Registered Charity No. 702429

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT - A.G.M. 2010

Welcome to our AGM for the year ending December 2009, the second to be held here at the Park View Centre in Brownhills. As I observed last year, this is located at the very heart of the Trust’s project, especially if we see the restoration of our two canals as a single project, something I will return to later. Brownhills is also an integral part of Walsall and we have been working with the Borough Council over the past year to strengthen our relationship with councillors and officers. As I set out to review the work of the past year I am again reminded that it is over twenty years since we set out on the long road to restore our canals. Superficially, there is little to show for all the work and commitment which has been put in by our members over those two decades. I take heart from some advice given by one of our technical advisors recently who said, specifically about engineering projects but more than applicable to the whole scheme, that the easy part is the building and the hard bit is putting everything in place ready to start. All of us who have decorated rooms at home will understand this very well.

Hopefully, this annual review will show that we have managed to both put things in place behind the scene and also to progress some physical restoration. On the preparation front there is no doubt that that the twin highlights of 2009 were the delivery of two reports from WS Atkins. As I reported last year, we commissioned Atkins to prepare a study for the whole of the Lichfield Canal to match the earlier one from Arup on the Hatherton. Although such reports are expensive and tell us what we already know they are vital tools in the preparation process. They enable us to show, in professional form, that the scheme is viable and has answers to engineering, financial, environmental and planning questions likely to be put to us by local authorities, statutory bodies and potential funders. We took advantage of the relationship we built with Atkins to ask them to deliver a supplementary report on the Hatherton to take into account the major change of route between Churchbridge and Pelsall. We worked hard with Atkins to produce two excellent studies which are already producing benefits. We were able to present the Lichfield Study to the 2009 AGM and then to roll it out to the public in Lichfield, Wall and in local libraries.

This is not the place to dwell on the details of the Studies but they are both excellent products. We can supply electronic versions on request and details have already appeared in Cut Both Ways. Your directors were all determined that such excellent work should not be just polished, filed away and promptly forgotten. Accordingly, we voted to move immediately to implement Phase One as laid out in both studies.

On the Hatherton this means progressing discussions with landowners along the new route. Obviously, we can do nothing if we do not control the land we need. So far, these discussions have been positive in tone and we hope to have good news before too long. British Waterways has confirmed that there is no objection to using the stub of the Lord Hay’s Branch as the new link to the Wyrley and Essington. At a stroke, this removes almost all the complications which would have arisen if we had continued with the plan to use the Cannock Extension Canal. (We can now leave Natural England to nurture their SSSI/SAC without the threat of increased boat traffic). Incidentally, I am pleased to be able to report that our relationship with the Environment Agency has much improved of late. Much further down the timeline of restoration we will, of course, have to address the twin issues of water supply and water quality. It thus emerges that our whole restoration concept on the Hatherton will be turned on its head. It looks far more likely that we can get boats to Churchbridge from the east rather than from the west as had always seemed the most obvious. This approach is confirmed by the current Highways Agency work on M6 to facilitate hard shoulder running rather than progress the more expensive and politically sensitive M6 widening programme. It is hard to believe that this is more than an expedient which will last a few years.

On the Lichfield implementing Phase One means starting at the bottom and working through 5 phases to the top at Ogley. Again, this is dictated mostly through expediency as starting at the top would bring water from the Wolverhampton Level progressively down the 30 locks. By starting at the bottom we tackle, in many regards, the easy section first and this opens up the prospect of joining up to our Tamworth Road site. A primary driver must be to get boats to Lichfield as soon as possible. Boaters will gain access to the City while the City and District will gain from what is, these days, known as increased footfall. Water supply will be an issue but we have ideas on how we might access temporary or additional sources. We also control a considerable amount of the land we will need. In collaboration with our friends at Lichfield Cruising Club we have already started to bring forward plans to relocate the moorings at Huddlesford by providing an equivalent off-line facility. We had an excellent gathering of boats at Huddlesford in the autumn, in collaboration with the Club.

Obviously this will be expensive but Atkins and our own project-planning programme means we can identify the details and continue to promote our refreshed David Suchet Appeal which has produced promising early income. As I indicated earlier, there is much to be done behind the scenes before the first spade goes in the ground or boat can be moved. We will also explore ways in which costs can be controlled, partly through the use of voluntary labour. It has been reassuring that British Waterways assures us that it understand what we expect to do at Huddlesford.

Directors also decided, when authorising Phase One, that we cannot abandon the major projects already in hand. We have invested a great deal of money and effort in the linked projects at Tamworth Road. I hope that you have all been able to see what has been achieved there over the last year where Brian Davis, supported by a small and dedicated team, has achieved wonders in the whole section between locks 24 and 26 especially with the construction of the bywash at Lock 25. Such has been the progress that Directors have been looking at detailed plans for rewatering some or all of the section. The extent of the work depends on funding and for the moment we are assuming that we must be modest with our plans. The large pipe in the bed of the canal, the culverted water course, has been extensively researched and is the most likely source of water in the short term. There are complex and sensitive issues to be resolved but we are confident that we can overcome them.

