Liveaboard boaters make statement to BaNES Council

BaNES Council Housing and Major Projects Panel endorsed the Council’s  Task and Finish group report on Boat Dwellers and River Travellers on 19th November. Liveaboard boaters delivered a statement to the Panel supporting the report and explaining why the actions proposed in the report were needed. Sally Ash, CRT Head of Boating, attended the meeting in an attempt to convince the Council that CRT’s enforcement was lawful, in response to their questions on CRT’s eviction process.

As well as approving the report, the Panel awarded £100,000 for its River Corridor Development project which is to investigate the feasibility of building large mooring basins on the river. This project is being championed by Councillor Dave Laming. Cllr Laming operates a mooring site in the River Avon. Cllr Eleanor Jackson, who chaired the Task and Finish Group, emphasised the importance of boats as affordable housing in the Bath area, and the liveaboard boaters who attended the meeting raised the issues that 73 boat dwellers on the western K&A had been targeted for enforcement action and that many of those targeted are boaters who are disabled, who have been ill or who have children at school. They also emphasised that the liveaboard boating community is a strong community and that many people live on boats as a positive choice, that itinerant boaters should be aligned with other travelling communities and that the liveaboard community has regenerated the waterway.

This is the statement from liveaboard boaters:

Kennet and Avon Boating Community welcomes the report by Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) Council’s Task and Finish Group on Boat Dwellers and River Travellers published on 23 July 2013. The support of B&NES Council for itinerant live-aboard boaters (and for those who have moorings) is extremely important. In particular we appreciate B&NES Council’s efforts to challenge the unlawful and draconian enforcement  policies of the Canal & River Trust (CRT), because your efforts will serve to protect us from eviction from the waterways, seizure of our boats and consequent homelessness. We really need that protection.

Individual boaters have attempted to challenge and complain about the Canal & River Trust’s disregard for the rights of boat dwellers under the Equality Act and the European Convention on Human Rights with little success. Therefore we also welcome the Council’s defence of our rights not to be made homeless because disability, age or caring for children makes it difficult to comply with CRT’s unilateral interpretation of the law governing the use of a boat without a permanent mooring.

We wish to remind the Council that CRT has no powers that permit it to lawfully restrict the number of boats on any particular stretch of waterway, nor to limit the number of boat licences it issues. Neither does it have the power to prevent communities of boaters forming or to restrict the residential use of boats that moor on the towpath. All it has the power to do is to ensure that individual members of those boating communities comply with the law. Indeed, the assertions by CRT that itinerant liveaboard boaters are causing a congestion problem between Bath and Devizes is unsupported by any evidence that CRT has presented to the public. We believe that CRT’s policy towards boat dwellers without home moorings is motivated by pressure from marina companies and hire boat companies that are finding it harder to make a profit and are consequently at risk of defaulting on the considerable annual connection fees or licence fees that they are required to pay to CRT.

We resent the accusations that CRT has frequently levelled at us that itinerant liveaboard boaters on the Kennet and Avon Canal rarely move, do not comply with the law and are not ‘genuine’ continuous cruisers. The vast majority of boat dwellers without home moorings travel to a different place every 14 days as they are required to do by the British Waterways Act 1995, except when it is reasonable to stay longer. For those who do not, CRT has clear enforcement powers that it can use. It is unfortunate that a group of people that is subjected to an prejudiced accusation of this nature simply has no power to bring an action for defamation against the accuser. We rely on the good sense and goodwill of B&NES Council to see through such attempts to discredit our community. Boat dwellers without home moorings are customers of CRT and should be treated equally to any other customers and not as second-class citizens.

In addition, we would remind the Council that despite CRT’s frequent statements that it is not a housing authority, it is unmistakeably a landlord. CRT lets residential moorings to boat dwellers and issues Houseboat Certificates; from its own statistics at least 18% of licensed boats are the boater’s sole or main home. It also lets a small number of residential buildings. As a landlord, it has a duty of care to those who live on its water and land.

We also wish to remind the Council that despite the accusations of CRT that itinerant liveaboard boat dwellers are gaining an improper personal benefit that is at odds with CRT’s charitable objects, the rights of boat dwellers are contained in statute in the British Waterways Acts, not the charity’s articles of association. This was stated in Parliament by Lord Taylor of Holbeach in the debate on the British Waterways (Transfer of Functions) Order on 25 June 2012.

If there is a mismatch between the charitable objects of CRT and the pre-existing legal rights of boat dwellers, then CRT is not fit to be a charity and this issue should be raised with the Charity Commission on the basis that CRT did not give sufficient information when the Charity Commission scrutinised its application for charitable status.

In addition s.8(2) of the Public Bodies Act states:
“A Minister may make [the Transfer Order] only if the Minister
considers that—
(a)    the [the Transfer Order] does not remove any necessary protection, and
(b)    the [the Transfer Order] does not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom which that person might reasonably expect to continue to exercise.”

If the effect of the establishment of CRT’s charitable objects included by implication a curtailing of the rights of itinerant boat dwellers granted by the British Waterways Act 1995, then the Minister was prevented by the Public Bodies Act from making the order transferring British Waterways to CRT.

Kennet and Avon Boating Community
14 November 2013

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