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.