The meeting on June 1st about Community Involvement in Managing Local Moorings was organised by Wiltshire Council to discuss BW’s proposals for a local mooring strategy between Bath and Devizes. About 150 people attended. Damian Kemp was the only BW representative there. The meeting was chaired by Councillor Fleur de Rhé Phillippe.
Damian announced that BW would be going ahead with its plan for a local mooring strategy for the western Kennet and Avon between Bath and Devizes. He explained how the local mooring strategy steering group would work. He stated that the steering group’s role would be advisory. This suggests that BW wishes to retain ultimate decision-making power. The process will be as follows: the steering group will meet and draw up proposals which would be put to BW, then BW would check whether the proposals were legal (do we trust BW to do this given its record of attempted enforcement of the Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers which clearly states that it does not have the force of law?). Then the plan would go back to the steering group and then out to consultation with interested parties. Damian stated that the above process would take one year.
The Council asked the meeting two questions:
1. Do you agree with BW’s proposals or not?
The format of the meeting was a number of tables at which a mixture of people from different groups – boaters, boat clubs, local residents, councillors, council officers, parish councillors, the K&A Trust etc – sat and discussed these questions, with a facilitator. Wiltshire Council is interested in whether its Area Board(s) can help to find a compromise between the different interest groups. The chair invited feedback from individuals after this and this led to a question and answer session.
The general feeling of the meeting, which was fairly unanimous, was that everyone turned the questions around and questioned the need for BW to make these proposals when it did not enforce the 14-day rule, and that it should do that instead. The Chair acknowledged this as an overwhelming message to BW which would be passed on to BW by the Council.
On the whole, different people from different interest groups got talking to each other and achieved a greater understanding of each other’s needs and position. The small groups enabled the parish councils to hear the boaters’ point of view and realise that boaters were not as bad as they thought and could also sustain a balanced argument. The discussion included suggestions from some Parish Councils to provide parking at the more remote spots along the canal to enable boaters with cars to avoid bunching up at villages and causing parking congestion.
However, some of the boaters present were not happy with the way the meeting was run and with the statements made by BW and the Council, and did not wish to endorse the outcome. The Council saw itself as taking a conflict management role. It is not clear where BW goes next following the meeting. Mayur Bhatt, Wiltshire Council’s Head of Equality, will be heading the equality impact assessment which is definitely preferable to letting BW do it.
One boater who was present said “I cannot see the steering group plan being disbanded, although we should still argue for that, so I think making sure that the people who will be involved are aware of the issues that affect us and that we can have a say is the best route to take”.
The Council has now circulated the message below:
The recommendation to set up a inquiry panel to gather evidence from different canal users will now go to the British Waterways Board for approval. An initial meeting will be arranged to involve those who might sit on the pilot inquiry panel as well as Wiltshire Council’s Head of Equality, Mayur Bhatt. This meeting will look to discuss some of the issues raised at the meeting that took place on the 1st June around enforcement, whether British Waterways will actually listen to the inquiry panel’s findings and the need for better communication about what the process will involve. This meeting will also look at the framework in which the panel will operate and the processes it uses as well as the mechanics of communicating, engaging and involving a broad and diverse range of interested people and organisations. By doing it this way the panel should be in a position to arrange its first ‘proper’ meeting as soon as the British Waterways Board has given its approval to the recommendations. Further information, such as how you can be involved, will be circulated as soon as it is available – probably within the next few weeks.
Notes were taken by the Council and are available here