On Saturday (17 April) Broxbourne’s Canal was filled with a flotilla of boats, all protesting against Canal and River Trust’s absurd and falsely named new ‘Safety Zones’. The Protest included boaters from all over the London region and beyond, including representatives from Broxbourne’s own Cruising Club. A ‘towpath protest’ of boaters and non boaters followed in their wake, raising awareness of CRTs discriminatory policy changes, and how they threaten people’s livelihoods. Support from the local community was passionate, with many affirming how they love the boats, and see no need to introduce these confusing and unnecessary ‘Safety Zones’.
The NBTA argues that the policy is profoundly ill-conceived, particularly in the context of a housing crisis and a pandemic. They also argue that evacuated canals will turn the towpaths into the danger zones they once were, prior to the growth in the boating population.
“Three-quarters of rowing safety incidents occur between two rowers rather than between rowers and boaters. The relationship between moored boats and rowing safety incidents is very weak, if there is any relationship at all” argues Ian McDowell, chair of the London branch of the NBTA. “The CRT has provided very limited data to justify this policy,” he continues, “and yet the impact on the boating community will be drastic. Many boats in London are homes. These planned ‘safety zones’ will displace many boat dwellers from these areas.”
Many boaters believe that the ‘safety zone’ policy is part of a larger attempt to drive them off the waterways. CRT aims to introduce policy proposals later in the year aimed at ‘managing boat numbers.’
Boaters say they have asked the CRT for the data they have used to calculate an ‘optimal’ number of boats, but have been met with silence. They say they are left to conclude that the CRT’s various manoeuvres are motivated by an underlying prejudice against nomadic communities and that this prejudice will have dire consequences for the London boating community.
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As many of you already know, the government is planning to erode the right to protest and make further laws against travellers in the Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Therefore, NBTA joined the protest against this Bill on the 3rd April.
A Public Right of Navigation exists on the River Lea. It is a legal right for the public to navigate and moor on this river. This is a Common Law right that has existed since Time Immemorial and can only be changed by primary legislation, in other words by an Act of Parliament; it cannot be changed by byelaws and Terms and Conditions (T&C). The right of navigation includes the right to moor as stated in Halsbury’s Laws of England, 5th edition:
‘The public right of navigation includes the right … to remain for a convenient time, to load and unload, to moor and fix temporary moorings in the waterway’
The signage that has been placed in the so-called ‘Safety Zones’ does not supersede this right and the restriction of mooring in these areas is not lawful. Nevertheless, Canal & River Trust (CRT) might try to enforce the ‘Safety Zones’, using their T&Cs. The T&Cs do say: ‘You must comply with … our lawful directions, spoken or written (including signs). This includes signs that prohibit mooring’. However, T&Cs can’t override Common Law, therefore the CRT has no legal right to extinguish the right to moor on the River Lea, which the CRT ‘Safety Zones’ intend to do.
Any signs prohibiting mooring on the River Lea are therefore not ‘lawful directions’ as stated in the T&Cs.
In any case, do CRT really have the legal right to enact and enforce their T&Cs? There are no court judgements to say whether CRT can or can’t enforce or enact their T&Cs. CRT doesn’t use breach of the T&Cs as a main argument in court; therefore there is no case law to say one way or another. However, there are legal opinions. CRT’s legal opinion goes like this: under Section 43 of the Transport Act 1962, the Board (CRT) can set T&Cs for use of their services and facilities. CRT claims that because they can set the T&Cs they can make boat licences subject to conditions over and above those listed in the 1995 Act. CRT’s services and facilities include ‘the use of any inland waterway owned or managed by them by any ship or boat’ as well as actual facilities such as taps and rubbish points etc.
However, the opposing opinion is that, of course CRT can set T&Cs for facilities that they can charge for, however, there are enforceable T&Cs, and non-enforceable conditions.
The T&Cs include many of the byelaws, which are indeed enforceable – but only via prosecution in the Magistrates Court, entirely independent of CRT. So CRT’s claims that they can terminate or refuse to renew boat licences if a boat owner breaks the T&Cs is contrary to the law.
