Neighbours not neighbourhoods! The last London Mooring Strategy…

The Canal & River Trust (CRT) is currently in the process of drafting a Local Mooring Strategy for the London area. Some of you may remember that 5 years ago British Waterways (BW), CRTs predecessor, initiated a series of local mooring strategies including parts of the London waterways and the Kennet & Avon (K&A).

In late 2010 noises started emerging that BW was looking to place significant restrictions on the Rivers Lee and Stort as well as the Hertford Union Canal. According to internal documents, BW felt that there were “more boats moored along the Lee than are desirable” (sound familiar?). Despite the plans still being in their early stages the documents show that BW already had a clear view of what the strategy would look like and that it would involve ‘neighbourhoods’. There was no consultation with liveaboard boaters.

By law, boaters cannot spend more than 14 days moored in one ‘place’ unless there is a good reason. BW wanted to give an interpretation of ‘place’ by splitting the waterways into 6 neighbourhoods with boaters not being allowed to spend more than 14 days continuously in a single neighbourhood.

The Stort was to be split into two neighbourhoods, all waterways south of the North circular were a single neighbourhood (including the Limehouse cut and the Hertford Union) and the Lee to the north was split into three neighbourhoods separated at Fielde’s Weir and the M25. On top of this, BW also planned to designate long stretches (including the whole of the Stort!) as 7 day mooring zones.

BW also wanted to enforce patterns of movement expecting boaters not only to spend time in all of the neighbourhoods but for that to be evenly distributed. Over the course of a year, boaters were expected to spend no more than 61 days in any one neighbourhood unless a £20 a day fee was paid. This increased to £40 a day if not paid in advance or on the day. There was also a minimum cruising range of 20km.

When this strategy was shared with the boating community there was widespread anger. Many thought the proposals were draconian and had been developed without liveaboard boaters having a chance to voice their opinion.

In February 2011 BW launched a consultation but tried to rush it through, giving boaters little time to respond. Of course, our community wasn’t going to stand for that.

Turnout at public meetings organised by BW was dominated by hundreds of boaters who expressed their concern at the impact the new rules would have on their lives and the lack of research BW had done. The community rallied and local groups, including London Boaters, worked to debunk the assumptions which BW had made by talking to local residents and waterway users including rowers, canoers and cyclists. The London Boaters group also conducted surveys of boaters and towpath users. This work showed that the assumptions made by BW were wrong and made clear the damaging impact the proposals would have on the liveaboard community. They also highlighted that boaters were seen by many to have a positive impact on the waterways.

In September 2011, against a wave of opposition, BW realised the game was up and announced that it was dropping its plans.

While neighbourhoods were never put into place in London, they were implemented as part of a 12 month trial in 2014 on the K&A. Seeing how BW backed down in London but pressed on with the K&A should remind us that threats to our community spread beyond London. We must work together for all boaters, wherever they may be.

At the end of the K&A trial the strategy was dropped but it was replaced by the current enforcement policy. A policy which has created uncertainty, stress and difficulty in the lives of many boaters.

Many of the arguments used against the Lee and Stort mooring policy (which led to it being successfully rejected by London’s boaters) are just as true in the context of the current enforcement policy which applies to us all. The NBTA opposes this policy. By organising and pulling together as a community, as well as building working relationships with other waterway and towpath users, groups such as London Boaters showed that we can make our voice heard and successfully challenge policies where they are unfounded and unfair. So when CRT publishes the plans for the new London Mooring Strategy, let us remember the strength of our community and the power of our voice.

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CRT meeting to involve local authorities

Canal and River Trust (CRT) put a on meeting to involve local authorities in the waterways in London.

The National Bargee Travellers Association London (NBTA London) made sure we were invited. CRT allowed two delegates from the NBTA London.

We send two of us to join the 23 councillors from 13 Local Authorities; 2 representatives from the Old Oak Park Royal Development Trust; the Chair and Deputy from the IWA; 1 from the Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA); and 11 from CRT including Richard Parry, Jon Guest, Sorwar Ahmed and Matthew Symonds.

The format was – presentation by CRT, Questions/Comments form the floor.

Their presentation was mainly about how ‘good’ property developments are to the waterways in London and the ‘greatness’ of social enterprise in bringing ‘valve’ to the waterways.

The Kings Cross development was held up as a ‘model example’ of property developers ‘working in partnership with the waterways’. This was despite the fact that the Kings Cross development meant lost of more than half the mooring spaces there, the lost of a water point and no new facilities.
One of the NBTA London delegate stated that the Kings Cross development should not be use as a model example, a model example would included no lost to mooring spaces and the introduction of new facilities. CRT didn’t voice any disagreements over what NBTA London delegate said.

For the example of social enterprise, CRT talked about the adoption of the Limehouse Cut lead by Poplar Harca Housing. Which until we talked to them had no knowledge of people that live on the canal without home mooring. They had thought that the only people that live on the canal live in home moorings.

CRT also talked briefly about that Housing and Planning Act 2016 means councils must assess the needs of boat dwellers using waterways which go through their area. CRT stated that the all their results of their survey will be out soon. We included that the NBTA London has a survey which asks more about the needs of boat dwellers.

Which we are still running. If you haven’t filled it out yet please fill it out. Here it is; https://marcus122.typeform.com/to/SrAhJi

CRT also put out the idea that they might make a mooring place at Little Venice one of those chargeable bookable moorings they have been talking about. But they are not sure where exactly if they will put them there, it probably depends on the resistant to it.

The main reason for the NBTA London went to this meeting was to collect Local Authorities contacts so we can meet with them to discuss their assessment of boat dwellers in future meetings between us and them. We got a reasonable amount of council contacts from this meeting. Our plan is to get Local Authorities and CRT to work together to give us more facilities and mooring rings etc.

Second Half was organised into discussion groups. NBTA London delegates were in two different groups.

Most non-boaters – particularly residents and local councillors were thinking that “residential moorings” meant any moorings where live-aboard itinerant boaters stop or that they didn’t know that boat dwellers exist. So some educating on boat dwellers without a home mooring was called for. Evidently, the Local Authorities members which both delegates talked to were supportive of the NBTA London cause. Afterwards they voiced a much better understanding of our lifestyle and needs – and what we mean by “facilities”.

Overall, we thought it was a worthwhile meeting for us.

Great Winter Warmer!

This years NBTA London Winter Warmer collected together 35 London bargee travellers. We were served good food, a great film followed by warm discussion.

The spirit of the do it yourself culture had not escaped bargee travellers as we sat around tables built that very day out of pallets. After eating food freshly prepared by the bargee travellers cooked at the venue, we watch the short film ‘Off the Cut’. The film showed us that the kind of attacks we are under in London from CRT are much the same as the stresses and strains placed on the boat dweller community on the Kennet and Avon canal in the West Country. Inspired by the documentary and the introduction from the director herself (Wendy Zakiewicz), we then broke out into discussion on a great amount of issues we face as boat dwellers. There was great enthusiasm by people that are not presently members of the NBTA for us to fight the CRTs policy of threating people with eviction. There was a real feeling that something has to be done for boat dwellers and support for the boat dweller demo next year (on the Saturday 8th April) was high.

So overall it was a good mix of food, working together, socialising, a good film and discussion about what we should do to defending our homes and fight for better conditions such as more facilities such as water points, elsans and rubbish bins!