Presentation to Wiltshire Council Bradford on Avon Area Board, 21 January 2010, by Kennet and Avon boaters.
The boating community is going to present the moral, legal and business arguments concerning the British Waterways consultation on local mooring strategies.
In the Bradford On Avon area, the boating community is part of the character of the area. It is a tourist attraction in itself, attracting people to visit the canal and contributing to the local economy by stimulating trade for canalside businesses. Boaters provide all-year round safety, security and assistance on the towpath which benefits, and also attracts, cyclists, joggers, walkers, fishermen and other boaters, especially in darkness. Our presence deters crime and anti-social behaviour. For instance, last week some boaters helped a resident by rescuing her dog which had fallen through the ice.
Boat owners contribute to the community in many ways. Some work in childcare, teaching or nursing, others in local cafes and shops. Your gardener or cleaner may live on a boat. Some are artists and craftspeople, providing services to boaters such as painting, welding, boat maintenance and equipment. They help to keep the traditional crafts and heritage of the canals alive. Others run cafes and shops from their boats, serving tourists, residents and boaters alike. Boaters have held art exhibitions in Bradford library; the Full Sail Theatre company performed in the town’s arts festival, and many of us are musicians who perform locally. A number of boaters have children at school here. Others are at college or university themselves. Many are retired with modest incomes.
We are a showcase community for a low carbon lifestyle and sustainable power solutions. The average narrowboat’s carbon footprint is much less than that of a house. Also, boats provide affordable homes.
Every boat owner uses the canal in a different way. Some have moorings for their boats. Many cruise from place to place without a mooring as they are allowed to do by law. Some travel long distances and others short distances. Many of us do both at different times. Boats without moorings are allowed, according to the 1995 British Waterways Act, to moor on the towpath side of the canal for 14 days in one place, except where there are visitor moorings where boats can only tie up for a short time.
There are two issues that concern the boating community at present.
First, BW is threatening to terminate the licences of boaters who obey the law by attempting to enforce a guidance note, the Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers, on the grounds that failure to cruise according to this guidance amounts to a breach of the law. However, the law does not require boats to cruise in a particular pattern or minimum distance. Licence termination can lead to BW seizing and destroying the boat, and so losing your home.
We believe that in trying to enforce this guidance note, BW is acting beyond its legal powers.
The National Association of Boat Owners (NABO) has obtained a Legal Opinion from Senior Barristers which confirms that BW does not have the legal power to specify any particular cruising pattern or minimum distance.
Second, BW has proposed a local mooring strategy for this area. This will restrict the availability of 14-day moorings between Bradford and Bath, reducing the mooring space available for travelling boat dwellers who need to stay in a particular place for 14 days so that their children can go to school and they can travel to work or college or get access to health services.
These local mooring restrictions, which directly affect boaters, will be decided by a steering group in which boaters will be outnumbered by other members, such as local authorities, who are not directly affected by the mooring restrictions and are not BW customers. The majority of steering group members will be representatives of organisations, rather than unaffiliated individuals. People who do not agree with BW’s interpretation of the law will be excluded from the steering groups. This will mean that NABO, and most of the boating community in this area, will be excluded and will not have any say, even though they are the only group that is directly affected.
BW’s proposals will have a disproportionate and adverse effect on the boating community’s quality of life in comparison to other canal users.
The threats to terminate boat licences and the proposals for local mooring strategies mean that we will be forced to travel in a way which may result in losing our jobs, or education, our children’s access to school, our access to healthcare and our social participation in the life of the community. Many of us will be forced to choose between keeping our homes and staying in our jobs or our children’s education.
The DCLG has ruled that travelling boat dwellers are travellers. Local authorities are required to assess the needs of travellers and make sure there are adequate permanent and transit sites for the number of travellers in their area.
In this case, we believe that Wiltshire Council should be working with BW to ensure the adequate provision of 14-day moorings – which are the travelling boat dweller’s equivalent of a transit site – rather than being party to any reduction in the amount of 14-day mooring space.
We would appreciate Wiltshire Council’s support, and the support of its parish councils along the canal, in upholding the rights of travelling boat dwellers.
BW already has powers to regulate mooring, the 1995 BW Act but it does not regularly use its powers to enforce the 14-day rule, preferring to threaten to terminate the licences of boaters who obey the 14-day rule.
We want BW to enforce the 14-day rule fairly and consistently, drop the unlawful enforcement actions, and to carry out regular dredging, vegetation management and bank maintenance, which will considerably increase space for mooring.
As an alternative to BW’s current proposals we want BW to work with boaters to identify areas that need dredging and maintenance. This would benefit both parties by keeping the canal usable and expanding mooring space, which would attract more visiting boaters to more places along the canal, benefiting canalside towns and their economies, and creating a better relationship between BW and the boating community.
We want BW to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment on the proposals for local moorings strategies to fully understand the implications for different communities.
We want BW to meet us so that we can put our concerns in detail.
There has always been a very good relationship between Bradford On Avon and the boating community. Bradford On Avon could act as a model for a good relationship between a settled community and travelling boat dwellers, which could be replicated in other parts of the canal network.