Documents obtained by a Freedom of Information request to BaNES Council, and the response to a recent complaint about proposals to restrict mooring at Mead Lane, Saltford, show that BaNES and CRT are planning a mooring strategy for the River Avon and the K&A Canal between Hanham and Limpley Stoke. This is bad news for boaters without home moorings as we all know from previous experience on the K&A canal that ‘mooring strategies’ mean clearing liveaboard continuous cruisers out of an area in order to make more room for hire boats and leisure boaters. One of the issues discussed at meetings about the River Avon was whether CRT wanted an overarching river and canal mooring strategy.
Liveaboard boaters with moorings on the River Avon also need to beware of this joint move by CRT and BaNES. Unlike the artificial canals, CRT as the navigation authority cannot control whether riparian landowners on the River Avon have boats moored on their land. However BaNES Council, which is the Local Planning Authority, has the power to take planning enforcement action against any boater who is using a leisure mooring within BaNES as their main or only residence (as opposed to living on their boat and not spending sufficient time on the mooring to make it their residence) if there is evidence of this and the boater cannot prove otherwise.
We have already reported that local anti-boater residents in Saltford are calling through Saltford Parish Council for BaNES and CRT to prevent boats mooring at Mead Lane, where BaNES is the riparian land owner. The response from BaNES to complaints about this states that no decision has been made but this will be considered in the overall mooring strategy.
Another issue for BaNES is the stretch of the Avon between Bath bottom lock (Thimble Mill) and Pulteney Weir. This reach of the river is not under any navigation authority’s jurisdiction, though BaNES owns much of the riverside land and has investigated becoming the navigation authority. According to the minutes of the River Task Group on 28th July 2015, BaNES is concerned about the “need to further understand the Health & Safety risk of boaters moorings near Pulteney and along the back of the Railway Station- this area of the river is not being patrolled by anybody (no navigational authority) therefore boaters are slipping through the system (boat licenses/boat safety certificates not being checked, etc)”. In other words, BaNES has no lawful means to control boats on the River Avon between Thimble Mill and Pulteney Weir but the authority appears to want to remove all boats from that part of the river.
This appears to be the reason why BaNES closed the moorings by the Leisure Centre just below Pulteney Weir in late 2013, to the great inconvenience of both liveaboard and leisure boaters alike, having first issued eviction notices to boats moored there in October 2013. The boating trade (hire boat companies and similar) would prefer these moorings to be reopened and BaNES reports it is under increasing pressure from Trade Associations to open up moorings to support local businesses along the river. In practice, the boom placed along the moorings at the Leisure Centre is flimsy and does not necessarily obstruct mooring, but past actions by BaNES show that the Council has no compunction about evicting boaters from its land.
One effect of their closure has been that CRT has changed the ‘advised’ mooring stay time between locks 10 and 11 from 14 days to 48 hours. Several boaters were fined £25 per day by CRT for mooring there in excess of 48 hours during summer 2015, even though there are no signs informing the boating public that fines or charges will be imposed, and despite the fact that the 48 hour signs are not easily visible and in fact were in the process of being removed by CRT at the time and for a while there were no mooring time limit signs there at all. The fines have since been rescinded by CRT after the boaters complained.
Matthew Symonds of CRT suggested that BaNES should impose a Public Space Protection Order PSPO) under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, as Oxford City Council now plans to do, with the intention of banning boaters from mooring. This is a draconian measure that would be ultra vires if it was introduced, because the Public Right of Navigation on rivers includes the right to moor temporarily in the course of navigation. This Common Law right has existed since Time Immemorial, and cannot be overturned by a lesser form of legislation such as an Order. Boaters in Oxford are campaigning against the PSPO and have formed a group, PSPnO, which has so far prevented the PSPO from going ahead at least in its original form.
The move to control and exploit the River Avon is part of BaNES plans to regenerate the River Avon corridor. It has recently appointed a River Co-ordinator and earlier appointed a River Manager, Zoe Hancock, on secondment from Wessex Water.
To BaNES credit, its plans include further research into the needs of boat dwellers without home moorings and it continues to express concern that the Equality Act rights of boat dwellers without home moorings are respected. However one of its research questions is “why we have so many boaters in a small area on the river/canal network”, presumably with a view to dispersing us.
The documents obtained are the minutes of the Strategic River Group, the River Task Group and the Water Space Study Project Steering Group.
You can download them here
The Freedom of Information request is here
Information about the BaNES Water Space Study is now on the Council’s web site here