Registered Charity No. 702429
CHAIRMAN’S REPORT - A.G.M. 2011
|Another year and the need to draw a line under the achievements, plans and indeed the disappointments of 12 months of hard work. The Trust was founded in 1988 to facilitate the restoration of its two canals and that work has continued through 2010 to the best ability of its directors, officers and members. Inevitably, the emphasis remains on “facilitate” rather than “restore” and it is only against the measure of “facilitate” that progress can be measured. That said, as work continues into 2011, it will soon be possible to measure “restoration” as well.|
As I have stressed in previous years so much of what the Directors and Officers do is hidden in meetings, reports and consultations. If members were to see the details of the expenses for travel clocked up by Directors they would understand how much is done. It should also be said that Directors very rarely take the expenses recompense to which they are entitled preferring to return them to the Trust as donations. We hold regular meetings with the officers of Lichfield District Council and South Staffordshire Council and remain in friendly contact with Cannock Chase District Council and Staffordshire Highways. These contacts return many benefits especially over planning issues where the councils increasingly protect the line of the two canals. Recently, this has been underlined by our work to define the boundaries of a proposed housing development at Churchbridge and projected developments along the line of the Lichfield Southern Bypass. It is especially reassuring to find that commercial developers are increasingly consulting the Trust and seeking to work in partnership rather than in opposition. This is a strong pointer to the way in which our work is receiving recognition at all levels.
An important part of our work with the Councils is in the area of Local Development Frameworks which they are all currently constructing. We have been consulted at every stage and have taken every opportunity of ensuring that the routes of our canals are properly safeguarded. The Coalition Government has revised many of the obligations placed on local authorities and this has delayed completion of the LDFs.
Essential to all our work is ensuring that we have a coherent and realisable set of proposals. We recognised that having feasibility studies is only the first building block in the restoration process. We have been very fortunate to secure the support of Peter Buck who has brought a great raft of civil engineering expertise to our project and has set out a programme whereby we can hope to secure implementation of Phase 1 of the Atkins Report within the specified time scale. He has worked with Mike Battisson to draw up a scheme which sets out both the costs and the time scales. It especially stresses the deadlines which must be met to keep work on course. Peter has particularly brought his expertise to our team of engineers. We have also looked at how we might implement Phase 1 of building the Atkins route of the Hatherton Canal.
We have also decided to review all our policies, most of which were drawn up many years ago in a very different restoration climate. We have been very fortunate to secure the help of Sean Bowden who has reviewed our policy documents and held discussions with directors and officers. We hope to receive his final report and recommendations very soon.
In these times of national financial constraint and cuts, work such as ours in the voluntary sector is increasingly difficult to finance. We have taken note of the imminent major changes to British Waterways which is about to be eased out of the public sector and into the, as yet uncharted, territory of the charity sector. The way this will work is very far from clear but there will clearly be serious implications for the whole restoration movement. In the past, major restoration schemes could rely on BW for major support often leading to an assumption of control. At the very least it has always been assumed that BW would, subject to conditions, take over the restored waterways and incorporate them into the national network. This is no longer the case and projects such as ours will now have to ensure that the restored waterway will be financially self-sustaining through associated commercial operations. We will have to work harder to encourage such commercial developments and already know of several landowners who would like to develop mooring basins and canalside retail operations. This is an area into which we have resisted advancing, always stressing that we had no ambition to be a navigational or trading body. This must now be reviewed, or at least when the future role of BW is known or, the National Waterways Charity, by whatever title it becomes known.
Raising funds is always a priority and we are fortunate to have the services of Bob Williams, our Finance Director, who manages our financial resources with such skill. We also have the considerable input of the Marketing and Retail Trading Group which has been led by David and Mavis Moore despite the former resigning as Chairman at the AGM. We are increasingly aware of the urgent need to increase involvement in this field and also to recruit a Funding Officer tasked with raising large sums to finance the extensive projects identified by our project planners and engineers. We have been fortunate in 2010 to obtain three significant grants to finance the rewatering of Pound 26 at Tamworth Road. £36,000 came from Section 106 money through Lichfield District Council, £30,000 from the Staffordshire Aggregates Levy Grant Scheme and £5,000 from Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust. These monies have already been spent employing McPhillips as contractors at Tamworth Road. Now we shall need to seek further and much larger sums to extend the restored section through Pound and Lock 27 and then under both A51 and A38. It is demanding but essential work and we need a team to take this on.
