Wiltshire Council appears to be leading the way amongst local authorities in including “Bargee Travellers” in its Gypsy and Traveller Strategy. The strategy document was published in May 2010; however, despite considerable interaction between Wiltshire Council and boat dwellers without home moorings through the Local Mooring Strategy Steering Group, it was a Freedom of Information request that actually enabled us to discover this. Anyway, we congratulate Wiltshire Council and welcome its enlightened attitude towards us. The Council’s Gypsy and Traveller Strategy Group has met three times since the drafting of the strategy, and progress on implementing it has been slow due both to the cuts and to changes in the law. The issue of including boating communities in the action plan is on the agenda for the next meeting.
So, what does this mean for liveaboard boaters? The Gypsy and Traveller Strategy is about ensuring adequate provision of Council services – including the prevention of homelessness – and engagement with travelling communities, “in line with our overall aims to create strong and resilient communities”. At present, nothing more specific (that we know of) has been planned, but the Boaters’ Voices project will help the Council identify and meet needs that we have that it is legally required to meet. Boaters have already stated to the Council that one of our most pressing needs is protection from unlawful enforcement by BW that is designed either to force us to move off the waterways by making it impossible for us to stay within reach of employment, education for our children etc if we comply, or seizure and removal of our boats if we do not.
Wiltshire Gypsy and Traveller Strategy 2010 states “the Strategy therefore includes Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers, as well as Travelling Showpeople, New Travellers, Bargee Travellers, and any other groups with a nomadic lifestyle, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependants’ educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily or permanently.”
A briefing on residential boaters by Wiltshire Council’s Canal Officer was submitted to the Gypsy and Traveller Strategy Group in November 2011. This briefing contains many inaccuracies and implies that boaters without a home mooring are exploiting a loophole in the law. A boater has sent comments and corrections to this briefing note to the Council’s Equality Officer including informing the Council that Section 17 3 c ii of the 1995 British Waterways Act entitles boaters to cruise in whatever area they choose because it does not specify any limit on returning to the same place providing that the boat is not in the same place for more than 14 continuous days under normal circumstances.
You can read the complete strategy, minutes of the meetings, briefing note by the Canal Officer and boaters’ comments on the briefing note here