Boat families urged to contact C&RT

May 2017 - How the Canal & River Trust should treat liveaboard families with children at school has been the subject of much debate – in the courts and with MPs, as well as boaters. Peter Underwood reports on the latest moves.

The National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) is advising all families continuously cruising with school age children to contact C&RT to negotiate a reduced cruising range in term time if this is what they need.

NBTA Chair, Pamela Smith says it is something boaters should do, 'Despite the limitations to what C&RT is offering.'

She says C&RT is to publish 'illustrative cruising patterns' for Bargee Travellers with school age children, according to a report by the Waterways Ombudsman in the final decision on a complaint from a family whose licence had been restricted to six months.

These “illustrative cruising patterns” for boaters with school-aged children would be based on actual patterns of other boaters in this position, according to C&RT.

The NBTA says families who home educate are not necessarily excluded from this, as C&RT refers to "school-aged" children, not to children attending school, and advises boaters to contact the Head of Boating Enforcement, Denise Yelland.

Pamela Smith says: “CRT has conceded, in its response to a letter from Michelle Donelan MP dated 25th November 2016, that “We … can conceivably see how a family could moor within 3-4 miles of a canal-side school during school terms, progressing steadily every fortnight, and remain compliant, provided their range of movement is then much greater throughout the non-school periods of the year (around 13 weeks altogether).

“Of course, there are also responsibilities on schools and local authorities to help transport those children with long journeys who they have accepted into their school.”

According to the NBTA Chair, the problem with this is that the cruising patterns of boaters with children that C&RT has been analysing have been forced upon families following one or more restrictions of their boat licence renewals to six months or less.

She says this means that C&RT’s “illustrative cruising patterns” are likely to stretch families to the limits of their endurance, as many have experienced in the struggle to get their 12 month licences back, and which they fear they cannot sustain in the long term.

Pamela Smith goes on to say: “C&RT also stated that there are “responsibilities on schools and local authorities to help transport those children with long journeys who they
have accepted into their school.”

“This attempt to pass the buck demonstrates CRT’s ignorance of how school transport works. Where children qualify for transport to school, the local authority currently only
provides transport from one location, which does not assist Bargee Traveller families who are in a different place every 14 days.

“C&RT stated in a previous letter to Ms Donelan that it was looking into how families on restricted licences were able to increase the extent of their movement 'and now comply with our guidance', completely failing to recognise that this has stretched families up and beyond to their limits.

“Some families managed this by staying with friends during the week; buying a second vehicle; spending more than they could afford on travelling to and from school, and most seriously of all, getting up so early with such long journeys to school that the children were exhausted and unable to learn.

“C&RT previously made a statement on 14th November 2016 following investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that 'any request to relax our requirements for this group we will balanced against a number of other legitimate aims, including our duties to manage the waterways, the need to mitigate congestion around certain parts of the network and fairness to other boaters', implying that such requests would
be considered.”

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