BW Chair says Local Mooring Strategy will not displace people

The tenth meeting of the Local Mooring Strategy Steering Group took place on 11th October at Wiltshire Council offices, Chippenham. Brian has taken over from Kev as one of the representatives of unaffiliated boaters. The agenda was as follows: finalising maps; enforcement and defining neighbourhoods. K and A Manager Mark Stephens chaired the meeting in the absence of Project Manager Damian Kemp. Sally Ash, the original BW Chair, had already informed the group that her presence appeared to be “not conducive to progress”.

Panda, for unaffiliated boaters, asked for the IWA’s resignation from the group due to statements its representatives made in emails over the summer including that the numbers of liveaboard boaters should be reduced within 5 years (forcing boat dwellers to give up their homes). The Chair declined to ask the IWA to resign, however Mark Stephens assured the meeting that the Mooring Strategy Steering Group was not going to come up with a strategy that displaces people.

Some minor amendments to the maps were proposed such as allowing boats to moor on the corner of Avoncliff Aqueduct as that was the only mooring in the vicinity with deep enough water for deep draughted boats. It was pointed out that the interim results of the survey of boaters showed that over 25% of all boaters work in Bath and another 8% in Bristol, and the vast majority of the 145 14-day moorings proposed for removal are between Bath and Dundas, therefore this would seriously disrupt boat dwellers’ access to work. Boaters pointed out that this should not take place and at the very least, the same amount of 14-day space should be opened up elsewhere by dredging and repairs to the areas where the bank is too shallow to moor boats to.

The agenda item proposed by Sally Ash of confirming neighbourhoods was questioned, as no formal discussion of the definition of “neighbourhoods” or places had happened. It was agreed that everyone should propose neighbourhood or place boundaries for the next meeting. This is in the context that a boat without a home mooring must not spend more than 14 continuous days in any one place unless it is reasonable to stay longer in the circumstances. It was proposed that the boundaries should be recognisable structures on the canal. Andrew pointed out that in a meeting with the previous Kennet and Avon canal manager in 2003, it was agreed with BW that there are 8 places between Bath and Bradford on Avon.

Ken Oliver, Wiltshire Council’s Canal Officer, said that he would brief the Area Boards on the Local Mooring Strategy process and how they may involve themselves in defining “neighbourhoods”. Mr Oliver also said he was talking to the Planning Officers who are working on the Council’s Core Strategy about residential moorings, because there are only 2 moorings with residential planning permission in Wiltshire and there is no guidance for planners about residential moorings. He said that boaters are also being considered as part of Wiltshire’s work on Gypsy and Traveller policy. He also stated that the Localism Act will give Parish Councils the right to prepare neighbourhood plans including the allocation of land for purposes such as residential moorings. Mr Oliver is also discussing policy on Travellers with BANES and West Berkshire Councils through the K and A Heritage Lottery Fund Partnership. BANES Council has a policy on residential moorings in its Core Strategy.

Most of the rest of the meeting consisted of a presentation on enforcement by Paul Griffin, BW’s National Enforcement Operations Manager. Mr Griffin said there are two boat checkers on the K and A who check all boats every 2 weeks or sometimes more often, either by going the length of the canal or by targeting “hot spots”. They identify boats that are not moving. If a boat has not moved far they ask whether it is attempting a “genuine journey”. They target boats using the current licence year’s movements, sometimes by going back further.

Regarding boundaries between places, he said he would enforce what is needed locally, not a rigid plan. He uses rough parish boundaries as a marker. He will enforce what the group agrees. There are more complaints abut overstaying now. He needs to make sure visiting boats and regular users have space to moor. Boaters need to sign up to “play the game”, and a principle that works for the boaters who are there is needed.

Mr Griffin then said that “if you work and send your children to school, how can you be a continuous cruiser?”. This statement was challenged by boaters’ representatives. If this is a reflection of BW’s policy, it is a breach of the Human Rights Act. The Enforcement Team’s attitude was further summed up by his statement “If a boater asks me ‘am I complying?’ the chances are he’s not, he’s trying to keep one step ahead”. He said that the Local Mooring Strategy needed to put in something reasonable and look at whether it is really freeing up the canal; it needs a longish area and to go back years [when looking at boat movements] – how can we stretch [boaters’] journeys and understand the local issues. For example, could you split the canal into Bath – Devizes and Devizes – Reading; could you limit the number of boats? He stated that he would enforce what the Local Mooring Strategy decided; that it needs to be self-policing such as by local residents [informing BW of boat movements], and he may have to change the way the boat checkers work.

Andrew, the NABO representative, said that it has to be fair, consistent and legal and that at present, it is not fair or consistent. Some overstaying boats get a ticket and some don’t when they have been there the same length of time. Mr Griffin said he couldn’t comment on individual cases but said that there are 200 cases on the K and A that BW are taking action against. Andrew asked whether the enforcement proposals were expected to be self-financing or revenue raising [such as by overstaying fines]. Paul Griffin had not been given any financial information. David Batho of the Valley Parishes Alliance asked whether enforcement staff could report locally to Mark Stephens. Paul Griffin said that they used to and it didn’t work; before 2009 the K and A manager had his own agenda and the enforcement team got diverted to “his package”. David complained about “no mooring” zones at Claverton being disrespected. Panda said that if the Local Mooring Strategy brings in measures that put people in a position where they will have to choose between living on their boat and keeping their job, there will be less respect for BW’s restrictions, not more. Paul Griffin said that most complaints were about overstaying boats. The K and A Trust representative John Webb asked what enforcement is needed; Mark Stephens pointed out that defining how far you should move is perhaps trying to do something that’s a bit too elusive.

Mark noted that the transfer to a charity will be a big change and the new charity will be a “different beast”; currently BW are protecting the canal from the people who use it and the new Canal and River Trust needs to be more about the people who use the canal, accessibility before protectionism. It was agreed by BW that the Local Mooring Strategy would be sent to the Local Waterway Partnership Board before being sent to BW. The Partnership Board has previously proposed that implementation of mooring restrictions between Bath and Bradford should be delayed until additional mooring space is opened up by dredging or maintenance further east. The date of the next meeting is yet to be decided.

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