The Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust have been working for over 25 years to reinstate canal ways in Derby. It is a well-funded, professionally run, charitable organisation. A few years ago they had the vision to build a Riverboat (“Outram”) and run trips from the City Centre to Darley Mills.
In July 2020 I had the opportunity to see the boat in its final stages of fitting.
Despite Covid, the expectation was that it would be in full operation by Spring 2021. That was the case, until the Council “realised”, that no one had thought through the legalities of such a venture.
As a member of the Trustee Board, Cllr Poulter, was supposed “…to oversee the operation of the Trust and ensure the Directors operate within legal constraints”. Clearly that didn’t happen early enough.
At the AGM in July 2019 ( prior to the start of the boat build) the Chairman of the Trust reported:
“We have continued to develop a working relationship with the city officers following the change in administration. The reaction of the politicians is more mixed. We introduced a potential investor for the Derby Arm, but the city has not responded positively.”
“Unfortunately, the bureaucracy of Environment Agency permits, planning permission, Council Licences, etc. mean this is unlikely to be launched until next year. ” ( i.e. 2020 )
During the 19/20 Financial Year Derby City Council granted the Trust £73,000.
In May 2021 the Chairman reported:
“We have been delayed in the launch of Outram. The short explanation is that following legal advice the Council have decided that they need to create a Navigation Authority for the river and that we also need to prove that the operation will be safe and that we won’t damage any part of the bridges or other river structures. It is most frustrating to be delayed in this way, but they have now appointed someone to accelerate the issues and we have been given access to further funds to deal with the additional work. Will we launch this year?”
In the same timeframe as the Trust expected to be fully operational, the Council finally realised that it had legal responsibilities with respect to the river bank. This was following advice from an expensive Queen’s Counsel ( The Council is the “riparian” owner)
The Trust’s minutes of February 2022 reveal a belated “interest”:
“The other positive is that the Council have now formally adopted the project, so they will be providing access paths, power, etc. and as part of this they will handle planning.”
At the Cabinet Meeting on 13th April 2022, on top of the £186k already spent by the Council, authorisation is being sought for a further £183k and a recurring £40k pa river maintenance cost. Money that has not been budgetted.
There was a reason why Cllr Poulter was on the Trustee Board of the Canal Boat Trust. It was not a “nominal” appointment he was supposed to “ensure the Directors operate within legal constraints”. The Directors would have reasonably expected that he would have posed questions of the Chief Legal Officer and sought a report which confirmed the full legal, regulatory and licensing position on this project. It is obvious that launching a passenger boat on a regulated waterway would come with some obligations for all parties.
Despite granting the Trust £73k nearly 3 years ago it didn’t occur to anyone in the Council to consider why the money was donated, what the project was about, and whether there would be issues; the Council’s position was totally uncoordinated!
This is not a matter of hindsight – the Legal team and the Leadership were delinquent in their duties.
It is now cynical opportunism that the Council is reverse engineering their strategy to incorporate the Boat project as part of its vision.
“To enable a first key step in leveraging the true regeneration potential of the River Derwent as a key natural asset in the context of a vibrant, attractive and repurposed city centre.”“Purpose” of the Cabinet paper presented on the 13th April 2022
This is despite the Council spending over a year grinding down the Volunteers with the new found legal obligations; the Volunteers who had made such significant progress before the Council had even stirred from its slumber with a Leader who was asleep at the rudder!