Trent & Mersey Breach and damage update
Posted 25 October 2012 - 03:28 PM
I hope the regular updates from our Manchester & Pennine team about the Trent & Mersey breach sites are proving useful. In addition, I thought I would explain how we are managing the wider finances to make sure the work that needs to be done on the Trent & Mersey is prioritised.
It will come as no surprise that there isn’t a bottomless pot of money to dip into when emergencies happen. We do have a contingency that we put in place at the start of each year - a couple of million pounds - as leeway for unforeseen repairs and emergencies or slight dips in the commercial income that the ‘suits’ in the office generate to fund a big proportion of canal maintenance. Depending on the size of the emergency, we may also have to consider deferring some of the work we’d planned to do this winter, but have not yet commenced.
This year has been one of the more difficult in recent memory because of the unpredictable nature of the weather. This time last year our focus was on the worst drought in over 100 years and we were re-jigging our plans to release around £1m for drought alleviation measures (additional bore hole pumping, back pumping, special gate re-linings, feeder repairs etc). This was so we could keep the Grand Union and the Oxford canals open for as long as possible through what was predicted to be a major drought. Then the rains came in April! If ever a crystal ball would have been useful it was this time last year and we could have avoided some work and the costs involved. Flash rain events hit us – and the residents – first at Hebden Bridge where torrential downpours tore up stretches of towpath gouging channels and ripping down walls. The additional unplanned costs in this area totalled around £300k.
We then discovered, through our very close monitoring of the beautiful but fragile Mon & Brec Canal that one area was beginning to leak badly. We can’t be certain that prolonged heavy rain was the cause but it is likely to have had some effect. The solution is relining a further section at a cost of around £1.5m. I have to admit that I put our Head of Engineering, George Ballinger, under some pressure to tell me that we could find a cheaper solution or delay the works but he stood his ground and said the relining had to be done as the risks were just too high. George is not a man who’s advice you ignore lightly given his vast experience and knowledge of canal engineering and risk management.
So that was almost £2m of significant unplanned works before we got through the summer!. Whilst we create the contingency fund every year in anticipation of such events, we don’t usually see it disappearing so early in the year. In fact in recent years we have not had to use the fund for emergencies and were able to release it around January time to be spent on maintenance, for example last winter we undertook a significant tree maintenance programme. As a result we decided that, in order to maintain our contingency funding should it be needed later in the year, we would cover the repairs in Hebden and on the Mon & Brec by removing repairs from the winter works programme that were less of a priority.
Just before the breach on Trent & Mersey happened, we were planning to release the £2m contingency fund in two tranches to undertake various maintenance and repair projects this winter such as a programme of lock grouting, bridge painting and maintenance, Woodseaves cutting stabilisation, some additional dredging and a number of other projects.
Then the Trent & Mersey breached at the end of September, with the repair estimated at £1.75m. The choice was either to defer the additional projects we were planning at Woodseaves and elsewhere, or overspend by around £1.5m.
I am pleased to say we have decided to overspend this year – which I know might sound a bit odd – so that we undertake the majority of planned projects and fix the Trent & Mersey.
It does mean we will have to use some money from next year so there will be less money around in 2013/14 but it is the most efficient way to proceed. To delay any of the works now would cause inconvenience to boaters and probably cost more in the end. And you never know, as happened this year, the commercial teams have generated a few £100,000 more than planned and the same could happen next year as they and our accountants pursue the advantages that come from the Trust’s greater flexibility.
The Trust’s inspection regime is robust, and the structural condition of the main embankments, lock flights and cuttings is better than at any other time in decades. Being responsible for a 200-year old network is, however, all about managing risk. Needless to say, we’re planning to have the Trent & Mersey fully open by Spring, but we don’t need any further unforeseen events this year!
On a final note, I’d like to thank the boaters and members of the community who have contributed to the Trent & Mersey breach appeal. One local cyclist has contributed £3,000 alone, and the total stands at over £11,000. In particular, the support the Trent & Mersey Canal Society is hugely appreciated. I was also particularly heartened by donation from the Birkenhead YMCA whose groups of homeless people, who have benefited from training and environmental work on the canal, chose to raise money through a sponsored car wash. This is financial support that wasn’t available to the canal network a few months ago and indication of the opportunity presented by the Trust.
Dealing with facts not fiction, tradition isnt purchased its learned.
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