August 2018 - After earning negative national publicity for its bid to raise the price of London moorings in a series of price hikes more than four times the rate of inflation, as well as now facing a threat of a serious legal challenge, it seems Canal & River Trust is having a rethink. Whether it is simply a pause to allow the heat of protest to die down or a serious bid to engage mooring customers remains to be seen as Peter Underwood reports.

David Helliwell, of the Trust’s Waterside Moorings operation has written to London mooring customers saying: "The Trust is satisfied that it is both right and necessary to set our mooring fees in line with market prices, to ensure our fees keep pace with those of private operators. However, in response to the range of concerns that we have received we have decided to postpone the implementation of the phased introduction of market prices until 1st April 2019 to provide further time to review and explain our planned increases."

He goes on to add: “Any mooring agreement which is due for renewal between now and 31st March 2019, will have an inflation-only price increase, in line with the 3.4% increase we introduced nationally in April 2018.” but then adds: “Any assigned moorings will be charged at the new rate as advised, except those who hold a valid Houseboat Certificate with their mooring agreement.”

That might suggest C&RT is prepared to have a genuine rethink on the scale and scope of the price hikes or, as some fear, that C&RT is eventually going to plough ahead with the swingeing increases that many moorers will be priced off moorings they have called home for many years.

Mr Helliwell concludes: “We will provide further communication to you during the Autumn and set out your new mooring fee in your contract renewal documentation between 4-6 weeks prior to expiry of your current agreement.”

The Floater, like many, moorers was confused by the mixed messages which seemed to be saying C&RT still thinks the price hikes are right but also saying it is going to review them.

We asked the Trust: “Can your moorers hope that the review will change the level of increase over the three year period now being planned from next year?

“Will moorers and organisations representing boaters be invited to contribute to the review?

“When will the review take place and who will be doing the reviewing?”

The reply from Waterside moorings wasn’t exactly an answer to any of those questions and remained deliberately obscure.

An unnamed Waterside Mooring team member said: “The principle of charging market prices hasn’t changed. Following the dialogue Waterside Moorings has had with mooring customers, particularly those who would find the market rate unaffordable, the team is looking at ways that they can help those customers.

“Waterside Moorings will be writing to customers in the autumn to update them on this matter and have offered to discuss this with representatives of the RBOA.” (Residential Boat Owners Association)

The general view of moorers who received the letter is that C&RT has no intention of reducing the headline price rises.

The clue – in the moorers view - is David Helliwell’s insistence that: "Any assigned moorings will be charged at the new rate as advised, except those who hold a valid Houseboat Certificate with their mooring agreement." Moorers see that as a clear indication that Waterside Moorings has already fixed the price.

Most of the moorers affected fear retribution from C&RT if they are identified as opponents, but one of them told The Floater: “Most of us feel the decision to postpone is simply to try to let the dust settle and allow themselves time to manage the bad PR we have already generated in the press. “

Another who is involved in taking a legal case against C&RT said the delay may be to give the charity time to assess how dangerous that action could be to them and to see if they might be able to negotiate a way out of the courts.

The issue is complicated for C&RT as, despite its claim that it is just catching up with the price rises of private operators, some simple research by moorers show that the increases far exceed most private operators charges.

This, too, may well be brought into the open if a court case goes ahead, and would help explain the apparently deliberate lack of clarity in C&RT’s response to simple questions.

Only time will tell if a genuine review of the price rises is going to take place or whether this is a public relations pause, staged in the hope that time will make the issue disappear from view.

Knowing the calibre and history of some of those moorers challenging what they see as a greedy grab for cash at the expense of boaters living on low and often fixed incomes, I suspect C&RT’s Waterside Moorings team is going to be disappointed.

Photos: (1st) The Guardian Group's take on the price rises, (2nd) Freedom of Information requests are part of the battle against the rises.

User login