Elsewhere in Lichfield we have maintained and improved our relations with the District Council and continued to work with officers to protect the route of the canal in the Local Development Framework. We have monitored plans for new housing where it might affect the canal and met a consortium of developers. The renewed work on the Southern Bypass is close to completion with no detriment to Trust plans. At Ogley we have investigated how we might dispose of the top lock cottage to enable us to eliminate the mortgage. There are important issues to be resolved prior to any disposal to ensure that we control the lock and its surrounds ready for restoration.

As in previous years, work on the Hatherton has been limited to maintenance work on the section between the Roman Way and M6. We are most grateful to Denis Cooper and his team for their dedication to the cause. As with the Tamworth Road section in Lichfield this is the public face of restoration and is invaluable in maintaining public awareness and support. We cannot anticipate major progress on the western Hatherton until the M6 obstruction can be cleared. A watching brief has to be our policy in this area especially since British Waterways is the owner with an interest in maintaining the watercourse as an important source of water for its network.

I have already mentioned the need to stress that we are a two canal but single project Trust. Both canals are of equal importance to us. Similarly we continue to stress that we see the restoration scheme as an important engine of regeneration. Tony Harvey, previously our local waterways manager, is now regeneration officer for the Midlands, still based at Fazeley. We met him towards the end of the year and had a useful exchange of views. We were also greatly heartened when a motion was passed by Walsall Council early this year which said “ that officers be authorised to pursue the formation of an officer steering group with relevant organisations including neighbouring local authorities …….BW and L&HCRT. The steering group to meet annually or twice a year. That the role of the steering group be to advise L&HCRT on specific planning and strategic issues relating to the restoration of the Lichfield and Hatherton links”. It is still not wholly clear where this will lead but it is such a welcome breath of fresh air after so many years of lack of engagement. We will do our best to build on this beginning.

It is important not to forget how much we owe to our volunteers and especially to those who take on leading roles. However, I must start this section by paying tribute to our “foot soldiers” those who toil hard and often but never get a specific mention. Our marketing group goes on raising significant sums, our bread and butter, and supporting our major social functions – they are truly wonderful. Our volunteers who turn out on both canals to work in all weathers are equally valuable and we must salute them too. If anyone feels they can offer some help in any of these areas please come forward.

More specifically it is more than a pleasant duty to pay tribute to fellow directors and officers. I cannot stress too much how much the Trust owes to them for their unstinting gifts of time and expertise. Sue Williams is our secretary in which post her support is invaluable but the title does not indicate the wide range of duties she undertakes. She manages our website, is prominent in marketing and can always be found in the kitchen when there is a public event. David Dixon has now settled into his duties as land officer and has spent much time revisiting our land owners. I note too that, like his predecessor, the duties become increasingly flexible and wide-ranging. I am grateful to Vice-Chairman, Peter Magee, for his continuing support and his amazing abilities with machinery. Mike Battisson too has an extensive portfolio of interests but has recently shifted his focus towards detailed project planning which is his special expertise. We will see the fruits of this as we move forward with the Atkins phases. David Moore stood down as Chairman of Marketing a year ago although this does not seem to have affected his workload. We are very grateful to Mavis Moore who has been chairing the Group and maintaining good order. We have welcomed our membership Secretary, Trevor Morris, back to his duties after a spell of illness. We are very pleased to see him back at our meetings. Bob Mullarkey keeps a watchful eye of Health and Safety matters and joins in our work sites. Last year we said farewell to magazine editor, Steve Pitt, and were very pleased to welcome Stefan Szulc to the editorial chair where he has maintained high standards while slipping in some welcome innovations. Stefan is also very helpful on the engineering side. We have also welcomed Mervyn and Pat Ainge to our meetings who have provided welcome support with publicity and membership. Our Environment Officer, Geoff Crook, has prepared an excellent paper in support of our Tamworth Road planning application. I would also like to thank Lichfield Branch IWA for their moral and financial support. I have carefully left till last our Finance Officer, Bob Williams. His abilities on the accounting side are now well-known to most of us here and his handling of the Trust’s financial side is exemplary. However, Bob, like so many others, plays a vital part in almost everything we do and is always a source of strength to the Chairman in times of trial and tribulation.

This report concentrates, as is proper, on the calendar year 2009. It does not, perhaps, portray 12 months of exciting achievement but rather a year of hard work and preparation. It was not a year when the Trust hit the headlines but one where it kept in the public gaze. We have much for which to be grateful, not least the solid support of our members whose numbers remain steady. Our finances are in good heart and, for the first time, we have a clear vision of what we should be doing. We have costings, engineering solutions, a good team of volunteers and the will to succeed. We have set ourselves a timetable which will be demanding but without it we will go nowhere. I still have the hope that I will be able to boat through Churchbridge and Tamworth Road before the mists gather. The Trust is strong and with your help it will grow stronger still and reach all its goals.

Brian Kingshott
Chairman

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