The National Bargee Traveller Association held a rally in London on Saturday to protest against the Canal and River Trust ‘new’ enforcement policy and to hand in a petition to the Prime Minister at Downing Street.
The march, through central London to Downing Street, was “organised in defence of the boat dweller community in face of C&RT threatening or actually evicting boat dwellers for their distance or pattern movement”, say the NBTA.
Around 150- 200 people turned up to join in and the march was led by drummers and the NBTA banner and the numbers included boaters from London, the Kennett and Avon and further afield and, after handing in the petition, the march continued to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the government department that helps to fund CRT.
The petition, started by Frank Riverman and which has now reached over 33,000 signatures, calls on the Canal and River Trust to stop enforcing on distance and movement patterns.
The petition states:
“The Canal & River Trust (CART) declared on 13th February 2015 that from 1st May this year it will refuse to re-license all boats that “don’t move … far enough or often enough” to meet its Guidance for Boaters without a Home Mooring – unless they take a permanent mooring. This places boat families under unique pressure as many cannot afford a mooring. Many boat dwellers work locally and some are key workers. Many require access to local services such as health care and schools and will be put to extreme difficulty if forced to move unreasonable distances. Like it or not, socio-political realities have made the waterways an affordable housing resource for many families. Canal & River Trust has long denied this reality, describing themselves as a 'navigation authority' and harbouring a marked hostility towards the water-based community. This position is no longer tenable and CART needs to accept its responsibilities as a landlord.”
In May 2015 the Canal and River Trust ‘restated’ their enforcement policy for ‘continuous cruisers’ and added a controversial movement range distance – 15-20m – and said that it was “unlikely” that boaters failing to meet this range “would be able to satisfy us that they are bona fide navigating and that normally we would expect a greater range.”
The term “bona fide” is Latin for “genuine” and comes from section 17 3c (ii) of the 1995 British Waterways Act that gives CRT the powers to grant licences to boats and provides the terms of their movement within that licence.
The actual clause states: “the applicant for the relevant consent satisfies the Board that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.”
Boat families with no home mooring where amongst the marchers and at least one banner called for reduced movement patterns for boating families with school age children.
Pamela Smith, chair of the NBTA said: “The law hasn't changed since 1995 but boat dwellers whose licences have been renewed without any issues going back 10 or 20 years have recently been told that their annual travel patterns are no longer compliant.
“Canal & River Trust's recent distance requirements mean that boat dwellers are now having great difficulties staying in work and keeping their children in school. ”
“If they fail to comply with these requirements, their homes can be seized by the charity. This is a planned strategy to put pressure on boat dwellers without permanent moorings to force them off the water.”
Marcus Trower, Chair of the London branch of the NBTA said that there was a “strong turnout from all over the waterways” and that the atmosphere was “lively and angry” but positive about making a change.
“People spoke from different parts of the waterways and what unified them was not just a sense of community, but the general threat to rid the waterways of boat dwellers,” said Marcus Trower.
“People from Oxford spoke about their successful campaign to stop Oxford City Council to effectively make boating life in Oxford a criminal offence.”
Marcus Trower added that the rally was mainly focussed on CRT’s “actions and threatened actions” to evict boat dwellers.
“The coming together of all boat dwellers from all over the country for a common purpose gave confidence and enthusiasm to many to do further actions in defence of our community.”
LB News approached CRT for their reaction to the march and the petition. They provided us with this short statement and referred us to their recently published guidance for ‘continuous cruisers’.
“The Canal & River Trust welcomes all boaters onto our canals and we seek to manage our busy waterways fairly for all the 32,500 boats on the network. We do as much as we reasonably can to help boaters stay on the water,” they stated.
Marcus Trower said that the campaign continues and that one of the main focuses was the effects of the “intensification” of enforcement on boaters with school age children.
“This is a key reason why so many boat dweller families came to the demonstration,” he said.
Photo credits: Black and white: Heidi Siggers. Colour: Elizbieta Siwinska.