Bargee Travellers occupy controversial moorings

April 2017 - The National Bargee Travellers Association is fast becoming the most outspoken and publicly visible boaters' organisation, especially in London where it has just moved into direct, peaceful action against the plans of the Canal & River Trust, Peter Underwood reports.

Current targets for direct action - reminiscent of the campaigning days of the Inland Waterways Association in the 1960s - are the offside Gasworks site in East London where C&RT is leasing land to a boater to create 'affordable' moorings and Paddington Basin where C&RT is handing over 140ft of mooring to British Land to create private business moorings.

Described by NBTA as the privatisation and gentrification of public mooring spaces, it is responding by occupying both sites with its members' boats in an attempt to prevent the developments going ahead.

In Paddington C&RT wants to hand over 140ft of moorings currently used by visiting boats into private business moorings for the multi-billion real estate investment company, British Land, something NBTA describes as privatisation of our waterways.

Protesters have tied up their boats to the moorings where British Land plans to put two new 70ft business boats, next to an 80ft business boat already operated by the firm.

Marcus Trower, deputy chair of the NBTA said: “We have seen Canal & River Trust gentrifying and privatising the waterways bit by bit in recent years. We have had enough.​

“If Canal & River Trust is left to its own devices, there will be very few areas of our waterways that the public can use. However, protests against the reduction in public mooring space are popping up in response.”

In Tower Hamlets in East London, moorings at the Gasworks site near Broadway Market are the focus of NBTA opposition – even though the moorings will be turned into a residential mooring site by a boating organisation.

It argues that the moorings have been used as public moorings by all boaters for many years, and C&RT is set to turn them into private moorings for “so called affordable' moorings”, that wouldn't be affordable for many who live on their boats.

For the past five weeks protesters have had their boats on the Gasworks moorings, in an attempt to keep them public. The protestors have been using a a rota of no more than 14 days each.

One of them, Graham Ryder, said: “Our heritage is being taken away and sold off by stealth everywhere. It makes me angry and I feel like we have to do something before our community is broken up and sold off.

“The community that is already here is well loved by the public and an integral part of the landscape. I won't stand by and watch whilst they sell off what we all already own.”

Alongside the direct action of the occupations the NBTA is organising a national 'Boats Are Homes' demonstration at 12 noon on Saturday April 8.

The march, through central London to Downing Street, has been “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”, according to the NBTA.

Pamela Smith, chair of the NBTA says: “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.”

“The piecemeal privatisation of public towpath mooring space creates further difficulties for our community, taking away space where all boaters could tie up their boats for 14 days.”

Photos: (1st) At the Gasworks site in East London NBTA boaters have being staging a rotating occupation of the proposed mooring development, (2nd) Protesting at the Gasworks site, (3rd) Preparing for the march on Downing Street on April 8, (4th) Protest boat in place in Paddington Basin where British Land has been given permission to moor two business boats.

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