Where’s all the water?

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CANAL businesses are at risk of being left high and dry as low water levels and drought restrictions begin to bite.

River cruise boats have been running aground under bridges, potential boat buyers have walked away from deals and engineers have been unable to dock boats.

These are just a few of the problems faced by firms affected by the drought-hit canal running from Tring to Aylesbury where restrictions have seen locks closed since January.

British Waterways will be opening the canal for short periods leading up to Monday, March 26 to assess how it affects the water levels – and the results could have a massive impact on boat hire, services and marinas.

Ian Brand of Grebe Canal Cruises in Pitstone said that he would have to cancel or move cruises to Milton Keynes if the closures continued and the water levels didn’t improve.

He said: “If things don’t get better it could drive me out of business.

“I had to ask leisure trip passengers to get off the boat when it got stuck under the Red Lion Bridge during a cruise last week. The people took it in good faith and it was jovial but I can’t operate like that. When people complained I gave them half their money back.”

Not being able to move boats has been a costly problem.

Phil Bassett of Boatshed Grand Union said some customers have been put off buying a boat when they find out they can’t move it for a couple of months.

He said: “Some buyers have lifted boats out and transported them by land, which costs from £1,500.”

Narrow boat restorer Jem Bates hasn’t been able to move boats around easily in either of his yards in Bulbourne and Puttenham and people haven’t been able to get to him.

He said: “Some people have cancelled and rearranged works because they can’t get to me.

“I have guys on the payroll so the situation is nailbiting, especially in the current economic climate.”