More gassing about the gasworks

March 2017 - By Peter Underwood

Moorings on the offside at Corbridge Crescent in East London have become the subject of a bit of a slanging match between some of the National Bargee Travellers Association and the boater wanting to develop them as a permanent mooring site, Peter Underwood writes.

Earlier this month The Floater published the NBTA case in some detail. Now we have invited Lee Wilshire, Founder of the London Waterways Projects to explain why he feels his project should take precedence over Continuous Cruisers mooring at the site, near an old gasworks, and instead provide community, fixed price moorings.

Lee first approached Canal & River Trust about developing this site as a social enterprise in 2013. After over three years of discussion he says he can finally confirm taking possession of the site.

Lee says: “This site will test and pioneer our approach to moorings provision – on the basis of need and connection to the local area. Through developing fixed price moorings we hope to enable individuals and families with most need, or who have a strong connection to the local area (perhaps through work or school) to put down roots without having to leave the water.

“Initially London Waterways Projects will operate Corbridge Crescent on a short term agreement with the Trust, during which time we will repair and restore the site railings and sow the seeds of a mooring community. We will use this time to finalise details of far more extensive works to repair the canal wall and bring full services to the site.

“When completed the site will have space for 6 boats, however in the interim period we have 4 leisure berths that are now open for applications for a fixed term moorings for 5 months from mid March 2017.”

The interim moorings do not include any services and prices for moorings during the initial interim period are £375+VAT a month.

Lee points out that access to the Gasworks site has historically been through a broken fence, and claims there has been repeated use by unlicensed boats and criminal activity at times.

He went on: “The reason we are developing the site is because I approached the Trust back in 2013 following the GLA report with a list of plausible sites and Corbridge was the one which came out on top as the site deemed most suitable to try to develop.

“The fact that the site has been moored on for many years is neither here nor there - the site is currently signposted as operational use and it's on the offside.

“I'd be the first to defend towpath moorings, such as the loss of a much larger section of towpath to permanent moorings in Hackney Wick (which I objected to unsuccessfully throughout the consultation process) but the gasworks site is not, and never has been, in that category.

“I've worked with the NBTA on a few things and in fact discussed London Waterways Projects with some of their London members prior to anything happening with the development.

“However I find this case to be a bit hypocritical - for the NBTA to object so vehemently to what we are trying to do here on an offside site, when they never opposed the case when twice as much actual towpath was converted to long term moorings in Hackney Wick.

“To foster the kind of benefits we would like to provide on our mooring sites, we advertised this in the public domain so that all boaters had a chance to participate - I suspect had I said nothing and given the moorings to my mates, or auctioned them off to the highest bidder, the site would now be occupied and no action other than bemoaning the tide of 'privatisation' would have occurred.

“Instead we have fundamentally tried to be fair to everyone, and now have families with children ready to take on a mooring at the site but I am left feeling as though I may be putting young children in the line of fire for abuse from what is in reality a very small minority of boaters.

“Finally, I'm also left feeling that as an organisation the NBTA really needs to review what they stand for and who they represent.

“I joined a waterway community which was full of people with different ideas, who nonetheless figured it out and got along. We might not have been able to see eye to eye on everything, but accepting these different views and moving forward was one of the many things which made the community genuinely interesting and dynamic.

“The NBTA currently seem to be adopting a 'with us or against us' approach which ultimately I feel will only serve to undermine the canal community as a whole and I can't say that such an approach represents me as a CCer or any of the many friends I've made over the years.”

Lee says his London Waterways project is pretty simple but claims it has quite far reaching positive benefits to the waterway.

“Though moorings are the most obvious thing right now, the overall project isn't just about moorings.

“The general idea is to develop non-auction moorings which are priced based on cost to develop and operate, rather than just maximum profit.

“There is an application process which is intended to help to create a community rather than a parking space for boats and the intent is to support people who need a mooring most for whatever reason. (E.g. family with a child who used to moor in town some of the time and out of town at others but now find they just can't get into town because its all too busy, or who can't double moor because someone is disabled etc etc.)

“The ultimate aspiration is to outsource this shortlisting process to local organisations who have skill and experience in assessing applications - to this end, we are currently working to develop strong relationships with a number of local housing associations in proposed areas.

“I have spoken informally to CRT a number of times over the years about supporting community projects through providing sub-market rate leases and, whilst they have been supportive in principle, the quite rational response is that central London also needs to support less-loved parts of the network which still need to be maintained.

