Towpath Gathering 2016

The Canal and River Trust (CRT), which manages about 80% of the inland waterways, is continuing its policy of threatening to evict and evicting travelling boat dwellers.
In response to this, the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) organised an event in East London called the Towpath Gathering to celebrate the community of travelling boaters. We converted one of the larger boats into a floating stage for the day and there was a wide range of music acts, speeches from the boater community and other housing activists, as well as street performers. Along with trade boats, we demonstrated that our community is worth celebrating and protecting. About 200 people attended the event despite the wet weather.
Housing activists from the local area came to the Towpath Gathering to support the campaign to stop the evictions of boat dwellers.
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Pat Turnbull the chair of a local residents association, the Victoria Community Association said at the event;
‘You are also victims, like us and our families, of the housing crisis.
The housing crisis has been brought about by years of reliance on the market and cuts in government funding for housing provisions.’
‘The Canal and River Trust was turned into a charity starved of government funding, making it need more money from mainly private business.’
NBTA spokesperson, said,
‘The push to get more money from private business, means the Canal and River Trust is more interested in commercial needs rather than the needs of people that live on the waterways. This is where their policy comes from. They [CRT] want to please commercial needs.’
‘Many travelling boat dwellers are feeling the negative impact of Canal and River Trust policy, a policy which only makes sense if you believe they wish to get rid of our way of life and our community.
The Towpath Gathering was a celebration of the strength of our community and an opportunity to bring boaters together to fight to protect it.’

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Meeting with NBTA and CRT re: London Mooring Strategy

Meeting with NBTA and CRT re: London Mooring Strategy
On Thursday 26 May 2016, representatives of NBTAL (Marcus Trower, Helen Brice and Dave Mendes da Costa) met with Sorwar Ahmed (SA) and Matthew Symonds (MS) from CRT to discuss the London Mooring Strategy. The meeting was at CRT’s Little Venice offices in London.
The meeting was open and had a positive tone with both sides wanting to work together on certain issues.

 
Representation on working groups
We said that we were happy to be in discussion with CRT and that future meetings like this would be useful. Being the largest boating organisation in London, we expressed our belief that we should be part of the Working Group which is meeting on a monthly basis to discuss ideas. MS said that as this was an internal working group a decision had been taken to only include members of the London Waterways Partnership and CRT staff, so that each boating organisation would be able to remain independent and comment on the proposals that emerge from the London mooring strategy. MS was clear that no other boating groups would be on the working group, but that there will be opportunities for boating organisations (including NBTAL) to comment formally and informally on proposals as they emerge.
We asked whether minutes or notes would be taken from the meetings. MS said that notes would be taken but that they would not be circulated. MS said that summaries of the notes would be made and circulated at a later date. We said we would rather be able to see what was being discussed.

 
MS suggested that we should be involved with the boaters and other users working group (a widened version of the Better Relations Group) which would be more informal. MS said that CRT has quarterly meetings with other boating groups. We said we would like to meet like this too. MS and SA said that they hoped to arrange the first of these meetings would take place the first or second week of July, tba.

 
Facilities and mooring rings
There was a lengthy discussion about facilities, setting out clearly that there is a present need and action here should be a priority. We said that we are happy to do work on this and pass our findings onto CRT but that we would need information to help with this. SA agreed to provide us with a map of facilities in London and a map of the towpath containing information on condition and whether it is concrete or grass.
We also asked for what the main criteria are for assessing if a site is suitable for mooring rings or other facilities. We wanted to use this information to ensure that our suggestions were more likely to be suitable. Some examples were offered by CRT however MS made the caveat that each site could have its complexities and that it would be difficult to share all the relevant information with us as some of that information may not exist or certain limiting factors might not become apparent until further investigations are carried out.

 
SA explained that one consideration was how the local authorities would react, in particular around mooring rings. CRT has identified officer and elected stakeholders in the relevant London boroughs to be contacted during the strategy, some of which they have worked closely with in the past but there are others who the Trust do not yet have a close contact/ relationship with. We offered to assist with setting up CRT with local councillors.
Third parties were also seen as a way to getting facilities. These can include existing businesses (e.g., Black Horse pub at Greenford putting a bin in their car park, following a request by CRT and paid for by them) and developers of new sites. Development sites were seen as a good opportunity for facilities such as taps and elsan which require plumbing. SA said that CRT regularly with councils around getting some of the Community Infrastructure Levy from developers and that CRT would look to maintain existing moorings and facilities at development sites. We raised the example of the Greystar development in Greenford as something for them to look into and generally said that we expected them to take a robust line with developers around moorings and facilities.

 
SA indicated that it would be a good idea for us to try and build relationships with, e.g., canal side pubs to see if their sites can be used for facilities. SA said that bin collections were relatively cheap. MS flagged that sites can change owners which can cause problems particularly when new owners or landlords withdraw permission for the Trust to use their sites for refuse sites. SA and MS agreed to cycle the tow path with HB to look at where more casual mooring rings might be possible for CRT to install.

 
We said that it was important facilities are well signed. In particular, it was worth making it clear where facilities next to private moorings are for public use. SA said we should let him know where signs could be useful.
We asked about budget. MS said that there was not currently a separate budget for the strategy however when there are specific proposals they will be making a business case for any additional funding that is required to implement these. Any request for funding would need to demonstrate that additional expenditure helps contribute to ‘maintaining and sustaining income’. SA said that there was already an existing annual budget for maintaining and improving facilities. SA could not give exact details however gave an estimate that it may be worth looking for three sites for mooring rings and three sites for significant facilities (i.e., not just bins).

 
Restricted moorings

We asked about where there are plans to restrict mooring times. MS said that nothing had been decided but suggested that it was likely that short stay locations would kept to a minimum and be at locations that were felt appropriate to accommodate visiting boats and those navigating. Another example was ‘stop and shop’ (usually 4 hours max) short stay mooring beside supermarkets. MS said that any reduction in mooring times would need to go through the ‘Short Term Mooring Framework’ which can be found on the CRT website and that before any changes were considered there would be consultation and enhanced data collection to provide evidence to support any proposed change any stay times. We highlighted the recent consultations on the Grand Union as not being very high quality and it was agreed that any consultation in London would be more detailed.
MS said that CRT would look to try and not remove towpath moorings when putting in either residential or short stay moorings but if that was proposed the strategy would try to look to provide alternative provision elsewhere. Despite this, he indicated that this was a strategy with many partners and that there would be give and take on all sides to find a balanced outcome.