On March 1st and 2nd, BW were faced with packed halls of angry boaters as they held public meetings to ‘discuss’ the proposals for the Lea and Stort Navigation. It was clear that BW thought they could impose these draconian mooring restrictions without much opposition and did not expect an attendance of 300 intelligent, motivated and furious people.
By the end of the first meeting BW had agreed to extend the 7-week ‘consultation’ to the full 12 weeks required by Government guidelines.
At the first meeting, the Upper Lee Boaters’ Group made a statement that the proposals were ineffective, unmanageable, unlawful, unenforceable, lacked transparency and would create more problems than they solve. The group offered to engage with the consultation and BW offered a smaller meeting with representatives for the boating community. We understand that BW have now agreed to drop the proposed timescale and instead meet boaters representatives in smaller groups to negotiate and discuss alternatives.
These discussions are likely to cover the size of ‘neighbourhoods’; the maximum number of days in a ‘neighbourhood’ per year; boundaries of the 7-day limits and the level of overstaying charges. Also up for discussion will be BW’s attempt to define what is a reasonable return time and, as with the Kennet and Avon local mooring strategy, its attempt to define ‘place’ – even though the law does not define ‘place’ or set a no-return limit.
BW tried to justify its proposals by saying that complaints had been received, but boaters pointed out that having made FOI requests, only 14 complaints had been received about the Lea and Stort in the past year, and most of these were against BW.
Many searching questions were asked and Sally Ash was forced to admit that BW’s intention behind the proposals was to price liveaboard boaters without moorings off the Lea: “we cannot have more and more continuous cruisers coming” she said.
One boater pointed out that if she complied with BW’s proposals she would be forced to lie to the local authority about having a local connection in order to exercise her right to vote (as a person without a fixed address) under Article 3 of the First Protocol of the Human Rights Act. Sally’s reply was typically callous: “Human rights are not our responsibility – we’re a navigation authority not a housing association. It’s your responsibility to organise your lifestyle so that you are compliant with the law. That’s not BW’s responsibility.” When confronted by other boaters who stated that if they complied with the new rules they would not be able to afford the fares on public transport to get to work or send their children to school, her response showed a similar disregard for the law. As a public body, BW is bound by the Human Rights Act.
BW were so alarmed by the opposition at the first meeting that Marketing Director Simon Salem attended the second meeting. However, Ms Ash’s attitude obviously reflects BW policy. In At a customer meeting in Cheshunt on 18 July 2008 Robin Evans said: “We don’t want the waterways clogged up people requiring cheap accommodation and therefore don’t want to encourage a ‘cheap’ form of boating”.
More news about these meetings and opposition to BW’s proposals can be found on the new London Boaters’ web site www.londonboaters.org