Here are the minutes from the Boaters’ Meeting on Tues May 24th 2011 in the Georgian Lodge, Bradford on Avon. Panda introduced Chris, the Chair of the meeting, Kev, from the Mooring Strategy Steering Group [referred to subsequently in these minutes as MSSG] and Andy C from NABO.
1.MSSG Background given: the group has met for the last six months, with much of the input coming from non boaters. A set of proposals re mooring time limits has been drawn up, most of which affect the Limpley Stoke valley. [at this point Andrew H from the K and a Partnership arrived and was introduced.] Panda summarised the new mooring time limits which have been agreed so far [see attached]. Other restrictions are still under discussion e.g. setting a minimum cruising distance for continuous cruisers, limiting the time continuous cruisers can stay on one stretch of canal per year, and levying overstaying charges on a daily basis. If these overstaying charges are not paid, BW would not issue licences. They may not have the power to do this. Kev said that the current process started with the idea of changing the whole stretch from Bath to Dundas to 72 hours. Boaters managed to gain representation on the MSSG, and they have shown themselves to be firm, fair and reasonable with other bodies. The latest mooring proposals are the end of a long process. Kev walked from Bath to Dundas with parish councillors, in order to draw up proposals for a dynamic and fair mooring strategy, ensuring that boats do move. George commented that if the 14 day moorings go from Jenks Bridge more 14 day space will need to be found elsewhere. Kev said that there will be 14 day space from the swing bridge to the winding hole. Andy [NABO] said that the whole process has been too long really and is far from over yet. It was good to have a wide range of representation on the group so that BW didn’t dominate. The NABO stance has to consider the needs of the whole range of boaters, and he said the process was essentially fair and diplomatic given the number of stakeholders involved. 72 hour mooring is much more user friendly than 48. There should be no dramatic change in the number of moorings. Bathampton will always be a contentious issue – it’s so hard to access for ALL kinds of boaters. The next stage in the process will be enforcement. This will be much more problematic. The undercurrent from BW is that the process should be income generating. This conflicts with what other members of the MSSG are there for. Daily charges just don’t add up. BW want the enforcement to be volunteer led- other stakeholders have said they won’t provide volunteers for enforcement. Andy has calculated that BW will need 40 overstays per week to make it pay, and if the overstaying charges are cheap enough the risk for BW is that they inadvertently create “pay as you go” moorings. What most members of the MSSG want is the 14 day rule to be applied fairly. Although it is worrying that BW will be pushing this agenda, a positive is that no one else will support it. Philippa asked why there are no Council representatives on the MSSG. Kev explained that this is partly due to council cutbacks, but that B&NES has not sent anyone since the first meeting, despite the fact that they have an officer with responsibility for travellers. There is a Wiltshire Council rep on the MSSG – Ken Oliver, who is the Council’s Canal Officer. Someone ? asked if BW’s ability to charge will change when it becomes a charity. Panda said this would be answered later in the meeting. It was asked what the review period will be for the new proposals. Andy said it will hopefully be in a year, but that BW has a history of moving the goalposts. Kev said that ultimately there is no money for enforcement, but we should look at what boaters have achieved on the MSSG: there are 6 liveaboards on the group and inroads have been made. The discussions have been well focussed. It was asked if there are plans to extend the strategy between Devizes and Great Bedwyn. At present this is not the case. Andy said in all probability it will be rolled out. Panda made the point that mooring east of Devizes is very difficult. Carol made the point that employing volunteers raises lots of issues around e.g. Health and Safety. You can’t have people checking our movements. In the past BW officials have questioned children. Totally inappropriate. What’s being done with the information that’s being collected? Someone made the point that nothing will be achieved if boaters don’t stick together. Andrew H said that unaffiliated boaters being represented on the MSSG is very significant .BW have been unable to achieve their aims and we need to continue this good work and set a precedent for viable local solutions. The whole concept of BW’s charitable status revolves around localism- we should harness this concept and not underestimate its importance. Kev said that the MSSG has backfired spectacularly on BW. They thought that we would be shouted down and undermined but this was not the case at all. Rapport exists between the different groups and BW has been left with a balanced, well formed mooring strategy. Panda sounded a warning note: BW can veto the proposals and bring in their own stricter guidance. Kev said if BW does this it will seriously annoy lots of groups who’ve put in the hours. Will BW care? Chris said that it should be remembered that BW actively opposed the regeneration of the canals. Andrew stressed again the importance of localism. We can say we have acted inclusively and legally. BW should see the cost effectiveness of local solutions.
2.Boaters Questionnaire. This was circulated to all. The questionnaire is designed to find out what impact the new mooring proposals will have on liveaboard boaters. The responses will be collated and will form part of the boaters’ submission to the Equality Impact Assessment. This assessment is a legal requirement. The questionnaire is anonymous, no individual responses will be shown. It is based on a questionnaire carried out by London boaters. It can be completed on the K and A users website. Every liveaboard boater needs one. Panda asked for volunteers to distribute them. Avoncliff – Hilperton Marina: Brian and Jane Long Pound: Panda Hilperton – foxhangers: Philippa Devizes – Horton: Carol Bathampton – Bath: Chris Avoncliff- Dundas: Adey Bathampton – Dundas: Keiran It was agreed to print 350 in total. Someone asked if the questionnaires would have more impact if they were named. Panda said people could be given the option of adding their contact details. The final collation will be put on the website.
