Saturday, 14 May 2011

When Freedom is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Free!

A Boat-Wife’s Response to the BW Consultation
http://www.britishwaterways.co.uk/listening-to-you/consultations-and-reviews/current-consultations

Re: The Proposals for the Management of Moorings on the Rivers Lea and Stort, Hertford Union and Regent’s Canals.



What are your views on current levels of boating and mooring in the plan area?

I am happy with the current levels of boating and mooring in the area. Residential boaters are growing in number and are an important part of this consultation process. The increase of boats used as homes throughout London make the towpath a safer place to enjoy for all. A few years ago I would not have moored in East London, but in recent years I was pleased to see a welcoming community of boats there with several ‘safe’ moorings. I believe these moored boats make the place a safer and more attractive place for walkers, cyclists, anglers and other towpath users.

What effect (e.g. good, bad, none) does the current level of boating and mooring have on your enjoyment of the waterways and park?

I cruised down these rivers and canals (from the River Stort to Islington) last Autumn and found plenty of places to moor. The moorings that I chose were near other boats because of the ‘safety in numbers’ factor. While I agree that moorings in London in general are popular, the only place I have ever actually been unable to secure a visitor mooring is Camden. This is since double mooring was prohibited there. (I wrote to BW at the time to complain that this most popular visitor mooring has had it’s availability halved, apparently at the request of the local trip boats.) I would say the current level of boating in the plan area has a good effect on my enjoyment of the waterways.

In general, what are your views on the proposals for managing moorings?

I do find the legal side of this very complicated. I am not sure if the 1995 British Waterways Act allows BW to redefine 'neighbourhoods' and dictate how far a continuous cruiser must move after 14 days. I’ve had a look at Section 17 (3) and understand that a boater must satisfy the board that the vessel will be used bona fide for navigation.

However, the proposed new mooring charges seem to be more like ‘parking fines’. The definition of "bona fide for navigation" in the BW Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers is misleading. If a boat continues its journey after mooring in one place for 14 days then I believe that is cruising ‘in good faith’. But it seems that the phrase in the law; “bona fide for navigation” is open to different interpretations.

My view is that the new guidelines would require residential boaters and pleasure boaters to travel much larger distances, making leisurely cruising and visiting attractive sites much more difficult. They seem particularly biased towards making living aboard without a mooring very difficult.

I have lived on a boat for eleven years. In recent years I have married and had two children. Our family continuously cruises in the summer and pays for a mooring during the winter. I was offended to read statements in the media recently that suggest choosing a continuously cruising lifestyle is inappropriate for a family.

Clive Henderson, chairman of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), was quoted in The Guardian on Wednesday 27 April 2011 as saying,

"If a family chooses to take up boating and make it their place of residence, then it's clear what the obligations are. I can't believe continuous cruising is suitable for anyone with a job or with children at school."

It is likely that the British Waterways Guidelines for Continuous Cruisers have encouraged this kind of viewpoint.

"We're refining our mooring guidance," a BW spokesman said in The Guardian article. "Boaters will still be required to engage in a genuine and ongoing cruise or journey of some length.

"Some [people] who knowingly signed up for a continuous cruiser lifestyle may have to accept this is not a suitable option for them. Where this is the case … we will welcome the help of other agencies … to provide housing."

A house is not my preferred option, or an affordable option and BW should respect my wish to choose my own home and lifestyle.

The guidelines suggest that a boat should move a significant distance around the system but this is the BW interpretation of the 1995 British Waterways Act.  I do not advocate “bridge hopping” or staying longer than 14 days but I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the length of the journeys that I currently undertake, inconvenience other waterways users. The upper Lea and Stort are definitely not congested, there are long stretches without any moored boats at all. There is no difficulty in finding a mooring. While levels of boating have increased on the lower Lea I would still not describe it as congested.

“A "cruise" is a journey or series of journeys "making for no particular place or calling at a series of places". (Shorter Oxford Dictionary.)

“Such journey or cruise must take place "throughout the period of [the licence]" and therefore requires progression around the network, or at least a significant part of it.” (BW Guidelines.)

Why does a series of journeys require significant progression around the network? During the summers that I have cruised on my boat I believe I have made journeys of significant length, (for example Islington to Bishops Stortford and back). I don’t know if this would satisfy the board that I was using my boat bona fide for navigation, but if I move every 14 days I do not think I contribute to congestion.

Living aboard is already a very challenging but rewarding lifestyle. Commuting to childcare and work is sometimes difficult but currently possible. I am concerned how the proposal will affect residential boaters currently cruising in the planned area. I am very concerned that if these proposals are accepted on the Lea and Stort then they may eventually become the rules for the whole canal system, making life for my family very difficult.

The proposals will also adversely affect leisure boaters, holiday boaters and hire boaters on the Lea and Stort. Decreasing the use of these rivers will simply increase usage on other parts of the system. The apparently increasing number of people choosing boats as their homes, particularly in London, surely means that there is an increasing number of licence fees to spend on sanitary, rubbish disposal and water facilities in popular areas?

I am not aware of any evidence to back up the problems described on these waterways, that the proposal plans to address. Continuous cruisers are not the main culprits in overstaying on visitor moorings. I feel as if the proposed ‘charges’ or fines are a discriminatory way of increasing revenue by targeting one particular type of boater.

Possessions spilling on to the towpath are not something I have encountered as a common problem and I have travelled Hertfordshire, Essex and London extensively over the last eleven years. (Is that a significant progression around the network?) This should be dealt with by approaching the individuals concerned and not legislating against a particular group of people.

Historically, I believe parliament has not allowed BW to introduce restrictions like those described in this proposal, (e.g. the 1990 Private Bill that eventually became the 1995 British Waterways Act.)

In general, my view is that the proposals are discriminatory and unnecessary. 

How will you be affected by the proposals?

My family have spent two summers cruising the rivers Lea and Stort, (2008 and 2010) and commuting to childcare and work in London. There are plenty of towpath moorings and visitor moorings on these rivers and many beautiful places to visit. If the mooring guidance for these areas is changed I cannot see that it would be practical for my family to ever visit this area again. A family on board (whether on holiday or residential) has a limited amount of time per day that they can actually spend cruising and working locks, because there are meals to prepare and children to care for.

Do you have any practical suggestions to make implementation easier / improve it?

  1. Enforce the existing 14 day rule, remaining flexible about circumstances where it is reasonable to stay in one neighbourhood for longer. Residential boaters can be given cheap moorings at popular sites in exchange for acting as local wardens. (This is something BW already do.) A permanent residential boater at each popular site can act as a ‘Welcome Boat’ supplying BW information and providing security in inner city areas. They could also report local maintenance problems.
  2. Welcome the fact that residential boating is growing. Create more residential moorings as a way of increasing revenue.
  3. Research ways to increase revenue without targeting one particular group of boaters.
  4. Stop portraying liveaboard boaters without a mooring as a problem. We should not all be portrayed as “bridge hoppers” when so many of us are engaged in a genuine progressive journey.
  5. Stop mis-interpreting the 1995 British Waterways Act. I think the current guidelines should be rewritten. As BW promotes the waterways as a leisure resource, let us enjoy them at a leisurely pace. Individuals have the right to choose the length, speed and direction of their own personal journey. A nice metaphor for life, don’t you think?!  

Send your own response by email to Damian Kemp (Project Officer) at Damian.kemp@britishwaterways.co.uk

You don’t have to waffle on like I did. Just a brief note with your thoughts will do.

You have until Tuesday 31st May!

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