“Whilst I would love to have CRT give sites away to community groups, it makes sense to me that these sites shouldn't be in zone 2 where there is some potential for revenue, considering they have 2200 miles of canal across the country to keep in water.

“What London Waterways Projects aspires to do, is to meet CRT in the middle and to pay market rate for the land/water on a site; by then not making a huge profit from the development (and minimising costs more intensely that a commercial developer might), we are able to make the actual price of moorings significantly below the prevailing market rate.

“This also comes down to leases, and we are working with CRT to secure the longest leases they are comfortable with to spread the initial financing over the longest period of time. After the initial lease period it's probable that the site will be maintained by London Waterways Projects, but a negotiation will take place over new lease terms as with any commercial lease renewal.

“Though the moorings are priced based on their costs, they are still a revenue stream and in time when the construction work (and worse the banks interest!) is paid off this will hopefully result in some surplus to support other projects which benefit the canal.
“I'm a firm believer in getting on with something if you know it's right - to that end I've started the Bins By Boat Trial, as a part of London Waterways Projects.

“I've not been paid a penny for doing that but have spent a not insubstantial amount of time and my own money supplying bags to boaters, developing and maintaining a website and managing the whole thing.

“This was a situation where everyone agreed it made sense but it just needed someone to get on and do it to make it happen. In time, with the ability to offer small grants, I would love to support other boaters in similar projects which just get on and do something that hopefully has a lasting benefit on the canal.

“Aside from moorings supporting community projects, they can also be used to piggy back much-needed facilities for the wider boating community.

“I don't believe in relying on solely on C&RT to fund new facilities when there is a viable alternative, in London at least I think my approach is a viable alternative.

“We need facilities and we need offside moorings. It seems logical to me to try to use offside mooring development to fund new facilities rather campaigning for more facilities solely funded by CRT, resulting in more money which CRT can invest elsewhere.

“Beyond the moorings the wider remit of London Waterways Projects is to make the case for boats and boaters with planning authorities and to engage with surrounding community groups to increase understanding of the needs of boats and boaters.

“An example of some of this would be representations on planning applications and ongoing dialogue with a number of London Boroughs and Housing Associations to make provision for and better understand boats - by no means are we the only ones doing this, but through extensive experience I have gained over the years I have a ton of knowledge about the costs and the practicalities of doing stuff on the canal, and can now quickly fag packet ideas & costs to move a conversation beyond "we'll look into it" into maybe actually happening.”


After this piece was first published in The Floater, readers were invited to comment.

The following comment by reader Ditch Beard seemed pertinant:

"I am one of the continuous cruisers currently moored at the gas works protesting this development

This article has many factual inaccuracies so I’m writing this comment so set the record straight on many falsely held beliefs not only about the CCers who use this site but also Lee’s project.

To start the proposed private moorings are not truly fixed price. They are fixed for 5 months whilst the site lies almost exactly as it is. The only change being the site railings. During this time boaters will be expected to pay around £450 (including vat) to moor at the site. What’s not mentioned is that Lee is one of the boaters who will be gaining a mooring here. After the initial 5 months it is unclear if the price will go up. It most certainly will go up after Lee’s 4 year contract with CRT ends. These “individuals and families in need” will be paying flat-share rent to moor on the exact same site in almost the exact same condition that the CCing community have been mooring on for free for years and years.

Lee says that the project aims at providing affordable moorings especially to families in need, but later says, “in the interim period we have 4 leisure berths”
So if they are leisure berths how is he planning on providing the space to livaboard families at £375 plus vat? (I’m also not sure why a figure without vat is relevant to families?)

It seems the guise of affordability is nothing but a reuse to privatise a mooring site that has a long history of being used as public mooring. A clever plan concocted by Lee to steal public space for his own private long term mooring in a prime location. He clearly shows his contempt towards the fact this space has been used by CCers since long before he moved onto the water: “The fact that the site has been moored on for many years is neither here nor there”

It does not matter that the moorings are on the offside. What matters is they are in public use and are being stolen without any consultation. They are an important mooring to many of us CCers. They have strong sentimental value to a large number of us as well as playing a key role in providing a free space to do boat works and sort out emergency problems. The site has a long history of this. Many of us are also members of the community workshop ‘Hackspace’ which is a 1 minute walk from the moorings. Like all other parts of the canal network there have been instances of disrespectful boaters making a mess here. This is a minority the same as anywhere else. Also as a public site the mooring has been used by a variety of different CCers many like myself have a range of over 100miles, never overstay often moving before 14 days, clean up our rubbish whilst respecting the surrounding environment, people and animals.

