Paul Roper - CRT Manifesto

paul_roperHi there, I'm Paul Roper. My interest in the inland waterways started in 1968 when at the age of 18 I had my first canal holiday. I was fortunate to have a school friend whose parents owned a small boat and throughout my university years with a group of former school friends I regularly explored the midlands system. My love of the waterways never left me although ownership of a boat had to wait until the year 2000.

In my professional life I started as a government scientist but eventually became a senior “technocrat” within the Whitehall machinery of the MOD where I developed experience in analysis and also policy negotiation.

I have held a long term interest in waterway restoration and am a member of IWA’s restoration committee, I have a firm commitment to my own local waterway the Basingstoke Canal. I am also currently IWA Deputy National Chairman and chair of IWA’s Navigation Committee. In this latter role it was my responsibility to lead for IWA on the response to the government’s proposals for the CRT, developing our campaign strategy to secure the best possible financial deal for the waterways and to ensure that key navigational issues such as lock maintenance and dredging were foremost in the proposals and fully understood by both government and CRT trustees. I also sought to ensure that we lobbied for satisfactory governance arrangements and pressed for the inclusion of EA navigations as a major step towards IWA’s long held vision of a National Waterways Conservancy with unrestricted access across the whole system. I am very familiar with the challenges that the CRT will face, particularly in its critical formative years. But I am enthusiastic about playing my role in advising and steering the charity as it strives to become successful thereby delivering what we all want.

We now know the funding settlement is much better than many feared and probably as good as could be expected given the parlous state of the public purse. However it is still not enough to deliver the waterways as we would all wish and there will be difficult choices to be made. If elected I will be pragmatic over how the money should be spent. I believe in the primacy of navigation and consider that many of the other public benefits of the waterways flow from its principal role which is to permit the passage of boats. My overriding priority will be to ensure that the whole network is kept open to boats. I am particularly concerned for the fragility of some under used parts of the system and will strive to ensure these are adequately maintained and that CRT encourages their use and as far as possible removes some of the barriers to their current use.

Some aspects of the condition of our waterways are a cause for concern. There has been substantial investment in dealing with safety related concerns over principal assets (bridges, embankments, tunnels etc) but with the better financial deal now secured there must be greater attention given to maintenance that will improve the boater’s experience: There is a major backlog in dredging that must be addressed as a matter of urgency,  and vegetation management has deteriorated in the last few years to the extent that it now impedes navigation and is damaging the infrastructure of the banks. I will fight to ensure that these aspects get appropriate attention and we see a genuine improvement in the short term.

Government’s commitment to the inclusion of EA navigations in the charity in 2015 now seems encouragingly strong. However there are still many hurdles to jump and the CRT Trustees will ultimately have to agree to their inclusion which in turn will depend upon an adequate “dowry” from government. My opinion is that including the EA is a good thing , provided that the money is there to support its inclusion.  I will try to ensure that all the necessary preliminary work for the transfer continues.

I have some genuine concerns over the CRT governance arrangements. In a Council of initially 35 members, later expected to rise to around 50, there are only four slots for boaters (plus one canoeist). There is a real risk that navigation issues get marginalised and it will need very strong boater representatives to ensure that the message over the primacy of navigation gets heard. I have experience in formulating arguments and influencing policy development, this is not the time to let emotions rule how boaters do business with CRT, we need hard heads and savvy operators who can influence the agenda and ensure we succeed in achieving the primacy for navigation we all seek. As such I offer myself as a suitable candidate to represent your boating  interests.

Thank you.