Section 17 of the British Waterways Act 1995 says that the Board (CRT) can only refuse a license if a boat doesn’t have one of these three things: boat safety certificate; third party insurance; either used for navigation or has a home mooring. It doesn’t say in any of the Acts or byelaws that you must obey the Board’s (CRT) ‘no mooring’ signs. Any T&Cs are subordinate to Acts of Parliament; therefore that means that due to the British Waterways Act 1995, CRT doesn’t have the right to terminate or refuse to renew a licence on the basis of breaking the T&Cs.
Another way that CRT claims it could enforce T&Cs is to charge a fee for staying longer on a mooring with restricted times. The Transport Act 1962 gave no new power to set charges for anything not previously enabled. On top of this, if CRT tries to charge, because of the outcome of the Ravenscroft v Canal & River Trust case, CRT cannot recover ‘outstanding costs’ from boat owners using Section 8 of the British Waterways Act 1983 (this is one of the eviction notices that CRT issues to boaters).
We have rights and CRT can’t legally override them.
We can defeat the so-called ‘Safe Zones’, disobey the mooring restrictions, the law is on our side.
550 boats are being evicted by the Canal and River Trust in Greater London
The Canal and River Trust (CRT) is implementing a 10km ‘water safety zone’ on the River Lee, which will force up to 400 boats out of East London and 150 boats out of Broxbourne.
The knock-on effects of displacing these boaters will affect the entire London canal network and push many out of London altogether. A large number of these boats are homes. In the middle of a housing crisis, and a pandemic, the CRT proposes to force people out of their homes by pushing them so far afield that their lives are made impossible.
They want more space to row, but where do we go?
The justification offered for the introduction of the ‘safety zone’ is to keep rowers safe. The CRT has not provided boaters with any evidence, however, that rowers are placed at risk by powered boats moving at 3mph. It’s claimed that moored boats narrowing the canal pose a danger to rowers, but there is no point on the canal where rowers do not have substantial clearance in the event that a boat passes.
The CRT marketed this policy as a ‘water sports’ strategy before re-branding it as a question of ‘safety’. The more likely point of contention is not safety but rather the ordinary inconvenience and frustration that can result from rowers and boaters having to share the water. The CRT has translated an elementary management question into a catastrophic policy.
Indeed, despite claiming to address safety concerns, the policy evacuates certain parts of the canal so that fallen-in rowers will have no way of climbing out in the absence of moored boats and boaters to help.
The areas targeted also include two vital boater hubs for toilet and water services. Forcing boats out of these areas means that rowers will encounter increased boat traffic within the ‘safety zone’ as dispersed boats traverse the rowing areas to access services. Once again, the policy defeats its stated aim.
Ironically, other serious safety concerns are ignored. Evacuated parts of the canal will revert to the crime zones that they were before boaters made them safe for all to enjoy. Boaters and members of the public walking the towpath in these areas will once again become victims of muggings and violent crime.
Since the policy is incoherent, boaters are led to question whether a general push to cull the boating community is its driving force and whether ‘safety’ is a convenient fig leaf for ugly bias.
Given London’s housing crisis, boating is often the last line of defense for those who would otherwise be homeless. Many of those who are forced to abandon the boating life will have very few alternatives and some will have none. Is this fair? Does this represent the values that the CRT, a charitable trust, claims to uphold?
To save our homes and way of life, boaters want to develop real solutions, rather than scorched-earth solutions. We are working together to develop a fair and just proposal that addresses the concerns of rowers while keeping homes and families on the water. We hope to publish our proposal in April.
We appeal to other communities to help us protect our homes and way of life by opposing the CRT’s plan.
A criticism commonly levelled at CRT is that they have failed to fully implement the measures of 2018’s London Mooring Strategy (LMS), such as improved mooring opportunities and facilities, before starting the current boat cull process.