3. Court Case. Panda has copies of the judgement in BW v Paul Davies. A brief history of the case was given. Crux of case : was boat being used bona fide for navigation? The 1995 Act refers to either having a mooring or using boat bona fide for navigation. The BW document Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers mentions a progressive journey. This case tested BW’s interpretation of the law. The judge decided Paul Davies wasn’t complying with the law. However BW can’t use this as a precedent to pursue other boaters as it’s a county court judgement and is not case law. Paul is not going to appeal – if he did and lost this would set a legal precedent. Someone said that surely any appeal would highlight the fact that the boat is his home and that would be to his advantage? Panda explained that no new evidence is admissible at the appeal stage so the Human Rights Act arguments that he put could not be expanded on then. Panda said that she has been reading the Select committee minutes from the 1995 legislation and that in Paul’s case the judge applied the wrong test. The test for bona fide navigation is: Have they stayed over 14 days without it being reasonable in the circumstances? That’s a whole legal argument to be thrashed out in the future. Panda will be doing more research. In future cases boaters can frame their arguments in different ways. Someone said that if the law is no longer valid, then perhaps it should be changed and or clarified. Chris said be careful what you wish for! As it stands BW tries to bend the law to fit its own arguments e.g. current ticketing doesn’t comply with the law. There was a general discussion about Paul’s action. The point was made that he was NOT accused of overstaying. Andy said that the mooring guidance for continuous cruisers is currently under review and will go out to consultation soon. The passage relating to progressive journey round the system may be removed. Intention was the keyword in the Paul Davies case. Because it was his intention to remain near Bath he wasn’t using his boat bona fide for navigation. Kev said that this judgement applies only to Paul and that the 1995 Act does have vagaries in our favour. Chris said that BW saw this case as an easy win which would give them some leeway on continuous cruising. Paul was targeted as he represented perfectly all that BW wants to stop. Panda said that in negotiations after the end of the case BW wanted Paul to comply by getting a mooring or to leave BW waters or to cruise between Hanham and Devizes. At some points they refused to say what a reasonable cruising distance was! Andrew said that if someone’s cruising pattern hasn’t changed year on year BW can’t turn round and refuse to issue a licence. There was a discussion around the inconsistencies in enforcement on BW’s part. George said that he has a copy of notes made by BW about him which states 24km is an appropriate cruising distance. He got this by making a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act. Panda said that on the K and A boaters’ website there is information on how to make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act. You can’t do it on behalf of others, just yourself. Kev said that BW will only go after people they feel they can go after. In many cases if you show them e.g. a solicitor’s letter they will climb down. They push some people knowing that they will fight and that BW will win. Andy talked about what’s happening on the Lea and Stort Navigation. Boaters there have drawn up a Code of Conduct, the idea being that it ensures e.g. communication with BW if you have no choice but to overstay, recognises that you shouldn’t use visitor moorings etc etc. the idea is to present a united, reasonable front to BW. It’s something to think about. Someone made the point that communicating with BW is all very well but they don’t necessarily listen!
4.DEFRA Consultation. DEFRA oversees BW [in a very hands off way]. They are running a consultation on the future of BW- it’s not saying should it become a charity but rather how should it become one. In other words, it’s assumed it will become a charity and the consultation does not ask whether it should become one. The Public Bodies Bill is currently going through Parliament. This will allow the government to transfer BW to a charity (and abolish a lot of other public bodies). BW has negotiated with the House of Lords committee and secured an amendment exempting them from some of the provisions- otherwise they would lose their enforcement powers. They will be also able to pass subordinate legislation. As it stand now BW can pass byelaws and promote Private Bills- the Public Bodies Bill will allow them to pass “statutory instruments”- there is very little parliamentary scrutiny of these and they can pass with little consultation. In theory BW could get statutory instruments passed which will impose new rules and regulations. so they’ll have more power but less scrutiny. So—Panda urged everyone to respond to the consultation NOW! Tell DEFRA that BW should not have these powers. After the bill becomes law there will be no chance to respond. Some paper copies were distributed. The consultation can be found on the DEFRA website www.defra.gov.uk/consult/waterways-1103/. The deadline is 30th June.
4.Further Meetings. Panda asked for suggestions for possible meeting venues in Devizes. Would the K and a Trust charge to use the wharf?- probably yes. Panda will enquire at Devizes. What about Bath? Possibly the Bell? Or the crown? Bathampton village Hall?
6. Brian asked what to say if approached by the media? Panda said to talk about the intentions behind the 1995 Act, which are that as long as boaters don’t overstay [except in certain circumstances] they should be able to travel freely to suit their own circumstances. No other restrictions should be placed on them. It was agreed that the recent BBC4 programme on the K and A showed boaters in a very good light.