Published: 25 October, 2013
• FRIENDS of Regent’s Canal are starting to feel like troubled children in a broken home, caught in the crossfire between squabbling icons of authority (Charity is urged to act over loud music, late-night drinking and boat smoke on the canal, October 18).
Islington Council has sent shock waves up and down the waterway network by publicly criticising the Canal and River Trust and by suggesting that National Car Parks should come to the rescue. This has happened at a time when we were hoping to see the trust, the council and the police working in unison.
A dispute like this will inevitably place more responsibility on genuine canal campaigners who put its long-term interests before profit or politics.
The council decision to pass a motion challenging the trust is certainly news, but the problems cited are old news. For several years Friends meetings have been dominated by complaints about various forms of anti-social behaviour.
At our last meeting on September 11 a police sergeant talked about his role and constraints, while residents aired their latest grievances. We will be covering these topics yet again at our next public meeting on November 20.
We will want to discuss this council motion, without taking sides, to weigh up which aspects of it will harm or enhance canal life. Nobody will emerge from this dispute unscathed.
The council has raised awareness of the issues in a spectacular fashion, but it has clumsily implied that the continuation and escalation of these issues is linked to the transition of British Waterways to the trust.
The trust has pointed out, quite rightly, that it does not have the manpower to deal single-handedly with all the problems, but it has implied that this is a consequence of becoming a charity.
This is most odd, because the attraction of becoming a charity was that it would allow the navigation authority to multiply and expand its income streams.
The boating world will suffer too, because if the council succeeds in changing emission laws for moving boats then all the historic working boats could be consigned to museums.
In the extreme case, only the electric boats will survive. Is this really what we want?
However, there are some rays of hope that things will start to improve quickly. In July, the trust’s new chief executive, Richard Parry, started his new role and within a fortnight he was lobbied by an Islington councillor.
He made a special effort to visit Angel Canal Festival and has been made fully aware that Islington’s problems need special attention.
The clock is now ticking and we will be monitoring the ability of the trust to work closely and effectively with the council, police and other stakeholders, assuming, of course, that nobody is reckless enough to impose further cuts on police numbers.
There will be plenty to discuss and to plan at our next public meeting. Please visit our website for details and for previous minutes.
Chair, Friends of Regent’s Canal