Mayor's rant sparks boater demand for apology

October 2017 - An attack by the local mayor in Devizes aimed at boaters on the Kennet and Avon Canal, in which he demanded Wiltshire Council and the Canal & River Trust remove what he describes as 'unlicensed boats' from the Wharf in Devizes has prompted a demand for a public apology, as Peter Underwood reports.

According to the local website of the massive Newsquest newspaper group, Mayor Nigel Carter has 'written to both bodies to complain that several boats are moored in the town without the correct licence and little is being done to remove them'.

It reports that, in a letter to C&RT about one particular yacht which he claims has been moored there for two years he said: “The stay is one of unprecedented length and is causing unrest among other licence holders who feel that their potential use of the Wharf is being denied unfairly.

“If the owner requires, for any reason, an extended stay for health reasons, then there are other convenient berthing spots on the opposite of the canal.”

The remarks have brought a swift response from the owner of the yacht - National Bargee Travellers Association's Legal Officer, Nick Brown, who, in an open letter says: “It is clear that Mr Carter has made a variety of comments to Ms Moore for Newsquest that are inflammatory, derogatory in the extreme, incorrect and, most of all, demonstrate extreme prejudice. All of these properties are unacceptable.”

The website also reports that the town mayor complained about two boats without engines that are also moored at the Wharf, saying: “Neither of these three vessels add anything to the slender glamour of this area of the Wharf, are an eyesore from the opposite bank and the focus of any licensed narrow-boat owners who feel that any entitlement to moor by the Wharf for the legitimate three days allowed, is denied them by ‘chancers’.”

The Canal & River Trust are reported as telling the website in a non-specific statement: “Dedicated data checkers patrol the length of the canal on a regular basis, and vessels in breach of the rules are sent an initial warning letter. If this letter is disregarded, then warnings are escalated, and legal proceedings may commence if a non-compliant boat refuses to move.”

Earlier this summer C&RT upset local boaters by seizing a small boat at The Wharf over licensing issues as the owner was vulnerable and had not received support and liveaboard boaters have also staged a number of protests about draconian measures taken by the Trust.

Nick Brown's open letter pulls no punches: It says: “I am the Master of the white yacht "Freya" that is the centre-point of the Article. I object on the strongest of terms to the wording of the press release given to the Newsquest that has appeared in its on-line journal.

“For the avoidance of doubt Freya is a Historic Ship and is on the Historic Ships Register. She was severely damaged by the inadequate depth of Canal & River Trust's ("CRT") canal, which is considerably shallower than the depth that is published in CRT's waterway specifications.

“I took the decision, as master of the vessel further to my powers under s.104 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, that Freya will not navigate further until the vessel is repaired, as I consider her unsafe to navigate further. As my authority stems from Primary Legislation and the authority of CRT stems from a Private Act my authority exceeds that of CRT in this regard.

“As I am in dispute with CRT (including a cross-claim relating to the damage inflicted on Freya by CRTs canal, the matter is sub judice, to be heard in the High Court) it is not appropriate for further comment to be made in public least of all by the Mayor of Devizes.

“I infer from the Article that this is a further example of prejudice extended by the Town Council seeking to gentrify public assets within the town to the benefit of the few and to deprive members of the public (specifically those who are less well off) from the minimum basic facilities to which they are entitled, including but not limited to a place to put their heads at night.

“There are now 20 towns across the UK where, in the interest of gentrification, strenuous efforts are being made by local authorities, town councils and navigation authorities to purge live-aboard boaters from the administrations' door steps.

“I note that Mr Carter has made these comments to the press without consulting me, without seeking to get his facts straight and distorting the facts of the case. What is also clear is that this is a precursor to the attempts by Devizes Town Council to gentrify the Wharf. This is not acceptable.

“The Wharf is a public craning place for boats and has been such since the Kennet & Avon Canal was constructed. As such the resource that the Wharf represents is an important asset to Devizes and the boaters on the Kennet & Avon alike.

“To seek to gentrify the area ignores one fundamental issue: that Devizes has a navigation. The article refers to "...[craning] a small blue boat out of the water..." and that the boat had been occupied by a vulnerable person.

“The way that CRT has conducted itself was less than satisfactory in that regard. It is for that reason that I have referred this and other matters back to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The EHRC had previously considered but suspended a prosecution of CRT for repeated violations by CRT of its compliance obligations vis-a-vis vulnerable boat dwellers. I also gave an interview to Ms Moore on the subject at the time, but the journal did not publish any form of revision to its previously published article.

“The Article is entirely unacceptable for the reasons given above. I am therefore making a Formal Complaint to Devizes Town Council. Please enter this complaint into your Complaints Procedure at Level 1.

“To remedy my complaint I require Devizes Town Council to:
(1) issue me with an apology
(2) issue a public apology signed by the Mayor; and
(3) execute its best efforts to procure that Newsquest shall remove this article from its website

and execute these items with 14 days.

“If Devizes Town Council does not execute these elements as stated I shall (1) refer the matter to the LGO and (2) file a formal complaint with IPSO.”

Photo: The Newsquest website with the picture of the wharf and Nick's yacht.

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