Registered Charity No. 702429

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT - A.G.M. 2009

Firstly, may I welcome all of you here this evening and thank you for your continuing support. I extend a special welcome to the Mayor of Lichfield, Terry Thomas, and Mrs Thomas and to our Patron, Chris Coburn. In recent years we have held our AGMs in Whittington but this year decided to make a change. Most of our recent work has been on the Lichfield Canal but we must always remember that we are a two canal project. Brownhills lies between the Lichfield and the Hatherton and we have many friends and supporters here. We will be very happy to receive comments on the suitability of this location.

2008 was a year of consolidation of our past achievements and preparation for future progress. So much of what we do is in committee work and in meetings with a wide variety of official organisations that it is not always easy to demonstrate that progress is, in fact, being made. It would be very revealing to add up the total of person hours spent by Directors and officers in meetings and discussions and how many miles they clock up, free of charge, in moving our work forwards. This is all done on a voluntary basis and very little is claimed in expenses even though travel costs and “office expenses” can be heavy. This is a project which we support fervently and hope that we can spread this enthusiasm to a wider audience. It is very clear that, unless the people who live in the Lichfield and Cannock areas really take the restoration to their hearts, it will never really “take off”.

Before I review the main activities of 2008 I will again pay proper tribute to our hard-working Directors who have supported the Trust and me personally so ably and selflessly through the year. Peter Magee has been Vice-Chairman and has continued to provide us with technical support and advice. His ability to return apparently dead equipment to full life is nothing short of miraculous. Bob Mullarkey has kept a close eye on the health and safety portfolio to ensure that we are fully compliant with legislation in this area. We are aware of our responsibilities for the wellbeing of our own volunteers, visiting work parties and the general public. Trevor Morris has maintained his work on Membership but we are aware that he does this without assistance and that, as in all our areas of responsibility, more volunteers would be welcome. Mike Battisson has advanced our activities in both the environmental/gardening aspects of our activities in Lichfield and has immersed himself in the design of our future plans at Tamworth Road and in formal planning matters. Mike has nurtured the Great Barr School partnership which he initiated in 2007. Vaughan Welch representing the Inland Waterways Association, has given us invaluable advice and support, drawing on his considerable expertise in waterways restoration.

David Dixon has taken over the land-officer portfolio from Mike Smith and we were delighted to welcome him as a Director at the end of the year. We are very pleased that Mike has found the time to help and advise us. On the Hatherton, Denis Cooper continues to run our work parties there and is always a tower of strength. Our engineering sub-committee has been greatly strengthened through 2008 and we have been delighted to welcome new faces. John Horton, Stefan Szulc, David Piggott, Peter Buck and Brian Davis have brought invaluable knowledge and experience to our discussions which now reach a much higher level of professionalism.

David Moore, supported by Mavis, has kept the Marketing Group on course to raise the very important sums the Trust needs to support its everyday activities. They will be a hard act to emulate. This is a role which requires a very high level of commitment and is very demanding of time. It was sad that, yet again, the Crick Boat Show was curtailed by the weather although the National at Wolverhampton fared a little better. All members of Marketing are among our most committed supporters. The Marketing Group is vital to our work, both in publicity and in fund-raising. We would very much welcome help from members in this area.

Bob Williams, Finance Director, works ceaselessly for the Trust in a wide area far beyond his official responsibilities. He has ensured that our finances remain on a sound footing even in these challenging times and enabled us to continue with all our business, including active restoration. He has supported our marketing and trading activities not least by giving illustrated talks to a wide variety of clubs, societies and interest groups. He has also managed, and worked on, the restoration project at Tamworth Road. Meanwhile, Sue Williams has been Trust Secretary, ensuring that all our activities are properly recorded and official business transacted. She has initiated a revamp of the website.

Steve Pitt, has now produced over 50 issues of our magazine, Cut Both Ways, which he has taken to ever higher standards. The magazine is the vital link with the membership which reaches further than our website and can be circulated among the wider constituency of our supporters. At the end of the year he indicated that he wished to stand down from this exacting role and as a director. We have accepted his resignation with regret and wish him improving health. We are grateful to Stefan Szulc for coming forward to fill the vacancy as editor.

Moving on to the details of our work and starting with the Hatherton where progress can be harder to quantify than on the Lichfield. Following our discussions with Little Wyrley Estates we have identified an alternative route to the one originally proposed which will take the canal further away from the Hall and from the Cannock Extension Canal. We have opened a dialogue with the land owner who will need to approve the use of his land with initially favourable results. We walked the route and asked W.S. Atkins to run a professional eye over our plans as a supplement to the earlier Arup Report. The new route will take us, via the disused Lord Hay Branch, to the Wyrley and Essington Canal. This will remove the need to use the Cannock Extension which is subject to severe environmental constraints. After the encouraging news last year that the M6 could be widened giving the opportunity to take the canal through the embankment it was disappointing to hear that the latest news from the Highways Agency suggests that the preferred option is now “dynamic traffic management” as used on the M42. We carried out informal surveys of possible routes and discussed these with Little Wyrley Estates and other land owners. We have held meetings with both Cannock Chase and South Staffordshire District Councils and continue to work with them and to ensure that the route of the Hatherton is included in their Local Development Frameworks.