While this is true, it is important to remember that the LMS was not all unicorns and stardust for boaters. One of its more draconian measures, which was couched in CRT’s language of sharing, was the introduction of “Water Sports Zones” in Broxbourne and between Tottenham and Old Ford Locks on the Lee Navigation. This was aimed at soothing the sense of entitlement held by the rowing clubs in these areas at the cost of boaters. Now rechristened as “safety zones”. CRT have rebreathed life into the proposal to introduce mooring restrictions in these zones, which will include a ban on double mooring and a complete ban on casual moorings.
As boaters currently suffering lockdown at the Walthamstow Marshes have noticed, CRT appear to have started the groundwork for introducing the mooring bans by installing posts for signage between Horseshoe and Ferry Bridges.
These “safety zones” are prefigurative of what CRT wants to achieve with the upcoming boat cull – fewer boats, and, especially, fewer of the wrong sort of boats.
Download uptodate CRT plans for the ‘Safety Zones’:
People are understandably starting to get nervous about the impending implementation of CRT’s so called “Safety Zones”, previously known as “Water Sports Zones”. Our first meeting organise against the ‘Safety Zones’ when amazingly. There were more people on the online meeting than we could count. Many actions and working groups were agreed on.
The next meeting against the ‘Safety Zones’ will be on Sunday 21 March at 4pm and held on the 8×8 meeting platform, which you can join by video or phone. Here is the link:
There are mixed feelings amongst the landlubbing community as to whether living on water is a good or a bad thing. As a boater, I can only see good things from my way of life, but I have been asked whetherI go to the toilet in the canal or whether I drink out of it in the same breath. The public know very little about our lifestyle and sometimes judge us for all the wrong reasons. As such I would like to explore some of the pros and cons of our communities’ impact on London’s waterways.
With increased costs for disposing of non-household waste, the canal has become a target for fly tippers. A large amount is dumped out of vans and cars. This is actively frowned upon by most boatersw who hold each other to account. Most boaters wouldn’t dream of it, but to put it in perspective, a minority do abuse it. However, there are piles of fly-tipped waste across London that are cleared regularly by the council. The towpath does not have a ‘regular’ service, so any unsightly mess can last, and gets unfairly blamed on the boating community.
Litter is upsetting to conscientious boaters, and a lot clear up the towpath that they stay on. When the Lower Lee was polluted with tonnes of oil, it was the boating community that rallied and got the polluted debris out. Not the authorities, and definitely not the culprits. There are also regular litter picks set up between the boating community and towpath community groups.
There is always work to be done on boats and piles of wood and materials should not be mistaken by the public as rubbish. Every boat is an ongoing project and completely individual. This is what makes our community so diverse and unique, and is also what keeps us afloat.
Before there were a volume of liveaboard boats on London’s waterways, the towpaths were a no-go zone for most. There is still crime on the towpath, but anyone who has lived in London long enough knows that having a community on the water makes the average towpath user feel safer. Desolate stretches of dark towpath afforded criminals a degree of protection, so the very presence of boats limits this.
Boats bring in a lot of revenue, and not just through our licence fee that feeds into the council boroughs we share. The boating community creates a lot of revenue through tourism and the waterside café culture that has grown in line with it. The colourful boats bring thousands of tourists to the water each year, and we are constantly photographed and tourists often ask us questions. Anyone who has been through Camden lock can testify to this! If there were no boats there would be fewer tourists. Less tourism means less waterside business and this in turn means less income for CRT and the surrounding councils so desperate to create more revenue.
Do boats harm the wildlife? The wildlife is what brought lots of us to the water in the first place. Most boaters look on themselves as interim custodians of the waterways. The towpath is our communal garden, to share with all and be respected for what it is. An absolute treasure of nature and peace hidden in an urban jungle of traffic and deadlines.
And just to clear it up once and for all, we don’t drink the water or wee in the water… And we do not eat swans, squirrels or hedgehogs – not unless are very hungry, anyway!
