Information request shows CRT changed K&A mooring plan after last-minute legal advice

A Freedom of Information request shows that CRT had received legal advice that meant it had to change the K&A local mooring plan substantially before implementation, contrary to the statement of CRT Chief Executive Richard Parry on 21st May.

In an email dated 6th February 2014, Sally Ash states “Lots happened yesterday – need to update you on JR/ RMP discussions with Counsel. Significant change to what we can say at this stage on K&A so Matthew and I re-doing doc – the appendix table now forms main part and am editing at the moment.” The email was addressed to Denise Yelland, Head of Enforcement. On 5th February CRT held a meeting with senior barrister Christopher Stoner QC of Serle Court, who has advised BW and CRT regularly over some years, and junior barrister Iain Steele of Blackstone Chambers. The meeting covered the legal challenge by Nick Brown to the Guidance for Boaters Without a Home Mooring; Roving Mooring Permits, and other matters.

The information response also stated that “We have also located but withheld information on the basis that it contains legal advice”. The Information request was limited to correspondence regarding the K&A Interim 12-month Local Plan during 2014. Given that the policy of Local Mooring Strategies was devised by Sally Ash in 2009 and consulted on in winter 2009 to 2010, it is staggering that Ms Ash did not obtain legal advice until more than 5 years after proposing the policy. She has wasted enormous amounts of her own and other people’s paid and voluntary time and BW and CRT’s money developing and consulting on the policy without finding out whether it could be implemented lawfully.

The legal advice was obtained after the 2013 consultation on the K&A Towpath Mooring Plan had ended and after Sally Ash had started drawing up the finalised Towpath Mooring Plan. This means that the K&A Plan was altered substantially after consultation, giving those affected no chance to comment. The finalised Towpath Mooring Plan was published on 13th March. In a further twist, the version circulated to boaters on 29th April as the K&A Interim 12-month Local Plan is significantly different to that published on 13th March.

At an open meeting on 21st May in Devizes Richard Parry denied that CRT had received legal advice that it would be unlawful to offer local arrangements such as the K&A Interim 12-month Local Plan on a permanent basis without offering the same deal to boaters everywhere. He also refused to comment on whether the fact that the K&A Local Plan would operate for only one year meant that it would then be dropped. However he confirmed that CRT had received legal advice that it would be unlawful to offer Roving Mooring Permits in one area without offering them to all customers. He also stated that the policy of implementing Local Mooring Strategies initiated by Sally Ash in 2009 was no longer current policy.

Sally Ash had also spent almost a year developing Roving Mooring Permits, helped by a few boaters who later founded the ACC. Ms Ash was so keen to implement these permits on the southern Grand Union that boaters complained about bullying by certain founder members of the ACC. On 7th March 2014 CRT announced that Roving Mooring Permits would not go ahead, a full month after the legal advice had been received. Again, this legal advice was sought at a stage when CRT and volunteers had put in almost a year’s worth of effort and money developing the permits. Indeed, Sally Ash had been trying to implement Roving Mooring Permits as far back as 2004, according to Case 48 of the Waterways Ombudsman’s report of 2005-2006. This raises the question why the Head of Boating did not clarify the legal situation much earlier for a proposal that had been on the table 10 years ago. No wonder she has decided to retire!

The FOI response also shows that Ms Ash re-wrote a section of the K&A Plan to discourage  people from exercising their right to obtain information about anonymised cruising patterns on the K&A under the Freedom of Information Act. Whilst it may cost CRT less if members of the public go direct to a specific staff member for information, there is no guarantee that the information will be provided. Requests can simply be ignored if they are not made under the Freedom of Information Act, as many people have discovered.

The information provided also reveals that CRT believed there was tension within the K&A Local Waterway Partnership and between the Partnership and CRT because of criticism of CRT by boaters, and that Matthew Symonds proposed bringing the Partnership back into line with a visit by Richard Parry and Legal Head Jackie Lewis to a key Partnership meeting about the K&A Plan in February. Given that Rob Dean, a member of the K&A Local Waterway Partnership, categorically stated at the K&A User Group meeting on 23rd April that the K&A Interim 12-month Local Plan is a voluntary agreement, we can make an educated guess that the tensions in the Partnership relate to a decision by CRT to treat the K&A Plan as a compulsory requirement whereby boaters who fail to follow it will be subject to enforcement action. This is nothing like the voluntary agreement that was proposed by the K&A Partnership and consulted on by CRT.

The information obtained also shows that CRT was using the legal restrictions on charities providing personal as opposed to public benefit to justify changes to the Plan in January 2014, after the consultation had ended. This justification was put to the Partnership despite the fact that in the transfer of BW to CRT, Lord Taylor of Holbeach stated in Parliament on 26 June 2012 that the rights of boat dwellers stem from the British Waterways Acts, not the charity’s Articles of Association. It appears to ignore the definition in CRT’s Articles of Association that its charitable object of preserving, protecting, operating and managing the waterways for the public benefit for navigation includes navigation by boats also used for human habitation.

You can download Sally Ash’s correspondence here Sally Ash emails KA Plan 2014

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