NBTA to challenge Environment Agency letters

July 2017 - Last year and this has seen the Environment Agency attempting to crack down on overstaying boats using public mooring sites on the Thames and the National Bargee Travellers' Association is attempting to work out what's happening, as Alec Wood reports.

The Thames is a hotch-potch of private, council and Environment Agency (EA) moorings that means boaters rarely know whether they will be charged for a night's mooring but in the last two years both local authorities and the EA have been trying get rid of liveaboard boaters in certain areas.

Now the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) Chair, Pamela Smith, is writing to members to ask if they or other boaters they know have been affected by a letter from the EA entitled 'Overstaying at lock lay-bys and public mooring sites' that threatens the loss of boats that are homes.

The Agency, which takes a much more low key approach on its East Anglian and Medway waters has stated, in reply to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, that it issued seven of the letters in 2016. They went to boats tied at Teddington, Molesey, Walton, the Blakes lock area in Reading, and the Marlow area.

The the letter is still being used and the response to the FOI request also says “The template letter was first drafted, and approved by our legal team, in 2014 by Andrew Graham the Waterways Manager at that time.

Nick McKie-Smith Waterways Operations Manager – Enforcement for the Thames says: “If an officer suspects a boat to be overstaying the decision to issue these letters would rest with the issuing officer. Our operational teams are warranted to record information concerning overstaying vessels and take necessary regulatory action for the appropriate regulation and management of the river.”

The FOI has also disclosed that the Anglian Waterways, Upper Medway Navigation Waterways and Thames Navigation Waterways teams do not have specific Waterways Enforcement Officers and the enforcement role is incorporated into various jobs within the team, so there is no enforcement officer job description.

Enforcement targets differ. On Anglian Waterways is it says: “We will protect our river and income by undertaking regular enforcement activity throughout the year.

“We will place warning notices on those vessels that fail to register and undertake appropriate enforcement action which may lead to prosecution and/or removal of unregistered vessels.

On the Upper Medway Navigation it says: “We will protect our river and income by undertaking planned enforcement activity on key dates throughout the year. We will place warning notices on those boats that fail to register and prosecute owners of boats that fail to respond to these notices. We will carry out other enforcement activity, according to priority and funding.”

On the Thames Navigation Waterways Enforcement Plans include the letter which, the EA insists, is for advice and guidance only, and not formal enforcement action.

The NBTA is planning to take up the somewhat threatening letter with the EA, but says it needs to know more about how boaters have been affected by it, according to Pamela Smith. If you want to add to the evidence email the NBTA at secretariat@bargee-traveller.org.uk

Photos: (1st) The pro-forma letter being used by the EA on the Thames - page one, (2nd) The pro-forma letter being used by the EA on the Thames - page two.

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