In the Canal and River Trust’s (CRT) current statements about ‘Managing Boat Numbers’, statistics from 2010 are being used in comparison to today’s boat numbers. However, boat numbers were still considered much too high by the waterway’s authority at that time, British Waterways (BW). BW felt that there were “more boats moored along the Lee than are desirable”.
In 2010/2011 a campaign was launched against boats without home moorings on the River Lea and Stort. BW proposed dividing these rivers into eight zones, six on the Lea and two on the Stort. Regulations stated that boaters needed to move on to the next zone (neighborhoods) after a set time limit (generally seven days), and not to turn round unless at the end of the navigation. If a boater didn’t follow these bizarre rules, they would find themselves under enforcement actions which could eventually lead to eviction.
This outraged boaters, who packed themselves into a BW public meeting where the Head of Boating, Sally Ash, tried to sell the idea. BW’s representatives were met with dismay and anger from boaters. For BW the meeting was a disaster. Many boaters realised that if BW were to get their way, it would have been the beginning of the end of our community as we know it. The meeting was a success, though, for boaters. Boaters’ unity was to prove the key antidote to BW’s plans. Many flocked to the organisation London Boaters (LB) to take on BW plans. A massive public meeting was organised, and was attended by hundreds of boaters, all riled up and ready to take on BW’s plans. Working groups were formed including press, outreach, and direct action, a regular newsletter was published and a boater-run survey of boat dwellers, local land residents, local businesses, joggers, walkers, kayakers and more was carried-out. LB’s own surveys eventually showed clear majorities were against BW’s proposal.
BW eventually buckled under the continuing pressure of LB. BW backed down, their plans discarded in the litter bin of history. However, we now find CRT – all of ten years later – attempting to reimpose kind of idea ‘mooring zones’. Could this indicate that CRT have been rooting around in those bins?
Let’s make sure CRT put these ‘new ideas’ back in the bin!
London Boaters action in 2011 against BW’s plans . Picture taken by London Boaters
London’s waterways have received significantly more attention and usage of various forms in more recent years. Following decades of decline, London’s boaters have played a significant role in the reclamation and revitalisation of these spaces. However, this contribution seems increasingly undesirable by the authority that manages the waterways.
Since 2012, the Canal & River Trust (CRT) have assumed guardianship of 2000 miles of the UK’s canals and rivers from the state-owned British Waterways (BW). As a not-for-profit charitable trust, the CRT have placed an increased emphasis on wellbeing in their agenda for their waterways’ users.
There has been a notable increase in and heterogeneous uses of the River Stort, Lee Navigation, Regent’s Canal, Hertford Union Canal, and the lower Grand Union Canal. Cyclists, walkers, joggers, rowers, and kayakers are all user groups that the CRT appear happy to see using the waterways in increased numbers, but not all increases in usage seem to be so welcome.
The general trend of increased usage has brought a range of advantages, including an increased diversification of users of the waterways, yet this has occurred during a period of increased economic and social strain for many living in London. London’s housing crisis has led a relatively small proportion to search for viable living arrangements away from the increasingly unaffordable rental costs ‘offered’ by the housing market, joining the existing communities of liveaboard boaters on the cut.
According to the CRT’s National Boat Count, boat numbers were rising for a period in the London area. However this increase in use appears less welcomed by the CRT when compared to the increase in leisure uses of the estate they manage, despite liveaboard boaters paying licensing fees to the CRT, yielding them a growth in income revenue from boaters.
The CRT do not have legal powers to stop or restrict the number of licensed boats on the water, and as such are seeking “creative solutions to help manage growing boat numbers […] to address [the] challenges” this brings them. In lieu of the limited powers the CRT possess, it is difficult to envisage any “creative” solutions that would be equitable across the wide range of boaters that live on London’s waterways, such as introducing surcharges or fees for certain uses of the canals. However, this is occurring in spite of the CRT’s own 2020 data showing a 2.2% reduction of boats in the region.
The apparent need to manage the volume of liveaboard boats in London is not a new struggle for boaters. Back in 2010, BW said that were “more boats moored along the Lee than are desirable” and attempted to zone London’s waterways into “neighbourhoods”. Due to the anger and push back from boater communities, this plan was eventually dropped.
