By now you may have met Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service cycling along the towpath giving out fire safety advice and free smoke detectors. They may look a bit like BW staff as they will be wearing the Fire Service uniform of blue shirt, black trousers and also a life jacket, so make sure you don’t mistake them for the boat checkers or enforcement officers, because a smoke detector could save your life, whereas a patrol notice is only useful for starting fires.
On second thoughts, keep the patrol notices and threatening letters, as you may wish to refer to them when making a complaint to BW about unlawful enforcement.
Wiltshire Fire Service have distributed smoke detectors on the towpath several years running, and the co-ordinator of this safety drive, Rob Buckland, lived on a boat for four years. He says “I’m very much on the side of the boaters, and I’m not interested in expired licences, Boat Safety certificates or overstaying, just in making sure boaters have advice on fire safety”.
You can contact Rob on 07734 483880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a boat fire safety advice visit.
This year the Fire Service may be accompanied by volunteers promoting membership of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust. Membership costs £20 per year and it’s one way the Trust raises money.
Quite a few boaters have been members of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust in the past and have been involved in its activities, but at least one has left because of its anti-liveaboard agenda, illustrated so well by Roy Smedley, the Chair of the Bristol and Bath branch of the Trust, when he attended a meeting between Bathampton Parish Council and BW on 28 August last year. The delightful Mr Smedley told residents of Bathampton that he was representing the General Manager of the Trust, Mike Rodd, and he was aware of the need for action to regulate mooring on their stretch of the canal and to reduce the number of liveaboards in this area. He also said that the Trust’s objective in reducing unauthorised long term mooring was to open up the canal to greater leisure cruising. We understand that Roy is no longer an officer of the Trust.
Whilst the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust has been criticised by other ordinary £20-a-year members for the extremely secretive and undemocratic way in which its committee and officers make decisions, it may be useful for a lot of boaters to join and challenge both its anti-liveaboard agenda and the secrecy of its decision making. However, its financial affairs have also been questioned in the past. Boaters may want to join to have a voice on that issue too.
It may become very important for boat dwellers to have a strong voice on the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust following BW’s announcement on 25 May that, as part of its plans to establish a “national trust” for Britain’s canals and rivers, BW and the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust are to set up a Waterways Partnership Board to manage the canal. Members of the Board will be drawn from the top level of the local authorities and other organisations involved in the canal’s restoration. The plan proposes to involve companies, who may be asked to adopt a stretch of waterway, so maybe soon we’ll be living in the Tesco pound. The canal is also set to become a cruiseway instead of a remainder waterway. BW says the new Partnership will give the people who use the waterway and the communities that live alongside it a much greater say in how the canal is managed. We know that it doesn’t take much to do better than BW in giving people a greater say in how the canals are managed, but does the Trust really have a better track record when it comes to democracy?
According to BW, a combined Waterway Area Plan for the canal corridor to be implemented by all partners will be drawn up by September 2010. According to David Rees, Chair of the Trust, it is essential that decision making and engagement comes closer to the people and organisations which it serves and is more integrated into local communities. That sounds more like an open door for decisions based on prejudice against liveaboard boaters than a wish to give the waterway’s main users a genuine voice in decision making.
BW is a public corporation responsible to DEFRA in England and Wales and to the Scottish Government. It claims that its proposal to move the waterway network out of direct state control and into the charitable sector is a way of giving “stakeholders” a greater role in running their local waterways, but we believe the proposal is primarily a way to attract more funding. The proposal was supported by the recent Labour Government, probably as a way of cutting costs. It is uncertain that moving BW out of direct state control would really result in increased income, since all charities are struggling to raise funds at the moment. The statutory framework would remain the same. However, maybe making BW a charity would stop it wasting money trying to unlawfully enforce the Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers.
We would like to point out to the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust that not only is the canal a wildlife habitat, a treasury of historic industrial architecture, a leisure boating route, a long distance path, and a holiday destination, but it is also home to a large number of people who live on their boats, who are not about to let themselves be removed to make way for “greater leisure cruising”.