On Saturday (17 April) the Lea River at Broxbourne was filled with a flotilla of boats, all protesting against Canal and River Trust’s absurd and falsely named new ‘Safety Zones’. The Protest included boaters from all over the London region and beyond, including representatives from Broxbourne’s own Cruising Club. A ‘towpath protest’ of boaters and non boaters followed in their wake, raising awareness of CRTs discriminatory policy changes, and how they threaten people’s livelihoods. Support from the local community was passionate, with many affirming how they love the boats, and see no need to introduce these confusing and unnecessary ‘Safety Zones’.
The NBTA argues that the policy is profoundly ill-conceived, particularly in the context of a housing crisis and a pandemic. They also argue that evacuated canals will turn the towpaths into the danger zones they once were, prior to the growth in the boating population.
“Three-quarters of rowing safety incidents occur between two rowers rather than between rowers and boaters. The relationship between moored boats and rowing safety incidents is very weak, if there is any relationship at all” argues Ian McDowell, chair of the London branch of the NBTA. “The CRT has provided very limited data to justify this policy,” he continues, “and yet the impact on the boating community will be drastic. Many boats in London are homes. These planned ‘safety zones’ will displace many boat dwellers from these areas.”
Many boaters believe that the ‘safety zone’ policy is part of a larger attempt to drive them off the waterways. CRT aims to introduce policy proposals later in the year aimed at ‘managing boat numbers.’
Boaters say they have asked the CRT for the data they have used to calculate an ‘optimal’ number of boats, but have been met with silence. They say they are left to conclude that the CRT’s various manoeuvres are motivated by an underlying prejudice against nomadic communities and that this prejudice will have dire consequences for the London boating community.