Shambolic and misleading' consultation claim as boaters fall out

July 2017 - The Canal & River Trust's consultation on changes in boat licensing has just completed it's second stage and is already being condemned as misleading and unfair by liveaboard boaters although the Trust and its IWA allies seem happy, as Peter Underwood reports.

The licensing consultation was always going to be divisive but, before it is even complete it has come under attack from the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA). It has made a formal complaint that the consultation is 'shambolic and misleading'.

Whilst the Trust's Boaters’ Update reports that 988 boaters expressed interest in the 135 places available in special discussion sessions around the country, the NBTA claims only half a dozen actually turned up at many sessions.

The third and final stage is launched in mid-August when every boat licence holder will be contacted to take part.

The Trust reports Ian Rogers, customer service and operations director as saying: “We’ve had a fantastic response to the consultation so far and it’s great to see so much interest in a topic that is fundamentally important for our boaters. It’s vital that the financial contribution made by boaters is spread fairly across the boating community – both now and for the future.

“I’d encourage all our boating customers to respond to the consultation when it goes live in August so that we have a full view of boaters’ thoughts and feelings to help us shape the future of boat licensing.”

NBTA Chair Pamela Smith sees it differently and condemned the consultation after speaking to boaters who attended the workshops that formed the second stage: “The consultation has been shambolic, undemocratic and misleading and the NBTA has no faith in the outcome. We anticipate that boaters without a home mooring will be penalised by discriminatory rises in licence fees based on the prejudiced view of our community put forward in the interim report. The NBTA will do whatever it can to defend Bargee Travellers against unfair increases in the licence fee”.

Meanwhile the Inland Waterways Association has made it's bid to attack continuous cruisers, who don't meet it's ever-stricter criteria - claiming that the consultation 'offers an opportunity to address some of the issues caused by the current licensing system, and in particular the effect of the continuous cruising option introduced by the British Waterways Act 1995, which removed the requirement for all boats to have a home mooring'.

IWA’s main suggestion is that licence fees based on the area of a boat and – crucially wants fees increased by an amount 'comparable to average mooring fees'.

It suggests there would then be 'significant discounts for boats with home moorings and boats that were genuinely continuously cruising', with a range of lesser discounts and multipliers for commercial and trading boats.

The IWA also supports a progressive increase to the distance that continuous cruisers are expected to travel annually to 300 miles a year over a 100 mile range with a minimum distance travelled per quarter of 60 miles.

It alleges, without providing any evidence, that “There is a clear and growing group of boaters who wish to adopt the residential boating lifestyle, but are unable or unwilling to find a residential mooring or comply with continuous cruising rules.”
It claims it wants to see 'innovative options for providing reduced price facilities for these boaters (eg inexpensive new mooring sites)'

Not content with that it also wants to see tracking devices used 'to provide valuable information on boat movements, asset utilisation, and compliance with mooring and travel guidelines.

For continuous cruisers and liveaboards fearing a stitch up between IWA and C&RT - similar to that seen during the elections to the C&RT council - those concerns have been given added weight by the discoveries of the NBTA.

It reports that: “C&RT has reported that the consultation workshops were oversubscribed, with 988 people applying for 135 places in nine workshops. However the situation on the ground was very different. In many cases, fewer than half the people invited actually attended the workshops.” It reports that the workshop in Leeds in May was attended by only six people although 15 were invited.

NBTA claims that a representative from Involve, the company carrying out the consultation on behalf of C&RT, stated that they would look into this before any further workshops were held.

Despite that a workshop in Newark saw six out of 20 actually turning up; one at Northwich in June was attended by 8 people although 25 were invited; the workshop in London in June was attended by 8 people out of at least 15; one in Devizes was attended by nine people although 14 although in the workshop in Birmingham eight people were expected, but 15 actually attended.

It says some people were excluded because C&RT closed registration to the workshops before the deadline of April 30 and NBTSA received several reports from people who tried to complete the online form in the afternoon or evening of that day to find it had already been taken down.

The Association says: “..due to the very poor attendance, the workshops themselves were not capable of being the representative forum claimed by C&RT.”

The NBTA also claims that: “Not only did C&RT and its subcontractor Involve fail to achieve a representative forum, but it misled participants by providing inaccurate information in the workshop handout.”

It cites a statement in the handout that: “Licence holding boaters contribute 11 per cent of the overall costs of running the waterways”. It then says a few pages later that boating income is £36 million out of a total of £191 million or 18.8 per cent, while a pie chart on the same page states that income from boat licences and moorings is £33.8 million out of a total of £180.5million or 18.7 per cent.

NBTA points lout that none of these figures agrees with C&RT's annual accounts for 2015-2016, which state on page 31 that the income for boat licences and moorings is £34.9 million out of a total of £189.7 million or 18.4 per cent.

NBTA says that the claim that “Licence holding boaters contribute 11 per cent of the overall costs of running the waterways”, is likely to have skewed participants' responses towards agreeing that licence fees should rise.

The Bargee Travellers point out that providing misleading information to consultees violates the Government principles of consultation that C&RT claims to follow.

It also claims that in the London workshop, the external facilitator framed the questions in a way that excluded maintaining the status quo as an option, even though the majority of the participants disagreed with all the other options that were presented.

This, says NBTA, 'indicates, contrary to the Government's principles of consultation, that C&RT already has a final view, namely that "no change" is not an option. The Bargee Travellers go on to claim that the stage one consultation report, to the Canal and River Trust by Involve, published in April, is 'biased and inaccurate'.

The NBTA concludes: “Rather than conducting a balanced and contextualised analysis of the issues raised, it simply repeats the prejudiced allegations of the majority and fails to recognise both that boat dwellers without a home mooring are a numerical minority and that consultation is not a majority voting exercise.

“The report creates the perception that a very large number of boat dwellers without home moorings are creating congestion by hardly moving, when the reality is that most are being forced to travel in a range of at least 20 miles over their licence period otherwise their boat will be seized and removed.

“This means they cannot be causing this sort of congestion or staying in one area for long periods as the report wrongly states repeatedly.

“The report unfairly blames boaters without home moorings for congestion, but provides no definition of congestion and makes no reference to congestion caused by boats queueing to use locks.

“The report also wrongly attributes long lines of moored boats on the Shropshire Union Canal to boaters without home moorings, when the majority of boats moored on the Shropshire Union Canal are on permanent moorings.

“The report also states that a frequently raised issue was that continuous cruisers make use of services and facilities that are paid for by home moorers. This is nonsense. The public services and facilities provided by C&RT are not paid for by home moorers, they are paid for by all boat licence holders. This ignores the fact that many online permanent moorings have no services and facilities, and those moorers also use the public
facilities provided by C&RT.”

NBTA also accuses C&RT of by-passing the consultation by its introduction of a Static Letting Licence for all types of boat rental.

It says: “To introduce a new boat licence, bypassing the consultation process, completely undermines C&RT's claim that the licensing review was needed because the boat licensing system is complex and difficult to understand. The new licence introduces more complexity. To do this without waiting for the results of the consultation, and without specifically consulting on the proposal, also violates the Government principles of consultation by failing to consult at all.”

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