Posted on May 3, 2023
The Canal and River Trust was blasted over “years of neglect” at Gloucester Docks last night as they answered tough questions at a public meeting.
It was standing room only as more than 100 people turned up to hear what officials had to say about the problems facing the Docks at the meeting at Gloucester Brewery’s Warehouse 4. Dockside businesses say their trade suffered over Easter because boats could not moor due to shallow depths caused by high siltation.
On Toast cafe owner David Purchase organised the public meeting to try and find a solution. Mr Purchase, who chaired the event on April 27, said everybody would like to know when the pontoons and sides of the docks will be dredged so boats can safely moor.
He said the assurance that the Docks would be ready for the Tall Ships Festival in 2024 sounded like a “sweetener for the city council and to keep them off his back”.
Robert Eaton, regional operations manager, said they are expecting the Docks to be available for most vessels by the summer. However, he could not commit to dredging the pontoons and could not remember a time when they did.
Mr Eaton said the trust is not prioritising the tall ships over the rest of the Docks. He said it was true the canal was previously dredged deeper but their published depth is around 10ft.
He said: “We continue to dredge. We’ve secured some extra space to get the silt into a tip down the canal. I’m expecting to get the Docks looking close to their norm this summer.
“We recognise that the tall ships are important for the people of Gloucester. We are not prioritising the tall ships. We are reinstating the Docks as best and quickly as we can within the constraints that we have. Not just for the tall ships but to everybody.”
Mr Purchase accused the trust of only sticking to their legal obligation of providing a channel from one end to the other and a channel for boats to get out of Victoria Basin. He also said the trust is only dredging to a depth of 10ft when years ago it dredged to around 17ft to 18ft.
“We haven’t had any type of assurance as to when the pontoons will be dredged. The message coming across is that it is not a priority. You are just literally getting the tall ships in at the depths you are reaching at the moment.”
Mr Eaton said the trust’s next priory will be to free the boats trapped by the silt and make sure they can get into Barge Arm and out of Victoria Basin. He said: “In a perfect world, we would have a bottomless pit of money and would be unconstrained by environmental regulations…”
To which he received booing from the crowd and cries of “here we go again!”
There were also comments from people who said the present situation at Gloucester Docks was due to years of neglect and not just the unprecedented levels of silt pumped into the canal last year from the River Severn.
The trust said it needed to do this to supply Bristol Water during last year’s drought and conceded that they had to override their silt sensors to comply with their contractual obligations with the water firm.
Other criticism levelled at the trust included comments such as “their governance sucks” and that their communication was very poor. One member of the public also said there used to be a collaborative water management strategy when it was operated by British Waterways which worked.
Mr Eaton said the Canal and River Trust would take onboard the comments. And those present had the opportunity to fill in feedback cards for the trust.