Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Is Canal and River Trust a 'housing authority'?

It is to say the least ironic that many of those presently living on boats owe their 'right' to do so to the same person that many of them (with more than a little good cause) saw as their principle persecutor in recent times! The start of the 'trouble' was one of Sally Ash's first decisions when she was put in charge of boating, to remove the general Licence requirement not to use your boat as a dwelling. That in effect gave blanket permission to all licence holders to live on their boats; Unsurprisingly many have taken up the offer.

When we get into the nitty gritty of residential boating issues, the 'excuse' for in-action frequently wheeled out by BW (and which CRT seem to have adopted), is: 'We are not a housing authority'. The problem is that by waiving one of the byelaws twenty years ago Sally Ash made you so!

It seems to me that many of the subsequent disputes between BW and now CRT and boaters have flowed from that and from Sally's and others' attempts to get that cat back in the bag.

The scapegoating and targeting of continuous cruisers is I suggest one of the most prominent consequences. This is of course particularly flawed because 'continuous cruiser' and 'residential' are not synonymous despite what some people would have you believe.

There has been the range of tinkering with licence conditions and mooring rules over the past decade or so which, especially when the flimsiness or outright absence of any evidence based case has been exposed, has often enraged large sections of the wider boating community. The underlying thinking in BW/CRT has seemed to be that if you force people to move around enough and hassle them in other ways, they will stop living on their boats.

Twenty years or so ago, when I first started living on boats, it was the case that living on your boat on a residential mooring with a Houseboat Certificate was almost the only way to live afloat within the law if you were on BW water. Indeed the British Waterways Byelaws (which are still supposedly in force) say that that 'No vessel on any canal shall without the permission of the Board be used as a club shop store dwelling or houseboat.' (Clause 30 in BWB General Canal Byelaws 1965). The understanding was that if you did not have a residential mooring etc but were living on your boat, you were not legal.

That did not stop people but it did make us more aware of our position. You were in most cases in direct breach of your licence conditions if you admitted to living on your boat. A consequence of that was that we kept our heads down and took steps not to draw huge attention to ourselves. Issues like overstaying or in any way drawing adverse attention to yourself were almost completely taboo. In that sense there was a strong sense of self policing and in many ways the situation was much more satisfactory than now. In short  people who lived on boats twenty years ago rightly or wrongly came with very different expectations than those I see from many today.

Those different expectations are of course not unreasonable given Sally's decision to open that particular door. Now that the door is open and given how long it has been left open, CRT need to finally grasp the nettle rather than trying to shut the stable door after 20+ years.

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