London mooring price hikes threaten boaters’ security

June 2018 - Worried boaters on London moorings owned by Canal & River Trust are facing savage hikes in moorings prices with increases up to £12,500 a year for residential berths and £10.500 a year for leisure berths – a 10 per cent a year increase, as Peter Underwood reports.

One long term boater, who has a mooring close to central London, told The Floater: “As Canal & River trust launched its new branding under the strap-line “Making life better by water”, its long term mooring customers in greater London were beginning a fight over swingeing mooring fee increases, in some cases in excess of 10 per cent every year for three years, with the explicit promise of further increases to follow.

Individual boaters affected say they are reluctant to be identified at this time for fear of victimisation by C&RT.

The Trust claims that the increases reflect the market rate for mooring in London but many boaters feel that they are in fact running a monopoly on canalside mooring and engaged in profiteering.

Mark Blackwell, Head of Waterside Mooring, claims that some of the Central London mooring sites have fallen way below the market rate, so the increases are necessary to bring them in line, repeating the oft-heard C&RT claim – ‘we can’t undercut’.

He said: “We appreciate that this may be challenging for some boaters and are working through proposals to work with those in financial hardship: we’ll be saying more on this in the near future once the detail has been worked out. We’re meeting with some customers next week to discuss further.”

Another boater observed that: “the so called independent mooring operators are frequently in reality no more than agents tied to C&RT and dependent on C&RT’s permission to operate their business, permissions which are paid for.”

He claims that C&RT are explicitly trying to price out long term customer with limited security of tenure. In letters to moorers, CRT explicitly talk about people being relocated to cheaper mooring on the condition that they give up statutory rights held through Houseboat certifcates.”

C&RT is also saying that anyone selling an assignable mooring will have to prepare the new owner for paying the full price increase immediately and are offering boaters with such moorings a transfer to a cheaper long-term mooring.

Mark Blackwell claims: “There is no attempt by the Trust to encourage people to give up Houseboat Certificates. Other long term moorings have been offered for many years, decades in fact, for 12-month annually renewable contracts. We’ve never given any long-term tenure – we do not act as a landlord.”

One boater on such a mooring told The Floater: “I believe this proposal may amount to an unreasonable and unlawful restriction on my right to assign the mooring on the same terms and conditions as exist at present. The proposal appears to be intended to hinder sales and/or reduce potential sale prices? It also seems to have the effect of driving up the overall market rate.”
Retired boaters are particularly anxious as to how they can find 10-15% annual rent increases, when their pensions are almost static.

London boaters are complaining that C&RT is unreasonable in asking them to respond in less that one month to a proposition which CRT has had many months to prepare. They are preparing to fight and questioning in detail C&RT’s assessment, which they say is solely based on a small and highly selective sample of auction results.

The boaters are considering action in the civil courts and even a judicial review of the actions of Waterside Moorings which is now controlled by the Trust’s property division rather than boating.

They are also concerned at persistent rumours that C&RT, having already put BWML up for sale, is considering selling off the Waterside Moorings operation to a private operator – a move which will almost certainly see popular mooring prices soaring further.

In a letter to affected boaters Mark Blackwell says: “To arrive at a more realistic market rate for assignable sites, we have compared the current mooring fees for our central London moorings with new sites that we have opened over the last 2 ½ years – these are located further away from the centre in East and West London. Other than the location factor, we have been careful to compare like with like as far as residential or leisure consent is concerned. We have also considered facilities, (power, water, foul discharge, refuge disposal, storage space and the immediate environment).

“We also reviewed prices charged by competitors in the same area.

“Whilst these sites were considered during our review and do form part of our decision-making process, not many of them are able to be considered as direct comparators. Some are not-for-profit moorings run by associations or co-operatives with the members being the existing mooring customers.

“BWML sites were considered and, again, the pricing at these did play a part in the process. We also reviewed the prices charged for some Thames moorings, (St Katharine’s Dock and Southwark) that whilst not on our network are geographically close to some of our sites.”

Photos: Mooring in London.

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