Public Statement in Support of Bargee Travellers

The travelling boat dweller community (Bargee Travellers) is under pressure from navigation authorities and some local authorities to abandon their boats and their way of life. The Canal & River Trust (CRT), which manages 80% of Britain’s inland waterways, has imposed draconian policies that threaten many with eviction. How far boat dwellers travel and their pattern of movement are being used by CRT to evict boaters. At the same time CRT is removing an increasing number of mooring spaces. CRT is also selling off parts of the towpath, again reducing the number of mooring spaces. At the same time CRT is reducing the maximum stay time in some places from 14 days to as little as 48 hours or 24 hours. These actions by CRT have put undue pressure on many boat dwellers and have forced some to stop living on the waterways.

On waterways managed by the Environment Agency (EA) and other navigation authorities where in some cases riverside land is owned by local authorities, much the same is happening. Boat dwellers are being evicted from these waterways. Some local authorities have passed by-laws making it illegal to moor for longer than 24 hours. The EA has recently imposed a 24 hour time limit for mooring on the majority of its land.

In some places, evictions have paved the way for new luxury waterside flats. Many of the attacks are on par with the gentrification that is happening on land. However, boat dwellers also face added difficulties in accessing education, healthcare and employment, in a system that does not cater for their needs. Even on the waterways boat dwellers’ needs are not met. There is a chronic shortage of water taps, places to empty boat dwellers’ toilets and rubbish points.

We, the undersigned, demand that navigation and other authorities stop these attacks on the travelling boat dweller community.

We fully support stopping the evictions of boat dwellers affected by these attacks.

We also request that all boat dwellers needs for access to healthcare, education and employment are met as far as is reasonably possible.

We request that facilities such as water taps, places to empty boat dwellers’ toilets and rubbish points are provided to at least suit the needs of boat dwellers.

Back to the Future: The ‘New’ Overcrowding Enforcement Policy

There is a lot of talk on the cut about CRT’s new policy on cruising distances – boaters worried that they will lose their homes, others unsure if next time they apply for a licence if they will be allowed to continue their way of life. This attack from CRT takes the form of a new policy but there is nothing new about it.

An essential right of our community is to be able to live on the inland waterways without a home mooring. For many of those waters, this right is enshrined in the British Waterways Act 1995 (section 17(3)(c)(ii) if we are being precise) with the condition that we navigate the waters and don’t remain in any place for longer than 14 days unless it is reasonable to do so. This right, which defines us as continuous cruisers and allows the waters to be our homes, was almost not ours to have as it was opposed by British Waterways (BW) – the predecessor to CRT.

During the debates and deliberations which led up to the British Waterways Act 1995, BW argued that the canals were overcrowded and that tough action was needed to solve this ‘problem’ – sound familiar? BW fought hard for this, but they were beaten back and the law contained a right for our community to exist.

Defeated, BW went off to lick its wounds. By 2003, it had regained its courage and decided to try and attack our community once again. A policy was trialled which required boaters to move minimum distances (where have I heard that before?). Those navigating the waterways were expected to travel 120 lock-miles (if you travel 3 miles and go through 2 locks that’s 5 lock-miles) every three months without turning round at any point.

In a bid for legitimacy, BW consulted on this plan but failed to include the views of continuous cruisers. A pair of boaters challenged this by running their own consultation, travelling up and down the cut talking to hundreds of people to understand the impact that this extreme policy would have on their lives and well-being. The results showed that the rules would be devastating. Many boaters refused to follow the rule and pressure from local groups built against BW who dropped the policy.

BW once again took their time before attacking again in 2010. This time they proposed to define ‘neighbourhoods’ with a requirement to move from one to the next every 14 days and only turning round if it was impossible to navigate further. This was planned on the Kennet & Avon and on the Rivers Lee and Stort which were to be carved into 6 pieces. Huge portions of these neighbourhoods were to have 7 days mooring restrictions, including the whole of the River Stort! Once implemented, Stage 2 of the place would have been to extend this to the Regent’s Canal. The reason – to deal with overcrowding, of course.

The boaters of the Lee and Stort responded to this attack by forming the original ‘London Boaters’ group. Working together with other canal users including cyclists, and residents    to build support and then attending public meetings in their hundreds to form strategy and fight the plans, the group forced BW to shelve their proposals in 2011.

So we arrive back where we started: CRT’s ‘new’ policy – with its minimum distances to deal with ‘overcrowding’ – in fact smells pretty old. It is the same old story…but we know how the story can end. Time and time again, our community has been attacked and every time we work together to defend each other and each time we have won. If we stand together and act, this time will be no different.

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Stonebridge Towpath Gathering

Sunday 27th March at 12 noon

Stonebridge Lock, Tottenham, Lock 16 on the River Lea

Canal and River Trust (CRT) is planning to restricted the use of the toilets showers at Stonebridge lock. Their plan is to restrict the opening times of the toilets and showers to only when the Stonebridge cafe is open*. This will put extra strain on our ever decreasing number of facilities and it could give CRT more confidence in shutting down the Stonebridge facilities altogether as they have threaten in the past.

