Monday 7 March 2011

British Waterways Angers London’s Boating Community

Photo Credit:

The London narrowboating community, who are largely based on the River Lea & Regents Canal, could become history in the near future as a result of draconian new mooring policies proposed by British Waterways for the whole East London region, which would make it very difficult to live on a boat whilst cruising in London.

Some narrowboaters feel that it is an exercise in cleansing the river of boaters in order to make way for profiteering on the Olympics; and that it effectively treats boaters as second class citizens.

British Waterways is currently consulting local people and waterways users on the Rivers Lea and Stort, Hertford Union and Regent's Canals to discuss new proposals for managing short-term moorings. The suggested changes are due to the increased number of boats mooring in the area (an increase of nearly 40% in four years), and BW states that they are also a response to concerns raised by other canal users.

BW’s intended changes are as follows:

• designating mooring 'neighbourhoods' between which the boats should cruise, and where they can moor subject to time limits, encouraging boats to move along the waterways in a way that is fair to all;

• introducing daily charges when boats remain beyond the maximum time limit;

• talking to local authorities about the broad range of issues in the plan and how they might make provision for suitably located long-term moorings in the future.

British Waterways reasons for developing the new policy include overcrowding, licence evasion, property spilling onto the tow path and overstaying on visitor moorings.

If a boat is licensed on a ‘continuous cruising’ basis it must move on a regular basis complying with three key legal requirements.

1) The boat must genuinely be used for navigation throughout the period of the licence.
2) Unless a shorter time is specified by notice, the boat must not stay in the same place for more than 14 days.
3) It is the responsibility of the boater to satisfy BW that the above requirements are met.

Before 1995 all narrowboats on the canal system were required to have a home mooring (permanent base). Some liveaboard boaters cruised the system 'continuously', rarely visiting their own mooring. In 1995 BW allowed these boaters to cruise the waterways continuously without meeting the home mooring requirement.

Some boaters do use the same short stretch of waterway to move back and forth and hence causes congestion on many of the most popular visitor moorings. Some waterways users are under the impression that these type of “selfish minority boaters” often do not possess a valid British Waterways licence and mooring licence when appropriate.

However, a few years ago NABO asked BW about the number of patrol notices issued and then asked them to look at the proportion of those notices that were issued against boats that had home moorings versus those that were Continuous Cruisers. The results showed that boats that had registered with BW as having home moorings we more likely per capita to attract overstay notices than Continuous Cruisers.

The Kennett and Avon Boating Community website asserts that the new British Waterways proposals for the River Lea Navigation break a number of laws.

“BW appears to be going ahead with local mooring strategies in other areas which it defines as ‘hotspots’ before the pilot local mooring strategy on the Kennet and Avon Canal has even been drawn up and implemented. As far as we know, these areas are the Lee and Stort, Birmingham, the Macclesfield Canal and the Southern Grand Union.

As we have discovered from the consultations and the subsequent local mooring strategy steering group meetings on the Kennet and Avon, local mooring strategies are likely to be targeted at boats without moorings and especially at liveaboard boaters without moorings.”

A London Boaters Group has been formed in response to the proposals, and a similar one has been formed for the River Lea and Stort. Members hope to research the practicality of the proposal, asking is it actually feasible to cruise by the guidelines? What is the social impact of the proposals? How would it impact on life, school, and work for continuous cruisers? How would other waterways users view the increase in boat traffic? There could be environmental issues related to the resulting extra journeys. How would increased boating affect water movement and wildlife? The proposal suggests dividing the whole of the River Lea into four ‘neighbourhoods’. BW has proposed their own boundaries to define ‘neighbourhood’, as opposed to any existing borough boundaries, for example a ward or parish boundary.

Boaters may be forced to leave jobs, friends and communities by the requirement to relocate beyond the designated neighbourhoods. Some boaters suspect that BW is under pressure remove boaters from the Olympic zone.

The London boaters group are keen for London residents to let their opinions known to BW by replying to the consultation. If you enjoy seeing boats on the canal in London please do support the boating community by making your views heard.

BW Consultations

London Boaters Community Website

Consultation Paper



Liveaboard Forum (blog)

BW Consultations

K & A Boating Community


David said...

I'm afraid that I have to agree with BW that something needs to be done to curb the ever increasing number of 'continuous cruisers' in London. Hopping about in London and not exploring the rest of the system is not continuous cruising and is plain and simple licence evasion. I fully support the right of boaters to move about and enjoy boating, but it is imperative in my opinion that everyone has a home mooring (unless they are bonafide CCers)to reduce the risk of London becoming a linear housing estate.

Narrowboat Wife said...

I think a lot of continuous cruisers would like a London mooring but they are hard to find. It's not licence evasion if they pay for a cruising licence. If they move every 14 days they are complying with licence conditions. I see the 'linear housing estate' as a fluid and constantly moving community which is really diverse and colourful!