Our ref: Customer number 8076378
1 December 2010
Mr Mark Boardman
No address – contact details:-
07878 597004 or 07986189074
Dear Mr Boardman ISIS LOCK
My name is George Ballinger and I am Head of Engineering for British
Waterways. I have been asked to investigate your complaint which has now
been raised to the second level.
The first thing I would like to say is “thank you” for meeting me at ISIS Lock on
the 18th November 2010. It was very useful to be part of the demonstration
given by Mike Stanley and yourself and you made your arguments firmly but
The background to your complaint is that British Waterways actions have, you
believe, hindered your ability to turn, either in to the Thames or back to the
Oxford Canal, after leaving ISIS Lock. Many boats can turn within the Oxford
Canal at a winding hole just before ISIS Lock. This, however, only caters for
craft of up to around about 50ft in length. The nearest turning point for larger
craft is 3½ miles away at Duke’s Cut.
British Waterways have undertaken two specific actions which affect turning in
the area. The first is to install a pontoon alongside the embankment between
the Oxford Canal and the Castle Mill Stream which prevents you pointing your
bow into this embankment which had over many years suffered severe
erosion. The second is to install a weir boom across the southern section of
the Castle Mill Stream and you state that this action hinders the turning
movement and may, in fact, put craft in jeopardy. The before and after
layouts are shown below.
Photograph 1 – Site
prior to works
Photograph 2 – Site
weir boom and
direction of flow
The area is unique in the waterway network and the navigation authority is in
fact the Environment Agency, not British Waterways. The EA operate a weir
about ½ mile downstream and this weir tends to operate continually
throughout the winter and sometimes, after heavy rain. There can be a
considerable flow/draw generated in both the Castle Mill Stream and the cut
to the Thames. The nature and direction of the flow further accentuates the
turning difficulties experienced by boaters in this area.
There are several strands to your complaint and I will try and go through them
in some sort of order.
1 Repairs to the Existing Bank: you highlight that the new bank
protection has failed and I met with our contractor, Land & Water, on
the morning of the 18th November at 0800 hours along with our Project
Manager. I informed them that the design and the construction of the
bank were totally unacceptable and subsequently they have emailed
British Waterways accepting full responsibility and liability for the
situation, along with an assurance that they will put matters right in the
very near future.
Without your complaint and photographs it is possible that this problem
would not have been brought to my attention and I would not have
been able to take immediate corrective action as well as issuing a stern
warning to our contractors.
2 EA Agreement: As you will have heard on site the EA were closely
involved in the design and fully approved the scheme prior to its
construction but they did not construct any of the Works. Their
statement to you that “The Environment Agency have not taken part in
any of the works” and “it is solely British Waterways carrying out the
works” are factually correct but, as the navigation authority their
consultation and approval were all in place prior to the commencement
of the Works.
3 Requirement for the Pontoon: The pontoon is designed for the EA
requirement to withstand a 1 in 200 year flood event – hence the height
of the piles. It is also in place to give safe access and egress to any
boater using the lock. The existing bank slopes down from the towpath
to the edge of the stream, the top sits about 1m above the normal
water level. It also allows for disabled access to and from the bank.
By using a pontoon the cross sectional area of the channel is
maintained so the speed of any flow is not increased.
Photograph 3 –
General view of
Your position is that the pontoon should be completely removed and
protection put along the existing line of the bank. In addition you feel
that the access to the bank, being at the furthermost point from the
lock, will lead people to try and climb from the pontoon onto the sloping
bank with the resultant possibility that they may slip into the water.
Taking everything into account I am of the opinion that the pontoon
structure is the appropriate solution for this location. My reasons are
that it is designed to withstand impact from craft, unlike the severely
damaged original structural embankment. Furthermore it meets all the
requirements of the navigation authority and permits disabled access. I
do agree that the access point would be better located at the end
nearest the lock and I will ask the Project Manager to incorporate a
further, albeit steeper, ramp or step arrangement at that end of the
4 Signage: I am of the opinion that, although the EA and British
Waterways work well together at this location, the signage requires
radical improvement. I think the signage problems start back at the
Duke’s Cut where red and green boards could be shown as this is the
last turning point for a craft greater than 50ft in length. Clear signage
indicating this is the last full size turning point is also essential.