There has been a long history of threats as well as resistance to the closure of Stonebridge so lets not let them get away with it now!

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NBTA London has been talking with CRT to try and stop them making these restrictions. However, CRT has refused our proposals. Therefore, we must act.

We are organising a protest against CRT’s plans by holding a vibrant celebration of the boater community and for the protection of Stonebridge. There will be music, an open mic, speeches, crafts and much more.

Come along, bring others, lets show CRT our voice and take back our facilities!

It will be at Stonebridge Lock, Tottenham, Lock 16 on the River Lea on27th March at 12 noon.

*Stonebridge cafe is open 8am-5pm on Tuesday-Friday; 8am-6pm on Saturday and Sunday; and closed Monday.

For CRT, distance isn’t enough

As many of you know, last May the Canal and River Trust (CRT) rammed through a policy which would restrict or refuse licences to people who they claimed hadn’t moved ‘far enough’. The statement they gave to say how far is far enough was very vague. They said,

“[it’s] very unlikely that someone would be able to satisfy us that they have been genuinely cruising if their range of movement is less than 15-20 miles over the period of their licence. In most cases we would expect it to be greater than this”.

 

So, is 21 miles enough or 25 miles or even 100 miles? They’re not telling us how far, but they are happy to say. ‘YOU’RE not moving far enough’ leaving boaters uncertain as to what they have supposedly done wrong, creating unnecessary stress and anxiety.

We can see no clear limit to adhere to and CRT seems to be imposing different limits on a case by case basis. This has become clearer over time, with more and more people getting a restricted licence when they had travelled far in excess of 20 miles. We also noted that over this period, we have never seen CRT say to any able bodied person that doing 15 miles in the licence period was fine. So in effect the 15-20 mile range became at least 20 miles.

 
At the same time as the distance that CRT is demanding is increasing, the time in which they believe you must do the distance is decreasing. We had thought that when CRT stated the 15-20 miles range, that it was referring to the 12 month licence period. As in, at least 15-20 miles over a year licence and 7.5-10 miles over a 6 month licence and so on. However, we found CRT demanding people on 6 month restricted licences to do at least 20 miles over the 6 months. Why apply the same range to a year licence as to 6 month licence? It seems that they chose the 15- 20 mile range because they were starting with a number they could get away with publically but where they are able push it further, when dealing privately with individual boaters, they did.

We quite often find that CRT believed 20miles isn’t enough. Through the NBTA’s caseworker group, which offers help and advice to boaters facing reduced licences and eviction, we have found people who had done 30 miles and even 100 miles and still had CRT on their backs. For CRT, distance isn’t enough, it’s how you travelled over that distance too. If they think you have travelled around a certain area for ‘too long’ then they have said that it doesn’t matter that you have travelled over 50 miles, for example. In some cases, they try to get away with enforcing a certain pattern of movement, what they call a ‘continuous journey’.

 
With one case we were helping, a boater was refused a licence and threatened with eviction by CRT after travelling approximately 60 miles on a 6 month licence. Why? Because they didn’t like that at one point in his journey he did a U-turn to get some coal. CRT made it out that his travel pattern was incorrect because he lacked a ‘continuous journey’. Nevertheless, after a petition and 6 days of campaigning, CRT backed down and we got his licence back. CRT pushed their luck – but we pushed back and we won. You can read about that victory here. https://nbtalondon.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/boater-eviction-stopped/

This isn’t the only time we have helped someone get their licence back. However, many people are under enforcement. From May to October, CRT has issued 826 restricted licences. A large proportion of these are in London and of the 1,225 boats in the city without a home mooring, 295 boats were given restricted licences between May and November 2015. That’s 24%, almost 1 in 4 boats without a home mooring in London. Also during this period,  10 boats have been removed and four are at seizure point with a further four planned and awaiting removal and another 11 in planning. With hundreds of boaters currently on restricted licences, there is fear of even more evictions in the future. As Simon Cadek, Enforcement Supervisor for London at the London Waterway Forum in October 2015 said,

“It’s only the beginning of the policy”.

Many in our community already feel the pressure of this policy already. The idea that this is ‘only the beginning’ worries many of us, however, it is also only the beginning of us stopping their policy. We must step up the campaign by coming together as travelling boaters. We must stop CRT case by case. Each time someone is under attack we must support them, we must campaign for them and, if necessary, even stop evictions. However, we can’t just deal with the effects of the policy, we must get rid of the policy. We will do this by using the press to show up CRT on this issue. We must also reach out to the non-boater groups and individuals, so CRT are shown to be on their own in their want for a policy which threatens so many of us. One way we will do that is by marching with others for secure homes for all on the People’s Assembly demonstration on the 16 April. On that day we will hand in a petition to Parliament, already over 20,000 strong and growing, demanding that the Government pressure CRT into getting rid of their unjust policy. We hope you will join us.

 
For more details on the demonstration go here: https://nbtalondon.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/boats-are-homes-national-demonstration-2/

For the petition, go here and please sign and share it:https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/boats-are-homes-prevent-the-eviction-of-boat-dwellers

 
To contact a London caseworker; email nbta.london.caseworker@gmail.com or ring/text 07974 298 958

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