Formal Complaint and the Waterways Ombudsman.

There is more to this on-going issue than a simple commercial landlord/tenant dispute.

In this case the commercial landlord has no regard for regulations or the law. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the recent Post Office Sub-Postmaster scandal.

The Landlord – Canal and River Trust

The creation of the canal system was originally authorised by acts of parliament. Following nationalisation the Government had a statutory duty to provide a ‘right of navigation’ and maintain the canal system.

The Government owned navigation authority is at present called the Canal and River Trust (CRT). This Government Quango is mainly funded from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

To help reduce the cost of this DEFRA funding, CRT has been entrusted with the income stream (and guardianship) of one of the largest Government owned UK property and land portfolios.

Much of this immense property and land portfolio has no connection to the canal system. However, it does make CRT a very large commercial landlord and commercial property developer.

CRT were also given charitable status. One of their main charitable objectives is to protect the heritage of the canal system.

When CRT was created in 2012 Taylor’s Boatyard ‘inherited’ them as their commercial landlord.

The Tenant – Taylor’s Boatyard

Taylor’s Boatyard is a small family owned business.

In 2010 the boatyard business relocated from West London having negotiated a long lease on part of the former Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company’s yard in Chester.

The boatyard dates from 1795 and comprises of many buildings, seven of which are Grade II listed. It has been identified as having high heritage significance as a rare surviving example of a working canal boatyard with a continuous history as such. Its historic significance is greater than that of the canal yards at Braunston, Banbury and Hilmorton and is probably unique on Britain’s canals.

Given that the site was semi-derelict alongside restoring and stabilising the listed structures a customer base was also built from a standing start.

The dry dock is the most important building to the business. Until September 2019 its high usage produced the largest revenue of any of the buildings on site. It functioned both as a dry dock and a wet dock which was critical to the business in all months of the year.

The boatyard has been extremely reluctant to make a formal complaint as it has done everything possible to work with their commercial landlord.

The complaint – Background

A commercial landlord has undertaken major modifications to a building, a place of work, occupied by a tenant. The modifications were unnecessary and dangerous which has made the building commercially unviable.

In this case the unnecessary modifications were carried out to the Chester dry dock.

CRT did not consider any consultation was necessary and have rejected all attempts at any meaningful communication.

The modifications were made without any prior knowledge or consent from the boatyard.

All of the serious operational and safety concerns now created by these modifications (raised in writing to CRT) have been simply ignored.

CRT have repeatedly refused to confirm that their modifications are safe or even that they conform to regulation.

Unfortunately, there is no alternative to the monopoly of CRT for this or any other canal side business. This corporate dictatorship have absolute authority and control every aspect of the canal industry.

In reality CRT answers to nobody. The management are comfortable to lie about their work and selective in which laws they choose to obey.

Legal redress is problematical due to the limitless funding available to this autonomous ‘government department’.

Normally when disagreements arise between a commercial tenant and their landlord the tenant has the right to get any repair work done themselves. As only CRT and their contractors are authorised to work on the canal infrastructure this right has been withheld from the boatyard.

Culvert operation, maintenance and repair is not unknown to CRT and yet their designers appear to have demonstrated an appalling lack of professional competence. It is difficult to believe the designers are incompetent therefore they must have intentionally designed their repair to make the dry dock too dangerous to operate and the building unsafe.

There was clearly something very amiss with this simple repair. Considering this along with the other unresolved serious issues CRT had deliberately created for the boatyard during the past few years, the ambition of CRT to further develop the boatyard site becomes very clear.

The boatyard is the only undeveloped part of CRT’s vast surrounding ‘ Tower Wharf Scheme’ property development which smothers both sides of the canal.

The Complaint

A formal complaint was made on 5th May 2020.

CRT were fully aware of the financial hardship they were causing the business.

Requests for updates were ignored or met by the general ‘navigation closure notice’ email.

No completion dates were given until early 2020. When we did have a completion date this information was passed on in good faith to the boatyard’s customers. Not one of these numerous dates was ever met. This caused massive problems for both the boatyard and its customers, who understandably took their dry dock and associated, lucrative business elsewhere.

In line with government guidance during the Covid-19 pandemic the boatyard requested a ‘rent holiday’. Despite CRT knowing that they had removed the majority of the income of the boatyard this was refused. Even a request made by the local MP to Richard Parry (CEO of CRT) “to do the right thing” had no effect. It did however lead to Richard Parry’s involvement in the culvert issue which led to work finally commencing on the actual culvert.

The complaint was processed by numerous different managers at CRT. Each manager taking as long as possible to deliberately misunderstand the issue. This only confirmed our concerns as to the real motivations of our commercial landlord.

CRT Level 1. complaint – John Ward, head of project delivery, 1st June 2020.

CRT Level 2. complaint – Darren Leftley, head of water development, 26th June 2020.

The Waterways Ombudsman

A complaint was made to the waterways ombudsman in writing on 13th August 2020.

  • CRT is deliberately attempting to destroy the boatyard business. They need to demonstrate a boatyard business is unviable at this historic canal site in order to continue with their surrounding property development.
  • As a tenant of CRT the boatyard has been subjected to on-going unfair treatment, harassment and intimidation.
  • CRT is a registered charity but completely disregards its own published charitable aims.

Link to waterways ombudsman report Case Number 1127