Bunhill: Argy-bargey on the Ouse

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A STRANGE, almost medieval ritual is taking place in the ancient city of York. Throughout the winter, a collection of barges has been tied up beneath the city's Ouse Bridge. Their skippers hope their resolute presence will nudge Clugston, the construction group, into settling a bitter cash dispute over the building of a new flood-warning station on the river.

Last summer, the National Rivers Authority recommended the bargemen for the contract. They claim they did the work for Clugston but were underpaid by pounds 7,000. 'We've clung on in York, hoping for a settlement,' said Derek Edisbury, skipper of the 400-ton Ribblesdale. 'I've had a lot of sympathy from the NRA. They can see us every day - we are tied up near their offices. We're so low here now, freezing in our cabins at night. I'm trying to get legal aid for a lawyer for one last try.'

John Oswald of Clugston said: 'We've looked into the contract and have held several meetings, but we cannot agree with Mr Edisbury.'

Needless to say, Clugston's recent good news of pounds 22m worth of contracts coming in over the past three months has had a frosty reception on the riverbank.

(Photograph omitted)