'MR THAMES' STANDS DOWN - AFTER 30 YEARS



 

One of the best-known figures on the River Thames has stood down from a River Users Group – after 32 years.

Michael Shefras has been chairman of the group representing organisations between Bell Weir and Teddington since the 1980s. At a recent meeting of RUG 8, as it is known, he handed over chairmanship to David Sowter.

The chairmanship was one of a number of high profile rriver-connected positions he has – and continues – to hold. Five years ago he was awarded an MBE for services to the river.

Speaking after relinquishing chairmanship he said: “We have achieved an awful lot in that time – not least giving people who use the river a voice and a voice which is listened to.”

Michael’s experience and love of the river dates back to his youth and the 1st Molesey Sea Scouts where he first learned, and then instructed, water craft with a variety of small boats including sailing dinghies, a cutter and whaler.

The scouts even carried out early boat-building with fibre glass managing to save rapidly deteriorating wooden dinghies by sheaving them in GRP. He has owned motor boats since the 1960s.

Changes

In his various honorary roles he has seen responsibility for managing the non-tidal river change several times – from the Thames Conservancy, Thames Water (“who did absolutely nothing towards the upkeep of the river”) the National Rivers Authority and the Environment Agency.

Throughout those changes a lobbying role in behalf of river users has been vital, he says.

He said: “All along government has wanted consultation with users and very rarely do they get a working forum so RUG 8 has been very effective for the past 30-odd years.

“We started off small but we were soon listened to. Attendances at meetings got bigger and bigger and at the last one we had 60 to 70 representatives.

“I was originally fearful that the idea [of user groups along the river] would not work. But my fears were unfounded as some very good chairs have come forward.

Achievements

“It is easy to forget the achievements. Now we have very good relations with the police – and that wasn’t always the case especially when boundary changes affected the responsibilities for the river.

“Now Surrey Police, for example, are able to put officers on board Environment Agency patrol boats.

“Surrey Fire and Rescue is one of the leading services in the country able to tackle incidents on waterways. That wasn’t the case in years gone by and we had meeting after meeting to explain what was needed on the river and nearby.

“Take another example – electric power at locks. Now it is taken for granted but we had to sweat blood to get it.

“The state of the river is testament to our part in ongoing joint efforts to improve the Thames. Let’s face it, compare the Thames with any other navigations it is in a very good state.”

Besides co-ordinating events the group makes its views known on  developments like the current controversial Boardwalk plan at Kingston where a floating cycle path is to be built.

But one topic has remained over years - the problem of itinerant or over-staying boats. “It has been a growing problem from start. People who take up moorings meant to be used by everyone. If other people can’t moor they will sell their boats.”

And has it been worth it? Michael, whose many other roles include Executive Director of the newly-constituted River Thames Alliance said: “I have really enjoyed it – otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. I think I have handed over a vibrant organisation that can be taken forward to meet the challenges facing the river.”

Story dated April 22nd 2014

 
 
 
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