spent time with us in the autumn. They were excellent workers and good problem solvers. Among other projects they repaired and repainted the Darnford lift bridge and installed an inspection grill at the upstream end of the Darnford culvert. We look forward to their possible return in 2008. Here I must again pay tribute to our own team of dedicated volunteers who seem to spend more time at Tamworth Road than at home.

And so to the future. I have already drawn attention to the need to regenerate our own teams of volunteers if we are to sustain our efforts through what might well be difficult years ahead. We have tried to build formal relationships with our local authorities but they remain wary of being drawn too far into our work, friendly though our relationships currently are. The most obvious partner for restoration groups is British Waterways but they have gone through a lean time with funding cuts imposed by Defra. It was an ominous sign when BW withdrew from the long-established partnership restoring the Cotswolds Canal. Nonetheless, we made our own approach to our local BW manager who has always been a supportive friend of the Trust. We were advised that the first step to any formal understanding with BW must be the commissioning of a feasibility study on the Lichfield Canal. Accordingly, we are now examining the list of possible consultants and hope that we can finalise a deal in 2008. The Trust should be able to find grants to help with the cost of a study. We already have much of the information on file and this can be made available to the chosen consultant thus reducing the time and cost. With the Arup Report on the Hatherton which we already have we will find it easier to approach both potential funders and potential partners.

The Chairman’s report to the AGM has several functions. It should review the achievements of the year in question, it should look to the future and it should sound a note of optimism. All these I hope I have done for 2007. The Trust is in good heart, its finances are sound, its projects are progressing well. We have an excellent team of Directors and supporters. However, I must end by emphasising an important point I made earlier. We always knew that this restoration project would take very many years to complete. In the early days we set ourselves a target which was over-optimistic and experience has shown just how unrealistic it was. We must assume that, now we have laid firm foundations, we will need a minimum of ten years to make significant progress towards completion. To guarantee this we must renew our team and bring in new and young blood. Any help, no matter how limited, will always be welcome. The Trust belongs to all its members and not just to those at the sharp end.

Thank you for being here tonight. I hope we will see many of you tomorrow at Tamworth Road for our Open Day. If you have not seen what has been done recently I am sure you will be impressed.

Brian Kingshott
Chairman

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