Friday, 1 January 2010

NABO’s legal complaint - a personal view

I’ve been wondering what to post about this one for some time. It’s been taking a lot of my attention over the last while. Sorry - this is quite a long rant!?

That NABO has engaged a legal complaint about a number of concerns over how British Waterways is approaching some enforcement issues over moorings has been widely reported in the waterways press, waterways websites, forums and so on.

The more most observant among you, if you have trawled through the wide range of coverage and discussion, especially in chat rooms and forums, may have noticed that precious little of what has and is being written has actually come from NABO!

Of course this not the first time NABO has felt obliged to seek Counsel’s opinion over BW’s attempts to manage boating. Some will recall that NABO previously felt BW were pushing their luck when trying to set out draconian new continuous cruising rules in 2002/3. It’s also worth remembering we didn’t oppose attempting to clarify matters and had actually been one of the bodies campaigning for clearer guidance for many years. BW of course came out with a horrendous set of rigid, inflexible and unworkable proposals that appalled everyone. They seemed so intent on pursuing the matter that NABO felt we should seek legal advice. Well it has come to that again.

The next significant proposal from BW, a little over a year ago, was roving mooring permits. For me this proposal really highlighted BW’s true motivation. Many of us interpreted this as in effect a proposal that boaters should in effect be allowed to buy a dispensation from the current overstaying rules for towpath moorings by paying BW a fee. The motivation seemed more about generating financial gain than managing of visitors moorings more fairly and effectively.

What seemed to have really sparked off the recent press coverage was that in our Autumn news letter Council took some time and care setting out, principally for the benefit of our paying members, the latest steps we had taken over our concerns about more recent proposals.

NABO and others have spent many hours in consultation meetings over the last two year trying to grapple with the issues about fairer and more effective ways to manage visitor moorings and the best way to target the small minority who abuse the system. Our concerns are that whatever methods are used they should be fair and transparent and not penalise the majority who cooperate with BW and other boaters. Being satisfied on these points has always been an area of difficulty when we try to work through proposals with BW.

Our voluntary reps have spent many hours trying to reason through this with BW managers but despite these attempts at thorough dialogue, NABO for one has become more alarmed the more we talk to BW. Two events in particular gave us the impression that BW had it’s own agenda already set out.

This time last year BW published revised standards terms and conditions for boat licences. They made a number of changes without consulting. BW brushed off these changes as insignificant clarifications but to those of us who started checking through the changes in detail once they’d been announced, there were some significant changes.

While we were still deliberating those changes to the licence conditions, our concerns were accelerated by the draft consultation paper BW issued in Spring 2009 laying out the latest proposals for the national consultation on moorings management that is now under way. The first draft had everyone up in arms (those who got to see it!) and for the following six months all the main national user groups spent hours in correspondence and in meetings with BW trying to get some more sensible proposals thrashed out. As the results are now subject to public consultation, I leave you to decide how successful we and the other user group reps were. (Don’t forget to let BW know too, please!)

The other thing that concerned us were the seeming attempts by BW to ‘test’ some of the new approaches that were still supposedly only proposals, especially on the western end of the Kennet and Avon; a classic example of putting the cart before the horse?

Or perhaps more sinisterly, evidence that the consultation exercise was actually a sham and in fact BW had made up their minds about what they were going to do before the event?

I have always personally favoured the cock-up over the conspiracy and for me this is just another example of the lack of operational and management skills in Watford when it comes to dealing with your principal paying customers.

Maybe some of the above will help explain what NABO seems to so often get into loggerheads with BW, why have a reputation as BW bashers?

The other clue is in the name. Our first and only purpose is to try to represent the best interests of all boat owners using the Inland Waterways. That is not always the same as BW’s best interests. That I believe is why we have again felt the need to commit to spending thousands of pounds on legal advice. As indicated above this step was taken after many months of talking to BW.

(The more observant of you will also have noticed that NABO does not get into the same sorts of serious disagreements with other navigation authorities. I wonder why that is?)

Well for an example of what we are having to deal with in practice is BW‘s reaction to us telling or paid members what we were doing. They went to press published the text of our ongoing complaint and launched a series of attacks against NABO. For example in the December edition of Towpath Talk, the following from BW’s Sally Ash.

"NABO appears to [be], against having a basic set of regulations to help ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy the waterways. "

Well can I direct you Sally, to our original letter of complaint. I know you have it because you published it on the BW website!

"NABO is entirely supportive of strong and well understood licence terms and conditions, underwritten by legislation, to support the current critical situation on the towpath. "

Clearly what we have actually say to BW does not linger long in some people’s minds, even when we write it down for them.

Instead they seem to have to rely on aggression and misinformation rather before having an open and robust discussion of the issues. This sort of attitude from BW might just explain why we so often find ourselves in dispute with them.

Well I take two things from this:

In my experience, when you get this sort of hostile reaction from BW over a complaint, that is a sign you are really onto something that worries them. They doth protest too much!

Number two, in their best traditions of scoring own goals, BW have done far more to publicise NABO’s concerns that we have managed.

By the way if anyone wants to read what we have actually said to BW, the full text is here courtesy of BW. Most else you may have seen about what we have and haven’t said to BW is speculation, a good deal of which BW themselves appear to have stimulated.

Seasons greetings to all - even some in Watford! Thanks for the early Xmas present of loads of free publicity!

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year, Simon!

    Let's hope we can make some progress in 2010 towards clarifying the rules, for everyone's benefit.