Barge operator 'can’t afford to run business’ after tolls go up by 100 per cent

A barge operator says he can’t afford to run his business after a charity increased its tolls by 100 per cent while restricting his working hours and reducing the loads he can carry.

Fifth generation operator John Branford said there were six barges in total run by four operators waiting to start transporting aggregate from Hull to Leeds, which would ease road congestion and help the environment.

However he said he wasn’t going to run at a time when fuel costs are rocketing, and the Canal & River Trust (CRT) “had the cheek” to double tolls (from 39p a tonne to 78p), restrict them to a 40-hour five-day working week and cut the weight of their cargo by 20 per cent.

The trust put in weight restrictions to minimise the risk to fish after complaints over numerous fish deaths on a stretch of the Aire and Calder Navigation near Knottingley.

Fifth generation operator John Branford Picture Gerard Binks

Mr Branford said: “With the rail strike, this is a third mode of transport we could be using, but we’re all waiting because we can’t take full loads.

“No haulage company could run with the loss of 20 per cent. While a pleasure boat can go up the canal 24/7 I’m are shut down 128 hours a week.

"CRT were supposed to be finishing the dredging at Knottingley in May, now they are going to start in July. It’s going to cost £620,000 but we haven’t got a completion date.

“This is what we are up against - it’s a nightmare.”

John Branford's barge Farndale which carries aggregates to Leeds from Hull

Sean McGinley, regional director, Yorkshire & North East said: “A £600,000 dredging project will begin next month the Aire & Calder Navigation to support freight on our waterways.

"We expect this will take around six weeks to complete, by the end of August.

“A toll increase has now been introduced. This is the first increase in over 20 years. The toll only applies when operators are moving freight on the waterway.”

It comes after campaigners aiming to get more freight off roads and onto waterways said the government needed to do more to help the sector.

Earlier this month the Department for Transport published its “Future of Freight” plan.

Campaigners say the inclusion of water freight, for what is believed to be the first time, is an important step but doesn’t go far enough.

However they say investment is needed to improve waterways so they can take larger cargoes, in the same way major roads have been upgraded for lorries.