….about the actions of British Waterways.
Bill Bailey, parish councillor in Limpley Stoke, wrote a letter to his fellow councillors recently after seeing their chairman’s preemptive response to the consultation.
I want to bring to your attention a development in the British Waterways ‘Canal Clearances’ issue we discussed briefly at our last Parish Council meeting, in which considerable developments are now emerging. They matter to us, and there is a tight time-pressure for our response. As requested, we prepared a short ‘response to consultation’, based on what we knew at the time. I ask that we reconsider our response based on this new information and developments, and let our Chairman know, so his response reflects our re-considered perspective.
British Waterways requires a response to their Parish Councils consultation by 31 January.
At the Community Area Board meeting in Holt on Thursday 21 January, last week, one item published on the formal agenda was a presentation at the request of British Waterways, on their plans which could lead to the removal of ‘boating liveaboards’ from the adjacent stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal between, initially, Bradford on Avon and Bath.
British Waterways did not turn up. They didn’t telephone or communicate ‘apologies for absence’. Councillors present were irritated at a waste of everyone’s time, as other matters could have been addressed…..
However, it emerged that about 30 canalboat ‘liveaboards’ from this area DID turn up, for the issue concerns them directly.
One of them was asked by the Chairman to speak about the matter, and did so lucidly and eloquently. It was made quite clear that the objective as understood by these families who own and live on canal boats – fully legally and in compliance with the 1995 British Waterways Act – is to remove their homes by crane and crushing, in favour of leisure users and the companies who cater for canal-boat holidays. That would make them homeless, and an immediate responsibility of the Local Authority.
There are locally-employed teachers and NHS nurses, mechanical engineers, a GP practice’s professional counsellor and his wife, and several small business owners who liveaboard locally and quite legally. Their jobs, their access to medical care and dentistry, and their children’s access to schools, will be uprooted if this develops as described.
The problem is not limited to a tiny handful, but would be extended to all living along the whole of the Kennet and Avon Canal – much of which lies within Wiltshire. The social cost – in emergency housing, children in care, legal fees – would be enormous, and much of this would devolve onto Wiltshire’s care budget, and our Council Tax demands.
I have since had this ‘expectation of removal and crushing’ confirmed, in our village, by a BW employee who has worked for decades on the canal. That’s what he and his colleagues expect the BW management to achieve by these measures. He expects the many boaters now wintering between Bathampton and Bath to be displaced onto the Wiltshire part of the canal – between Dundas Basin and Devizes.
That’s shifting the problem onto us and our local community resources.
Our local Police Commander told the CAB meeting unequivocally that these people “….are not a problem. Not at all.” Even our own Rural Beat Constable mentioned only a single distressed dog.
The canal liveaboards asked the Community Area Board for help in resisting what they considered illegal harassment and a threat to their homes. All the councillors present agreed that this was an urgent ‘human rights’ issue that Wiltshire Council should address with dispatch, probably by calling British Waterways and representatives of the canal liveaboards to meet in County Hall and to thrash out a solution. They, the Wiltshire councillors, asked that the Parish Councils give their urgent consideration to this, too.
Why does that matter to us?
We have been asked, as a Parish Council, to respond to British Waterways’ Consultation, which apparently does NOT include representatives of the liveaboard families or anyone else potentially sympathetic to their concerns. These often poor but home-owning families are not a problem to this parish. They keep roofs over their own heads. There is no benefit to our community in supporting their removal. However, should the time come when their boats are craned out of the canal and trucked away for crushing, there will certainly be huge media coverage – this was confirmed by the Wiltshire Times reporter present at the CAB meeting – and those Parish Councils which supported the making homeless of poor-but-decent liveaboard families will be pilloried nationally. We would be portrayed and seen to be on the wrong side of the argument, for no good reason other than ‘NIMBY-ism’.
It is my view that this is not our fight and we should resist being drawn into it, to our probable detriment. I would encourage our Chairman to review our response to this rather suspect consultation, take a step back from joining in, and couch our revised response as encouraging Wiltshire Council’s initiative to bring the two groups together to thrash out an agreement which both can live with.
We have enough people homeless, without colluding in having more.