Friday, December 04, 2009

House Points: Eno, Ono, British Waterways

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. Jo Gilberston had a piece about the British Waterways sell off on Lib Dem Voice yesterday.

I also have an article about the Lib Dem bloggers unconference in this week's issue. I'll post it here sometime over the weekend.

H2O heave-ho

On Monday Robert Flello intervened on Linda Waltho. Observers at Westminster have been waiting for this as avidly as cricket fans once waited for Lillee to be caught Willey bowled Dilley.

It took place during an adjournment debate Waltho had called about Britain’s inland waterways. The restoration of Britain’s canals has been one of the success stories of recent decades, but the network now faces a double threat.

British Waterways, the body that looks after the canals, is facing a funding cut of around £10m, reducing its annual grant to £47.8m. And now the Treasury is eyeing its property portfolio, which could be worth anything up to £16 billion.

So in the short term there is a danger that the canals will suffer as vital maintenance no longer takes place. And in the long run a danger that they will be exploited commercially to an extent that destroys the sense of their being a place apart that attracts us to them in the first place.

This process is already taking place. In his excellent book Real England, Paul Kingsnorth writes about the campaign to save Castlemill Boatyard in Oxford. It was the city’s first wharf and is now its last public boatyard.

According to Kingsnorth, “it is a lifeline for the community of 200 people who live permanently on boats in the city. Boat painting and servicing, craning, welding, emergency repairs – Castlemill provides the kinds of things you need within reach if your boat is also your home.”

But that community had to fight plans by British Waterways to level the site and build 46 flats and a waterside restaurant. Aided by the Environment Agency’s discovery that the area is liable to flooding and the city council’s plan to use the new Sustainable Communities Act, it looks as though Castlemill will be saved.

If the sale of British Waterways property holdings goes ahead then these battles will be fought all over the country and local communities will lose most of them.

Back to Waltho and Flello. They remind you of the old joke about introducing Yoko Ono and Bono at a fashionable party. Throw in Nick Clegg’s adviser on youth affairs and it gets even better: “Ono, Bono. Bono, Eno. Eno, Ono.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As the inimitable Half Man Half Biscuit put it in their Eno Collaboration, "I know Bono and he knows Ono, she knows Eno's phone goes thus".