Deal set to improve dredging

STEPHEN PULLINGER Plans predicted to increase the rate of dredging on the Broads dramatically and improve navigation were last night welcomed by the boating lobby.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Plans predicted to increase the rate of dredging on the Broads dramatically and improve naviga-tion were last night welcomed by the boating lobby.

The Broads Authority is poised to sign an agreement next month which will see it take over responsibility for dredging from contractor May Gurney which has undertaken the task since the authority's formation in 1989.

Under the deal, 10 dredging staff will be transferred to the Broads Authority which will buy five cranes and eight barges from May Gurney as well as its dockyard base in Thorpe.

The Broads Authority has reached agreement with Defra to take out a commercial mortgage to make the purchase for a six-figure sum on what director of waterways Trudi Wakelin describ-ed as "very favourable terms".

She said: "We are confident this will be good news for boat owners because under the new regime we think we will be able to increase the amount of dredging we do for the same money by up to 50pc, from 40,000 cubic metres of material a year at the moment to 50,000 or 60,000 cubic metres."

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Savings would come from making operations more efficient - including all-year round dredging instead of just focusing on the winter - and removing costs that constituted part of May Gurney's profit.

The Broads Authority currently spends its £500,000 boating tolls income on waterways mainten-ance and has supplemented that this year with £250,000 from an additional Defra grant of £1.5m which has been paid over three years. But there is a question mark over whether Defra will renew the extra grant in the next financial year.

The perceived decline in waterways maintenance has caused an outcry from groups such as the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association (NSBA) which has highlighted increased incidence of boats running aground. And some experts, including Broads Tourism Forum vice-chairman Jamie Campbell, have even predicted parts of the network, such as Oulton Broad, could cease to be navigable within a few years.

NSBA secretary Phil Ollier said last night: "If the Broads Authority's predictions are correct, we would certainly welcome their move to take over dredging. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and one hopes they will have the management expertise to control it."

May Gurney managers feel that dredging no longer fits into the company's future plans.

Business director Ian Findlater said: "May Gurney and the Broads Authority have worked together since 1989 and have a close working relationship. It seems likely the most effective and efficient future for us all will involve the Broads Authority having direct control."

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