In December 2018, soon after I launched Canalside Homes, I wrote to the Canal and River Trust asking them whether I could list any properties which they were disposing of. I explained I was a narrowboater myself, and that it had been a long-held dream of mine, both to run a canal property website, and to live by a canal. I mentioned that there used to be a page on Waterscape for CRT disposals, but there didn’t seem to be anything on the CRT website now. I also stressed that all the listings on the site were free (at that time Canalside Homes was a blog).
My email was forwarded to the head of the Disposals team, but I heard nothing, despite chasing it up later in December. In April 2019 I decided to try again. The Trust’s reply was brief and frustrating, stating only that: “the Trust isn’t looking for any further advertising for the disposals it might have, but [the head of the Disposals team] would like to express that she appreciates the offer.”
I replied, “I’m really disappointed, as I don’t see the disposals advertised anywhere and I’m sure many people would love to have the opportunity to see what is available. Are you able to confirm where they are advertised, so I can at least point my readers in that direction?” I also asked, “Does she realise it’s free to be listed on my website?”
At this point I received a reply which stated only that “We currently advise people looking to register with local agents/auctioneers and national auctioneers who cover the area they are interested in and the Trust isn’t looking for an advertising platform at this time.” I was disappointed that the trust were still seeing my request as advertising rather than dissemination of information, and I even began to wonder whether they were being deliberately cagey.
I decided to submit a Freedom of Information request. “Please could you provide a list of all property which the Canal and River Trust is currently offering for sale or lease. I have previously requested this information through normal channels, in December last year and in April this year, but the information has not been provided. I am therefore making this query the subject of a freedom of information request.”
I was told: “The information you are requesting under the Freedom of Information Act is limited in the scope to which it applies to the Canal & River Trust. The Act entitles a right of access to information concerning the statutory functions transferred to us from British Waterways. This means information which relates to the operation and maintenance of the inland waterway network, however the information you have requested sits outside of our access obligations under the Act.”
However, after a little to-ing and fro-ing, my new contact did give me a more helpful reply:
“The Trust has a wide variety of premises that it might dispose of, ranging from boat moorings to retail shop or residential units and warehouses, although a list of everything currently available across the UK is probably going to be fairly difficult to assemble as this is constantly changing.”
“The Trust might very well have had a webpage dedicated to disposals: I believe we may previously have had a programme of disposals but this has likely come to an end now. It we sell any further canalside properties it is likely to be on an ad-hoc basis when the time is right (e.g. the Trust no longer has an operational use for a premises, or a tenancy expires) but I would like to assure you that these are always marketed openly by an appropriate local or national agent, and would be sold either by private treaty or at auction. By using these methods we ensure that the Trust obtains the best value, as is required of us under the Charities Act.”
I asked whether there were any preferred agents, and my contact replied:
“It would depend on the geographic location as we would typically use an agent local to the subject property, for convenience. Since we have 2,000 miles of canals & towpaths under our care, this could be anywhere south of Teesside!”
I am now much more disposed to forgive the Trust for its reticence, particularly as my contact’s closing comment was,
“I’ve looked at your website and it looks super, however I can’t offer any advice other than to just keep on doing what you’re doing.”
So that’s exactly what I did.
In the meantime if you require any further information about the Canal and River Trust’s Estates, their current web page is here: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/business-and-trade/estates. There are also occasional disposals mentioned on this page of public notices: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/business-and-trade/public-notices. You can also find out about the Trusts’ current property development schemes here: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/business-and-trade/property-development/current-projects.