One one hand we have B&NES, an authority whose domain the canal runs through from Hanham up to the exact middle of Dundas aqueduct.
On the other the successful meeting with representatives of Wiltshire County Council in Holt last week.
I quote a recent reply from the so-called Equality Officer of B&NES, Samantha Jones, who lives on a boat. A boat with a permanent mooring, which may or may not affect her judgement.
“My position within Bath and North East Somerset Council does not enable me to act on your behalf with regard to British Waterways, however it may be that you or other boat dwellers could be entitled to free legal advice under the legal aid system, first points of call http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk and/or http://www.avonandbristollawcentre.org.uk/ “
Contrast this with her counterpart in Wiltshire, equality officer Mayur Bhatt and Elly Townsend, Bradford-on-Avon manager of the Area Board, a forum where the public can being their concerns to the council.
Mayur and Elly came along to our meeting in the Canal Tavern to hear boater’s concerns and responses to the moorings consultation. From what they heard there and their own investigations they arranged for a hearing in front of the Bradford-on-Avon Area Board meeting in Holt last Thursday, 21st January 2010.
Panda gave a presentation to the board, who consisted of Malcolm Hewson, local councillor for Bradford South, a number of representatives of Parish Councils and Toby Sturgis, a member of the Wilts County Council ‘Cabinet’, the member of the council charged with liaison with traveller groups.
British Waterways were invited to give their side of the issues but in event nobody turned up. Whereas we can understand Damian Kemp’s need to be by his wife’s side while she gave birth we are slightly puzzled that BW couldn’t find anyone else to come along.
Once again BW failed to take an opportunity to talk to their customers who are to be most affected by their ethnic cleansing proposals. British Waterways have still not talked to the liveaboard boaters about these proposals, not once, not ever.
There were approximately 30 boaters present, a wonderful turnout – well done you – which both flattered the politicians that so many people should be interested in them and impressed upon them the strength of feeling in the community.
Panda’s presentation, which will shortly appear on this site, both as the basis for our case to British Waterways and press release for the forthcoming publicity campaign, focussed on the many benefits that boaters bring to the local community. She asked on our behalf that the council take issue with BW about their failure to address the human rights issues and traveller’s issues inherent in their proposals and also that the council protect our access to local service, employment, health and schools, access that is threatened by the moorings proposals and the current campaign against so-called continuous cruisers.
It was clear that the Area Board took note of our concerns and expressed a willingness to get involved and explore the issues. To this end a meeting will be arranged between the board, Toby Spurgis and a group of boaters. We are keen to hear of anyone who wants to get involved in this initiative, particularly second generation boaters who have lived all or most of their lives on boats in Wiltshire.
We will announce this meeting and its agenda next week.
Contributions to the debate also came from the Police, who stated their perception of a very low level of crime associated with the canal and also from the parish councillor of Staverton who expressed frustration at their council’s attempts at communication with British Waterways, slightly strange given the amount of canal activity within their parish at Hilperton. Giving a bit of lie to BW’s claim to encourage local involvement in all issues.
All in all we see this as both a successful meeting and as a sign that our concerns are taken seriously by one of the two councils.
We are still exploring ways of encouraging B&NES to take a more active role in the canal and the welfare of its inhabitants. Particularly as it is BW’s intention that a councillor should sit on the local steering groups.