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.