Unlike Lee the NBTA recognise how important the Old Gas Works is to a large part of the Continuous Cruiser community and are acting well within their remit to defend the space from privatisation and inevitable gentrification. The only hypocrisy I see is London Waterways Project making a free public site private and unaffordable to many in its bid to provide affordable moorings.

As for Lee’s claim that, “there has been repeated use by unlicensed boats and criminal activity at times”
For one where is the case history of this? How many times have the police raided boats engaged in criminal activity on the site? How many boats on the site have been involved in criminal cases? Also are unlicensed boats and boaters who are engaged in criminal activity not spread across the network? I guarantee there is case history that says yes.

Another thing on this point. Corbridge Crescent, the road running along part of the site does have a lot of criminal activity taking place as well as many dodgy characters abusing alcohol and drugs in the hidden enclave the road provides. Since moored here protesting I have seen several dodgy characters milling about. A car of young men who park up regularly to take drugs. Another two cars who regularly park up to do drug deals and some alcoholics who come to the road regularly to drink.

Now for me this is just part of the site. I have never had in trouble at the site and personally feel quite safe. This all takes place on the road. The boaters are left alone. But has Lee who cares so much for providing not-so-affordable moorings to families in need taken the time to consider if the site is actually suitable for those families? I would argue the site comes with an age restriction and would not want my child exposed to the surrounding environment. Lee has already made it clear the site will be rented to these families pretty much as is with only minor alterations in the initial period. How many of these families are even aware of how dodgy Corbridge Crescent is?

Lee writes, “Instead we have fundamentally tried to be fair to everyone, and now have families with children ready to take on a mooring at the site but I am left feeling as though I may be putting young children in the line of fire for abuse from what is in reality a very small minority of boaters.”

So you have families prepared to only live at the site as a leisure mooring for maximum 3 nights a week? You are worried about the children suffering abuse by protestors like myself who love kids, are parents ourselves and are genuinely concerned for their well being but you are prepared to expose them alcohol drugs and all manner of other seedy things that happen on Corbridge Crescent?

Lee then goes on to speak at length about what an altruist project this development is. The fact is he will be gaining himself a mooring in a prime location for all his time and effort. The project was only announced to the rest of the community when it was well underway. The project is privatising and then charging rent on what has a long history of being used as communal public space. There is nothing more ‘affordable’ than free which is what the mooring currently is. Lee’s project is running parallel to the gentrification process happened to Hackney on land. It is part and parcel of the same process and housing crisis affecting all Londoners. Long term, CRT will have in their possession a fully serviced private mooring in a prime location next to a new expensive development that they will be able to charge exorbitant prices in rent to well off boaters who can afford to live in a newly sanitised and expensive Hackney where all the working class people have been forcibly removed.

All the sugar coating and NGO-wording from Lee is nothing more than Thinkspeak and strategically thought out PR. The facts are however saying something very different. "

In reply to this comment, reader Richard Elkin restated the narrative view,

"The fundamental point is that it is not possible to "privatise" moorings that are and have always been private. So that claim is a misnomer. The fact that BW and then CRT chose not to repair the vandalised fence and turned a benevolent blind eye to the boaters who both used and misused the moorings over the years is, in Lee's words, "neither here nor there". All things must pass and every boater knows just how much boating in central London has changed since CRT took over from BW in 2012, so fond memories are just that. In central London all public mooring is on the towpath side, with private moorings on the offside. This is just such a one. CRT could develop this site, as they have others and no doubt would charge £10-£12K for such a serviced site. Lee is just trying do to something a bit different. He may succeed or he may fail, but my God he is at least trying to find a middle way. And maybe he will take one of the moorings for himself, well that 's £375 per month won't have in his pocket, isn't it? Get real people. If Lee walks away from this then you can bet CRT will take it over and want £1000 per month for a mooring. I understand how boaters who made use of this freebie will be disappointed, but it was an unregulated site, with no requirement to move every 14 days, so most boaters (not all) who used it didn't move fortnightly and just hogged it selfishly for themselves. I urge all concerned to back Lee's project, it just might be the way forward. "

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