We remain committed to the regeneration of the Northern BCN which we know will benefit from the reopening of our two canals. The opening of a new through route will also relieve pressure on overloaded spots such as Fradley Junction where there can be very heavy delays at peak periods. We are delighted that we are now in discussion with Walsall Council with a view to inclusion in their LDF. If we are able to connect to the Lord Hay Branch we will have crossed into Walsall and the West Midlands. We look forward to working with British Waterways to progress this aspect. There are also increasing indications that our scheme must be viewed in a wider, regional context and that we should be looking at the restoration as a single and inter-related project. We have many friends and supporters in Brownhills who will welcome our revised plans. It was with this in mind that we relocated the AGM 2009 to Brownhills which lies between and close to both our canals. We must also extend congratulations to Doug Birch who has recently received his MBE from the Queen for all his work in Brownhills. Equally deserving is our keen supporter, Keith Grice who received a Brownhills Community Award.

The Lichfield Canal has continued to offer us major challenges. We are still working with interested parties to regenerate Wall Butts Common and value the contacts with local people and official bodies. The work on the extension to the Lichfield Bypass has required careful monitoring as the contractors pushed across the line of the canal at Lock 19 and then through the Lichfield to Walsall railway. The tight bend which will be required to link the original line with the new one is a very sensitive area for the Trust and we were pleased to have the support of Staffordshire Highways and the co-operation of Wrekin Construction in seeking a satisfactory outcome. For the time being, due partly to the economic recession, there is no immediate prospect of work between Birmingham Road and London Road. From this point on the future of the culverted water course (Big Pipe) is of immediate concern. The Trust needs further conversations with Lichfield City Council to confirm ownership because only then can agreement be sought to remove it from the bed of the canal. At Tamworth Road (Borrowcop Locks Canal Park) significant progress has been made thanks, very largely, to Brian Davis and his team, augmented by others and by visiting groups. Please visit the site and talk to the team – you will surely be impressed. Work has continued between Lock 25, through Lock 26 to the A51.We have also looked in some detail at how crossings of these two major roads might be achieved. Hopefully, we will be able to move out of Sandra Attwood’s garden before too long – we are most grateful for her continuing forbearance.

Care and maintenance work has ensured that the Darnford Lane section is kept in good shape until a project can be developed, as and when funding permits. We have to monitor the brook and ensure that it flows freely. We remain in touch with the owner of the land from the lift bridge to Cappers Bridge which the Trust will need to purchase. Relationships with Lichfield Cruising Club remain excellent adding to the ultimate prospect of relocating the Club’s moorings to regain the use of the original channel.

I would like to extend our thanks to someone who is not part of the Trust. Tony Harvey, in charge of our local waterways and working from British Waterways offices in Fazeley, has been a tower of strength whenever the Trust has needed support. He was closely involved in our discussions with official bodies in several instances in recent years. He is now taking on responsibility for waterways regeneration and we hope that he will continue to look kindly on our endeavours.

Arguably the most important development of 2008 was the commissioning of the Feasibility Study on the Lichfield Canal from W.S. Atkins. The latter were chosen after a thorough and competitive process which started with five possible contenders from which Atkins narrowly emerged as the best and most financially advantageous. This will use up a significant amount of our financial reserves but is a commitment we could no longer avoid. We are involved in detailed discussions with four local authorities to ensure that the line of the canals is protected in their imminent Local Development Frameworks. The answers which they require can only be found from a properly sourced professional study. It will also mean that, for the first time, we will be able to show that our project has been properly researched and can be demonstrably achieved. We also commissioned Atkins to look at our revised route for the Hatherton and to investigate issues, such as water quality, which were not covered in the Arup Report. We are grateful to David Piggott, Stefan Szulc and others for guiding us through the process. (This is now in final draft and we are planning an official launch on 17th July in Lichfield)

Now to review our major activities in 2008. A major highlight was the official opening of the new footbridge at Lock 25 in April. Our work team managed to get the attractive prefabricated bridge in place in time for the ceremony and we are grateful to John Horton for overseeing the design, manufacturing and delivery process. We were able to welcome the mayors of Lichfield and the French and German twin towns and to invite them to cut the ribbon to open the new bridge. The weather was kind to us and the public turned out in significant numbers in support. The Annual General Meeting was well-attended and concluded with an address from Ivor Caplan as an update on the restoration of the Droitwich Canals. In November, Whittington Village Hall was packed to enjoy a performance of a murder mystery by the Day Star Theatre Company. We were delighted that our Patron, Michael Fabricant MP, was with us again. We were also grateful to Michael for agreeing to be interviewed in our updated “Missing Links” DVD. Thanks also go to Laurence Hogg for his production work.

From the immediate past to the future. Inspiration can sometimes be a scarce commodity, especially at times of doom, gloom and worse. With the prospects of unemployment and general hardship increasing by the hour it seems almost indecent to bring our thoughts round to the needs of canal restoration. It is certainly not a time when we can hope to be raising money in large sums or seeking out major funders. It is a time for consolidation, forward planning preparing for an even longer haul than we would ever choose. We must certainly never be downhearted and relax our vigilance in safeguarding the interests of the Trust. The imminent reopening of the Droitwich Canals should inspire us all and the indications that the Cotswolds project is more or less back on course. We are assured that the national economy is always cyclical and that the good times will return. We must have faith that they will. It is in the darkest hours that we are tested and our duty as a Trust is to ensure that we survive with our aims and ambitions intact. Let us always stress that our work is designed to bring public benefit to our local communities and to the public at large.

Last year, I ended by saying: “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. 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.”

I can find no way of putting it differently or better a year on.

Brian Kingshott
Chairman

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