Ben - 9's Waterways

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Rochdale Super-Cycleway?

Is the Rochdale Canal's towpath to become the country's latest cycling super-highway?

Already much of the length of the towpath in the urban areas of Greater Manchester has been improved by being given a hard surface. Now Rochdale Council is about to give the stretch through Littleborough and up over the Summit the same treatment. [link] Not only that but Calderdale Council is planning an even harder surface for the rest of the towpath down through Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Sowerby Bridge.

I'm sure most of us will be glad to be able to take a stroll along the towpath without getting our feet wet in enormous puddles that stretch the whole way across the width of the path.

But there are downsides to this "improvement".

First of all it is not so pleasant to walk along miles of hard surface. Some of us are not as robust as we used to be and feel the strain in our legs and feet! Compare walking for five miles along a traditional canal towpath with walking the same distance along the pavement at the side of a road and you will see what I mean.

Secondly, it has been seen elsewhere that a firm surface on a towpath encourages cyclists to go faster.

Now, there are a great many towpath cyclists out there who are very considerate of other users and share their notion that the towpath is a place to come for a bit of gentle recreation.

However, there are also plenty of cyclists who use our towpaths who get their heads down and their speed up, seemingly oblivious to all else, including other towpath users. Some stretches of towpath in London have almost become no-go areas for walkers. You certainly wouldn't feel that your child or dog was safe as what seem like the lead riders of the Tour of France hurtle by.

Surely some sort of compromise is called for? A better surface, yes - but a surface that is more pleasant to walk on and less pleasant to cycle rapidly on.

Rochdale Council wants to continue with the same surface used in the urban areas up through the rural stretches. And they were going to do this with no consultation! Only at the last minute, after several user groups kicked up a fuss, was a meeting arranged for people to see what they were going to do and to express their views.

What are the chances of them changing their minds, though? It was being done so quickly because funding was offered as long as the work was done by the end of the financial year.

BW's Nick Smith told Manchester IWA that the process had moved very quickly due to the funding timescales which had given rise to a lack of opportunity to complete a full consultation process.

Nigel Stevens of Shire Cruisers commented that the rush to spend grant money is a very poor excuse for getting things wrong. How very true! He says that his hire boat customers, when walking on the towpath, have often felt in danger of being run down by bikes. And that was before the new surfacing is in place!

I encourage anyone around Smithy Bridge on Saturday (20th) to go along to the station at 10 o'clock to see what is being proposed and to make sure their views are heard. I encourage BW and local councils to engage in better consultation over such things so that the views of all user groups are taken into consideration. BW should also consider whether getting into bed with schemes such as those promoted by Sustrans is really going to be beneficial for all canal users.

Towpaths are for all - not just for cyclists!

Monday, 1 February 2010

No Point In Asking Us!

Those of you with nothing better to do with your time than listen to the radio might have heard an item on today's You and Yours programme about boat moorings.

The report says that BW has put up prices because of the shortage of residential moorings with planning permission. BW says that the number of people living on boats has doubled in the last five years. Some "houseboaters" claim, unsurprisingly, that BW is exploiting the situation.

The lovely Sally Ash from BW told the programme that there are very few residential moorings with local authority planning consent and that the demand is hugely outstripping supply.

The chairman of the Residential Boat Owners Association, Rex Walden, pointed out that planning permission is needed for someone to live aboard a boat on a permanent mooring and reckons that 90% of people living on such a mooring are doing so illegally. He said that councils won't give permission for residential moorings, as they see them in the same way as "bricks and mortar".

When the reporter, Sarah Swaddling, approached the Local Government Association, which represents councils, for an interview, they said they "didn't have the expertise to be able to comment".

The Department for Communities and Local Government, asked about the lack of national planning guidance for moorings, said "We do not consider it appropriate for Government to issue guidance on dealing with applications for residential mooring development, as the decision is best taken locally after careful consideration of the impact on the local area."

So the Government says that it's up to local councils and local councils say they don't have the expertise! Don't ask us, 'cos we don't know!

Meanwhile, are something like 90% of residential boaters really living on unofficial moorings? If they are then it seems pretty likely that they are not paying Council Tax. The local councils, by ignoring the need for residential moorings, are losing out on the potential revenue, while the boaters live with the constant worry that some official might come along and evict them from the mooring.

You can listen to the item for the next week on the BBC website. Fast forward to 12 minutes into the programme.

Oh, and can someone please tell the BBC that those floaty things that were being talked about are not called "houseboats"?