There also needs to be advisory signage to tell boaters what is the
recommended way to turn as the inexperienced boater trying to turn
into the Thames will naturally turn to starboard and end up cutting
across the flows of both channels. The directional arrow on the lock
side currently exacerbates the problem.
Photograph 4 –
Some of the people at our site meeting were keen to assist us in
developing a proper signage strategy and I will pass this on to Jeff
Whyatt so he can form a small team to take this forward.
5 Turning of Craft: The diagrams on your complaint letter are a good
guide to the problems faced by craft trying to turn at this site. I found
these sketches most helpful in assisting my understanding of the
issues. It was also apparent to me during the narrow boat
demonstration that “sliding” along the pontoon is a major issue.
This sliding action forces the boat further along the pontoon before it
“bites” enough to allow the flow to help turn the boat. British
Waterways will now investigate what alterations can be made to the
pontoon to provide a “notch” or a “vee” to hold the bow during the
turning operation. It may be that a few of these are required to suit
boats of different lengths.
I would very much appreciate it if Mike Stanley and you could assist us
with this somewhat unusual design so as we get the best fit possible
for this unique location.
I believe an inexperienced boater will tie up to the pontoon and, by
passing a line around one of the piles, they will be able to turn their
boat while retaining control. This would be difficult for a single handed
boater but such boaters tend to be more experienced and, while I
accept there is a loss of about 6ft in turning width, I believe there is still
sufficient room left to turn the largest craft. However, there are areas
of vegetation on the banks which I will again ask the Project
Manager/Waterway to remove even although it is actually the
responsibility of the EA to maintain the navigation.
Photograph 5 -
6 Weir Boom: It was evident during the trials that it is possible to turn a
70ft craft within the space allowed between the lock and the proposed
weir boom location. This was achieved while a small craft was moored
to the pontoon. However, the turn was only possible due to the
considerable skill displayed by Mike Stanley and I would expect a
“single-handed” novice or occasional boater to find it difficult to
undertake such a manoeuvre. It is absolutely essential that no craft is
moored to the pontoon when another is trying to turn in this area and
signage must be erected to emphasise this point. It is also vital that
this convenient location does not become a haven for illegal craft.
There are positives and negatives associated with the weir boom. The
main positives are the restriction of access for illegal mooring and the
ability of the boom to prevent craft being swept downstream towards
the weir. The negatives are that the central piles necessarily impinge
on the navigation, particularly for a single-handed inexperienced
I conclude that BW did seek to ensure that there was adequate turning
space upstream of the boom. I have also examined the design of the
boom (drawing enclosed) and that shows that any craft getting into
difficulties will naturally be drawn to the side of the channel. Again, it is
vital that the boat which is currently illegally moored alongside the bank
immediately upstream of the boom is removed.
The photographs in your letter of the “Cleopatra” navigating between
the piles will simply not be possible once the boom is completed.
I appreciate that any obstruction in the Castle Mill stream can be
viewed as a potential hazard to navigation. Currently however, if a
craft does end up being swept downstream it will become wedged
across Hythe Bridge where the channel is at it narrowest and the water
flows are at their greatest.
Photograph 6 -
At present there is also an illegal craft moored in the centre of the
channel just downstream of the weir boom location – a considerable
danger to navigation.
Photograph 7 -
Boat moored in the
centre of Castle
I therefore believe, taking everything into account, that the weir boom
should represent an improvement to the safety of the area by
preventing boats being carried downstream and channelling them in
towards the banks.
I appreciate that you may feel my response does not sufficiently address your
complaint against British Waterways, and if you remain dissatisfied then you
are of course eligible to take your complaint further to the Waterways
Ombudsman, at any time within six months of the date of this letter. Details of
how to contact the Waterways Ombudsman are as follows:
The Waterways Ombudsman
PO Box 35
Tel: 01347 879075
Yours sincerely GEORGE BALLINGER B.Sc., C.Eng., M.Sc., M.I.Struct.E
Head of Engineering