The National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) has described the CRT’s 2018 London Mooring Strategy (LMS) as “a strategy to help clear London’s waterways of boat dwellers and turn it into a London waterway leisure and business park. It is the perfect recipe for gentrification of the waterways.” Amongst other issues, the LMS includes a reduction of mooring time available for boaters at 22 sites, with increased surveillance and enforcement on the sites with reduced time limits.
The LMS has not been completed, yet the CRT are currently conducting a new survey to help them strategise new ways to manage the “very high and increasing” boat population. However, the CRT are yet to provide supporting information for the assumed problems caused by the volume of boats, or substantiating data on the apparently negative efficacies of an increased liveaboard population.
The current survey appears flawed in a range of ways, particularly as it is strewn with leading questions. As an example, they ask “In your own words what would you want the Trust to do to manage boat numbers in busy areas?” This assumes that the volume of boats is a problem, but are more boats a problem? More boats means more boaters, and as such a more vibrant and neighbourly community, helping to increase safety for all users of the waterways. Framing an increase in the number of boats as a problem evades other opportunities for the CRT to support thriving liveaboard communities by increasing the facilities offered.
It is also noteworthy that the majority of the survey is collecting qualitative data. This is welcome, as it provides an opportunity for participants to offer detailed, subjective understandings of their experiences of living aboard. However, whilst by no means impossible, such rich data can be difficult to generalise from in the development of an organisational strategy, and can lead accusations of cherry picking data and quote mining.
The global pandemic has created further tensions for the CRT and their wellbeing agenda. The initial lockdown saw posters erected to encourage “local” usage of towpaths, without any clarification of what that meant, causing confusion and anxiety for cyclists, walkers, and boaters alike. As soon as the lockdown was lifted, new posters replaced the old ones, and these actively encouraged the use of the use of towpaths for leisure purposes.
However, much of the towpath is difficult or impossible to navigate whilst staying two metres- or even one metre- from other users and boats. This exposed people to unnecessarily high risks, particularly moored boaters that were enduring the increased risk while remaining aboard their homes.
As with so many other examples of authorities exerting their political agenda in the dehumanising process of managing properties and estates, the lives of those impacted by this ‘management’ are treated with neglect and disdain. As the CRT seeks to offer leisure facilities and develop greater commercial enterprise on the waterways, the lives and rights of liveaboard boaters are treated as an unfortunate hangover of the historic canals of London.
The London branch of the NBTA continues to fight the increasing gentrification of London’s waterways and is planning further action to protect liveaboard boaters and to ensure that the waterways remain for the use of everyone, not just for those with access to resources or for business to expropriate money from a public asset.
So we at NBTA suggest to remedy this the response should be of a positive kind, such as:
Question 1: What would the impact be on you / or those you represent if boat numbers in already busy areas continue to grow significantly? (answer needs to be a choice from 1-10, 0 = no impact; 10 = significant impact)
Question 2: In your own words tell us what the impact would be on you/those you represent:
More boats means more neighbours, which particulary in urban areas means more eyes on each others’ boats, leading to significantly less crime.
A proportion of boaters feel anxiety walking home alone, particularly in the winter months, and more neighbours means more people to walk with and call on for support.
More neighbours also means more people to interact and make friends with.
More boats can mean more people to share locks with and travel with, which many boaters feel enhances their experience.
Also, a wider range of varied boats and boat dwellers would increase the diversity, vibrancy and therefore value of the waterways for both boaters and members of the wider community to enjoy these areas.
Question 3: In your own words what would you want the Trust to do to manage boat numbers in busy areas?
(Consider the way this question is framed; this is a leading question. CRT have already decided that more boats is a problem. We suggest you might answer this instead with postive improvements to the waterways, such as:)
The trust should improve facilities, increase the number of facilities, increase mooring rings, dredging the channel and up to the bank, improve the structure of banks which are eroding / falling apart, keep on top of maintenance of things such as locks.
