BaNES Council report condemns CRT failure to meet equalities obligations

A report published by Bath and NE Somerset Council has recommended that the Council should not endorse the CRT Local Mooring Strategy for the western K&A unless and until the Council is satisfied that it is compliant with CRT’s legal obligations under the Equality Act and the Mooring Strategy will not conflict with Council policy.

The report, Boat Dwellers and River Travellers: Housing and Major Projects Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel: a Task and Finish Group Review, was published on July 23rd and is the result of research into the needs of boat dwellers within the BaNES boundary on the K&A and River Avon. In February and March this year, boaters were invited to submit evidence to the B&NES research and a number also attended a Focus Group to discuss their needs and experiences.

In the report, Councillor Eleanor Jackson states that “Members of the [Task and Finish] Group met with senior executives from the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways) and were disturbed both by their lack of awareness of equalities issues, and by their use of draconian powers to enforce the conditions of the licences they issue… for ‘continuous cruising’”.

“The dialogue we attempted to establish has been compromised by [CRT’s] expectation that we would endorse their Memorandum of Understanding [MoU] with boat users and incorporate it into the B&NES Core Strategy” she continues.

“We have serious questions about their MoU, of which they were informed, and consider that it would not be appropriate for B&NES officers to be policing their policies” she concluded.

This is very different from the attempts in 2009 within BaNES Council led by Councillor Ian Dewey of Bathampton and Sally Ash of BW/CRT to try to create mooring restrictions that would exclude liveaboard boaters from Bathampton, and who tried in 2010 to get the Council to employ a boat checker to police liveaboards even beyond the BaNES boundary (at Dundas) into Bradford on Avon. Conservative member Dewey has stepped down and BaNES is now run by the Liberal Democrats.

The report made a number of other recommendations, including:

A full in-depth study of Boat Dwellers and River Travellers within BaNES area should be carried out to inform the future direction of Council policy direction and

Future BaNES Council spatial planning requirements to deliver more dwellings, which have so far been increased through major housing developments, should also include the needs of people living on the waterways in Bath & North East Somerset.

Here are some more extracts from the report:

“The Task and Finish Group uncovered significant evidence of how precarious life can be for boat dwellers and the potential for increasing numbers to present themselves to the council as homeless, but also learned of the joys of life afloat and how vibrant communities could be created or enhanced along the waterways. However, it is still unclear how many of the 1,000 or so B&NES residents afloat are there by choice, how many are traditional travelling families and how many are technically homeless, in sub-standard, badly insulated and unsafe boats.”

“We hope that this study will provide a firm foundation for the formulation of a B&NES policy towards Boat Dwellers and River Travellers, including a code of good practice which the Council can use to support its dealings with its residents afloat and their ‘landlords’. We believe that through our research into best practice, we would also be the first Council to undertake future in-depth review work on Boat Dwellers & River Travellers.”

“This is a situation which has been overlooked for far too long, with boat dwellers and river travellers regarded at best as marginal to society and at worse unjustifiably as nuisances and ‘scroungers’. It is a sad reflection on the state of things that it is only when there is a danger of significant numbers presenting themselves as homeless, that we have undertaken this study, and we hope that the positives are evident as well as the negatives.”

“We are conscious that there are parallels with the situation of gypsy and travelling communities, but without the same ties of ethnicity, belief systems and community, and without the same legal protections of a minority community. Nevertheless, the needs of boat dwellers should be included in the Core Strategy in future, and the place-making process. One fact continues to amaze and delight us is the diversity of people drawn together by life afloat. However, we also deplore the failure to adhere to the principles of Equalities legislation so that this lifestyle is more accessible to the disabled and the young.”

You can download the report here B&NES Task and Finish Report on Boat Dwellers

See also

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