No canal can be restored unless the track is under the control of its Trust. Assembling the land portfolio is a long, tedious and demanding task and we are grateful to David Dixon for his painstaking work in this department. Much of the work in 2010 concerned moves to purchase a vital section of canal between the lift bridge at Darnford Lane and Cappers Bridge in Lichfield Phase 1. We have sought to balance the need to acquire the land and restore the navigation with an obligation to be good neighbours to those living alongside. Resolution of this will come in 2011 but most of the work was processed in 2010. There is still one vital section to be purchased but we remain optimistic that the whole track can be secured through a mixture of ownership and long-term lease. On the Hatherton, we continue to talk to the Little Wyrley Estate and other owners so that we can secure the route we need to get from the Lords Hayes Branch to the A5 east of Churchbridge. Further west we have worked with South Staffordshire Council and Redrow Homes to ensure that the route of the canal as identified in the Arup Report is protected in a form which will enable ultimate restoration to take place. This required us to lodge formal objections to a planning application which we were finally able to withdraw.
At Ogley we were faced with difficult decisions over the management of the top lock cottage which the Trust has owned for some years. After some unfortunate experiences with a succession of tenants, the Trust considered selling the property. Several work parties of members, from the President down, turned out to renovate and restore the cottage. Problems were compounded by a break-in and theft of piping which led to flooding and water damage, thankfully covered by insurance. Estate agent valuation then proved very disappointing with the housing market also continuing to fall. Disposal at a damaging loss was not a palatable option which led to finding a very suitable new tenant. The future of the cottage will be reviewed in two years time when the market can be reassessed.
At Huddlesford we have continued in discussion with Lichfield Cruising Club concerning the proposed and essential relocation of their moorings. This will be a slow process as studies into a whole range of issues must be commissioned, especially with regard to flood plain requirements. Meanwhile, the Trust has maintained a close watch on the Government plans to build the High Speed Railway (HS2) past Lichfield. The first draft envisaged a crossing at high level near Darnford Lane. The second draft places the crossing high above Cappers Bridge. The nature and height of the proposed crossing do not currently present a threat to the Lichfield Canal and we would in any case be protected under current Government guidance to developers. While we have every sympathy with residents and organisations who will suffer from the visual and aural impact of the railway and the attendant construction work we have decided to take a neutral view of the plans. As was the case with the building of M6 Toll we do not take a view on its desirability but will work to ensure that the restoration is not affected.
As ever, I must pay tribute to the work of all my fellow directors, some of which I have already commented on. Peter Magee stood down as Vice-Chairman after the 2010 AGM and I have always been grateful for his support. He now concentrates on our machinery of which he is an excellent custodian and on the practical side. David Dixon has stepped into the role of Vice-Chairman and offers me invaluable and unfailing support. Sue Williams is our Secretary and does not stint of time and effort. She will also be found at all our events leading a team of helpers, often from the Williams family, which does the catering, moves the furniture and absolutely anything else required. Stefan Szulc is invaluable both as an engineering advisor and magazine Editor. I am sure all members appreciate the 4 excellent issues of Cut Both Ways which he produces annually, on time and of excellent quality. Trevor Morris continues his sterling service as Membership Secretary while Mervyn Ainge works to maintain our publicity output. Bob Mullarkey monitors all our health and safety requirements and Vaughan Welch as IWA representative, keeps us up to speed on the national picture. We remain indebted to Denis Cooper who has overcome his health problems to continue supervising our work and maintenance parties on the Hatherton.
We are also grateful to our own work parties on the Lichfield who have done so much to complete the brickwork and many other features which have saved us considerable sums of money and prepared the way for the contactors to complete the rewatering project. Much of the credit must go to Brian Davis who took the lead at Tamworth Road for so many years. Sadly, ill health has forced Brian into retirement but, as with a famous architect, “if you seek a memorial, look around you”. We are also indebted to Bob Williams who does so much to move this work forward. We are grateful also to visiting Waterway Recovery groups and to our friends from Jaguar Land Rover.
Projecting forward into 2011 we can see progress at last on the practical front with the completion of the rewatering of Pound 26. This is the first section of either canal to be sustainably restored to water. After nearly a quarter of a century this will surely be time to celebrate and remember.
Sadly, this is only a small fragment of what still needs to be done. I thank and pay tribute to all who have contributed to the Trust’s work in 2010 and in the years before. Now comes the difficult bit. Directors grow older, the supply of volunteers is far below that which we need. Finance is ever harder to source. The back-stop of British Waterways will soon be removed. While we can be pleased with what we have done in 2010 it is not enough. We need more people and more money. Optimism is a valuable commodity but far more will be required in 2011 and beyond.
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