Saturday, 11 July 2009

British Waterways Moorings Policy Consultation

BW's national consultation structure includes something many of us call WUSIG. It's a six monthly meeting between BW and the main Waterways User Groups.

In April 2009 they tabled a detailed paper for attendees laying out a huge range of proposed new policies towards moorings management generally.

What does it say? Well I saw this in my capacity as a NABO officer so I can't tell you! And don't bother looking again at the BW link above either because at the time of writing, nearly three months later, notes of the meeting are not yet posted.

(So much to your past promises to post them promptly, BW!)

Why can't I tell you what its all about? In practice BW has this curious way of consulting. They ask us, the user groups to comment, (I'm a Council Member of NABO), but in this case (as in some others in the past) on a strict understanding that the discussion is embargoed to Council members.

BW seem to feel that you dear Joe and Jenny public might misunderstand or overreact if we told you what they were thinking, (let alone ask you what you think!)

You might get so incensed that you state your opposition or objections in public or in the media before BW are fully ready to ignore them - This would never do!

The implicit threat is that if user group officers do not co-operate with this embargo protocol we will be excluded from pre-consultation discussions in future.

This of course begs the question, that if officers of a membership based organisation are not supposed to ask its members what they think before they make representations on those members behalf, how are we supposed to say with confidence what our members really think? Answers gratefully received!

Consequently I am not at this time 'allowed' to discuss in detail with you BW’s latest proposals for tackling:
  • overall lack of availability of moorings,
  • "overstaying",
  • continuous cruising,
  • long term residential moorings policy, and
  • policy towards unauthorised residential boaters.
Fortunately as some of you will know most of BW's embargoes of this type are distinctly leaky and a suitably informed Freedom of Information request usually does the trick. Certainly there are some copies of the documents floating about where BW wish they were not!

A more practical reason for me not to publish the consultation drafts I have seen here, (apart from the threat of BW's childish enmity), is that it's back with BW now, for final fiddling and spinning. It is not inconceivable that the final version may appear officially in the public domain in a very different form to that which I have seen, maybe even a more considered form? I live in hope.

However there was a public whiff of what is going on when BW's Simon Salem appeared on the BBC Today programme, apparently trying to discourage people from taking up residential boating without first securing a residential mooring? (If anyone has a transcript of that interview I'd love to get a copy.)

Time will tell whether any of what the user groups have told BW in camera will be taken into consideration, but what I saw seems to amount to the beginnings of a campaign by BW to start (or perhaps more accurately "accelerate") a huge clampdown on residential boating on BW controlled water.

For longer standing liveaboards like me this is very deja vu. Much the same as I fear BW are preparing now, was attempted in the late 1980's: To move as many liveaboard boaters as possible onto expensive official BW controlled residential moorings.

My memory is that far more people were forced to give up boating than were successfully allocated moorings and I remember with sadness the many friends and neighbours who over the years have given up the fight to live afloat and moved ashore, abroad, sold up etc.

Most of you will also know that BW these days only makes vacancies in it's moorings portfolio available to the highest bidder! So don't think of joining a wating list for a mooring - there aren't any waiting lists in BW.

Am I scare-mongering? Well certainly what I've seen scares me!

Let's let time be the judge of that and see what the public consultation paper turns out like?