Question 4: How could you help contribute to managing boat numbers in busy areas?
(Here’s another hugely leading question. We suggest this could be turned on its head).
I can contribute by helping implement positive improvements on the waterways including the things mentioned above (facilities and mooring rings outside of ‘busier’ areas).
Question 5: If you have any other comments or suggestions, please write them here:
I would like to see the improvements as mentioned above whether or not numbers of boats increase, decrease or stay the same.
Also I would like to challenge the idea of the survey on the base of these points below:
1. The data provided is too coarse and could be misleading. The narrative of the survey is that the London Mooring Strategy (LMS), “acknowledged that if boat numbers continued to rise [since 2018] then additional measures…would need to be investigated” and states that numbers “show no sign of reducing”. This is supported by a single statistic, which compares boat numbers in 2010 with 2019.
However, the 2020 National Boat Count showed a reduction of 2.2% in boat numbers in the London and SE area. Between 2012 and 2017, boat numbers increased by an average of 11.5% a year, but in the last three years the average has been under 1.5%. This trend (see chart below) tells a very different story to the narrative presented by CRT of unsustainably large increases with no signs of reduction, and so the framing of the whole survey is highly questionable.
2. The first 4 questions in the survey are very particularly framed by CRT, leading down a preordained path, and are therefore likely to lead to unreliable responses. The survey only has a few questions, so each one is very important. The main question looking to gather evidence is question 2: ‘What would be the impact on you/those you represent if boat numbers in already busy areas continue to grow significantly?’ The survey, on the opening page, frames the changes with the point that boat numbers have doubled in the last decade. Without any more detailed data (such as the trends set out above) and with phrases like ‘already busy’, the survey encourages repondants to think that numbers are continuing to rise at the same rate as they have been over the last decade and to imagine an unrealistic and imprecise hypothetical situation and give an assessment of what impact this would have. Responses to this are likely to be alarmist, with respondents imagining the worst (regardless of whether that is likely), and any results from this will be unreliable. The lack of definition around the meaning of ‘busy areas’ or their location is also problematic.
3. The London Mooring Strategy (LMS) proposals have not been implemented or assessed. It is less than two years since CRT completed its comprehensive strategy around London. This took over two years to run, taking in views from a very wide range of stakeholders on the issue of managing London’s waterways. The LMS highlighted potential for 1800m of off-side moorings, the need for new facilities and mooring rings to ‘help spread mooring more evenly across the waterway’ (this more nuanced notion of distribution across London has been replaced with the crude notion of all of London being busy), and creating new short stay visitor moorings and bookable moorings to make London more accessible to visitors. Surely, having spent two years coming up with these proposals which are targeted at the specific issues being considered, it would make sense to complete the implementation of the LMS and assess its impact once completed. It’s great to think outside the box, but only once the good ideas in the box have been fully tested. If those ideas haven’t worked, then there needs to be an explanation of why they haven’t worked published up front to enable a full discussion of what new ideas are needed.
4. The timeline explicitly preempts the outcome of the consultation. While the purpose of this engagement is to generate novel ideas, the timetable published alongside it states ‘July 2021: Implement mooring zone proposals’. It’s a clichéd, hackneyed idea that consultations start with the organisation involved already knowing what the outcome is, but in this case the timeline literally sets out what the conclusion will be. This completely undermines the purpose of the survey, namely reaching out for novel ideas, and deeply erodes trust. This damage is being done right now.
5. The Covid context is missing. Covid is changing everything, as well as creating a huge level of anxiety and insecurity which, as a ‘wellbeing’ charity, CRT should be well aware of. The increase in online working, together with major changes to the job market, could easily lead to a reduction of people moving to London (and increase in people moving away). This is one of the biggest shocks in a generation, one whose impact should be assessed before considering novel, untested ideas for a situation whose form is very likely to change in the future.
A volunteer organisation formed in 2009 campaigning and providing advice for itinerant boat dwellers on Britain’s inland and coastal waterways