Hundreds of boaters converged in west London’s Little Venice area on Saturday to protest about what they say is a “cull” of a traditional way of life along the capital’s waterways.
The boat dwellers staged a demonstration about new moves by the Canal & River Trust (CRT), a charity which manages the waterways in England and Wales, to restrict mooring spaces in some parts of the capital and to issue enforcement notices against some who officials say are mooring their boats in the wrong areas. The CRT began issuing enforcement notices in January of this year.
Waterways across England and Wales are becoming more popular, particularly in the capital. According to the CRT, “London’s canals are enjoying a second golden age with the number of boats almost doubling in the last decade.” Boat dwellers say that changes to the way waterways are managed to benefit those who are better off and discriminate against the boaters who may be living on low incomes.
There are about 4,000 boats on London’s rivers and canals, half without permanent mooring. These boats are known as “continuous cruisers” and are expected to move from one mooring spot to another every 14 days. Many of these boaters remain within the same area of waterways where they have community links, their children attend schools and where they are close to their GP and other health services.
Those living on boats do so because they like the lifestyle but also because boats can be a cheaper solution than bricks and mortar in London where affordable homes are in short supply.
Amelia Friend and her partner Tyrone Halligan live on a boat in the Hackney area with their two-year-old son, Isaac.
“The CRT is removing mooring spaces for boats like ours and that is massively changing our lives,” she said. “I’m pregnant and want to stay near the hospital where I’m due to give birth. I feel we are being pushed out of an area we have a right to be in. I love living in London and living on the canal allows us to be closer to nature.”
Continuous cruisers pay the CRT an annual licence fee that varies from boat to boat, but can be as much as £1,000 a year. Boat dwellers are expected to travel at least 20 miles a year along the waterways.
The boat protesters who converged on the capital on Saturday came from around the country and marched from London’s Regent’s Park to the CRT headquarters in Little Venice to raise objections to what they claim are discriminatory policies threatening the way of life of people who live and work along the waterways.
They say there will be a reduction of about 300 mooring spaces under new “safety zone” rules and the introduction of some chargeable mooring spaces for short-term use.
They are also objecting to a statement from the CRT that they will no longer accept complaints about their policies.
The boaters say that while they accept that some stretches of water are unsafe for boats to moor due to narrowness of rivers at certain points or sharp bends, other areas where “no mooring” restrictions are being introduced are actually safe to moor. Some boaters have received enforcement notices in recent weeks stating that they cannot moor boats in these areas.
Matthew Symonds, national boating manager for the CRT, said that the needs of a variety of different users of the waterways have to be carefully balanced – from commercial barges to rowing clubs, boat dwellers and those taking part in water sports such as kayaking.
“We welcome everyone to use the waterways including live-aboard boaters and there remains ample mooring space, but we need to manage such a busy waterway safely for everyone,” he said.
Ian McDowell, chair of the London branch of the National Bargee Travellers Association, which represents the boat dwellers, said: “This continued disregard for the people who live and work in these new ‘no mooring’ and proposed paid-for mooring areas drives boaters away from their livelihoods and out of their homes.”
He added that the new moves by the CRT could restrict access to the capital’s waterways to those who can pay for it.