More of what I have said in public in the past

Residential Boating – A personal view
A briefing by Simon Robbins.

Parliamentary Waterways Group

06 March 2007

Summary of main themes:

·        Who are residential boaters?

·        Where exactly do residential boaters live?

·        Lack of recognition and uncertainty arising from the national shortage of residential moorings and moorings of all types.

·        Does such an acute shortage of residential moorings indicate a need for government intervention?

·        If so, how can one make any intervention inclusive of the hidden majority?

1. What image comes to mind when I say “residential mooring”?

2. Or perhaps I should ask what image comes to mind when I say “residential boat-owner”?

3.  In my experience the majority of people who live on their boats feel they need to keep themselves out of sight to some degree. Why is this?

4. I believe this is because the majority of people who live on their boats, even some of those who pay for a long-term mooring, are rarely able to occupy a residential mooring. The extent of this shortage of suitable moorings is illustrated by the estimate that at least eight out of ten residentially used boats do not have access to a recognised residential mooring. (1)

5. One consequence or perhaps a further reason for this state of affairs is that few residential boaters enjoy meaningful security of tenure on their current moorings.

If the majority of residential boaters live in such informal circumstances one might also query whether they should be counted as “residential”?

The difficulty in offering a clear answer to that becomes apparent as soon as one realises that most powered craft on the inland waterways are designed as places to stay overnight and potentially for much longer than that. It therefore does not take a leap of faith when one says no-one knows for sure how many people live on boats in the UK at any given time.

There is also a point of view which says that people who do not live on official moorings or who do not maintain a permanent address elsewhere, and even some of those that do, have something to hide, that they are dodging the system in some way?

6. What is also certain and something which perhaps in part explains my previous description of affairs is that there is a shortage of long term moorings on the inland waterways for craft of all types, regardless of the uses individual craft and moorings are, or can be, put to. (2). Many residential boaters therefore have little choice but to live wherever they can, mostly it should be said in harmony with the community they are located in, and often over many years.

7. However the fact that boats can and often do move from place to place, (even if in most cases they come back to the same starting point) has baffled planners, valuation offices, and dare I say it, policy makers for many years.

More practically one often detects a fairly negative reaction when one puts the words “mooring” and “residential” together.

Having planning permission however does not always help. My local authority and local valuation office deliberated for several years as to whether I should pay Council Tax, despite the existence of residential planning permission and the fact my navigation authority are also my landlord.

According to the valuation office (and in fairness there did seem to be barely concealed laughter on the other end of the phone as this was explained to me) the banding guidance seemed to turn on me telling them that I did not plan to move my boat anywhere for more than few weeks in the coming year.

It seems that one of my neighbours asking for a parking permit was the actual test finally applied to confirm our existence!

This example though offered lightly illustrates the difficulties that sometimes arise. Even supposed experts seem to struggle with the concept.

The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities has bravely been working on a review of residential boating issues for a couple of years at least but we still await their report, (3) and even among us boaters, we struggle with this question of who is a “true” residential boater.

·         What about a commuter who sleeps overnight on their boat occasionally?

·         What about the hundreds of boaters who live continuously on their boats and cruise the canal and river networks during the summer months then return to a base ashore at other times of year?

·         What about the people who cruise extensively with no base ashore but who slot temporarily into the network of boatyards, boats clubs and other seasonal moorings over the winter months and then continue their journeys each Spring?

The permutations are endless…

8. Trying to clarify such matters was why some of us latched on to the Housing Bill that became the 2004 Housing Act and the many discussions therein about the needs of the road travelling communities. The key issue in that debate is one which housing practitioners like myself are very familiar with. Lack of a suitable place to stay is a well-established statutory test of homelessness.

9. Residential boaters and travellers also have this much in common. We will provide our own roof but there are times when we need somewhere to keep that roof.

10. Some people (in both communities) say that one shouldn’t invite policy makers anywhere near our world! I think this point of view is a little short-sighted because ultimately it is a question of seeking recognition and I’m grateful Mr Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this very point today.

11. On a personal basis this point about recognition is why I still believe that the question of Security of Tenure is an important issue and something that policy makers need to consider further. Having a system of limited security of tenure for residential moorings acknowledges there is a long-term need for suitable places where people can moor their boats and live on their boats.

Last year’s consultation by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (4) arose in part out of that lobbying and the Department for Communities and Local Government has committed to investigate matters further. (5)

For a nation that is constantly concerned about the supply of residential accommodation, and where a plethora of policy and guidance exists on what that means, it is perhaps surprising that residential boating seems to have been overlooked.

12. The single biggest difficulty, as I have mentioned, is that the vast majority of moorings where people actually live at present, due to a variety of factors, fall on the wrong side of the lines if you define them solely in terms of current residential planning guidance.

13. People in that situation understandably fear that imposing additional standards through planning or security of tenure may hurt the majority and make the position of the few people like myself who do have a degree of security of tenure even more secure.

The irony is that because many other boaters have no prospect of achieving the security of tenure that a few boaters like myself do enjoy, those of us who do have the long term use of established residential moorings, are more anxious than ever to hold onto those moorings.

Overall this perhaps suggests that the existing lines, faint as they sometimes are, may be in the wrong place.

14. More practically the fact seems to be that the parties cannot agree what the correct way forward is, in part because of the diversity of interests and the consequent lack of consensus that exists. The fact we do not seem to be able even to agree about who we are counting into the equation, (all this despite many years of debate) supports this contention. This is precisely why some of us still think the only way forward is for Government to take the lead.

If planning departments and valuation offices for example still struggle to recognise residential boaters this also suggests that they too might welcome someone at least attempting to draw or perhaps re-draw the line.

15. If proper care is given, I see regulation of residential moorings, rather than being divisive, as maybe offering, not the final word on the subject, but a reference point that can be developed and refined over time.

16. One alternative, which I hope everyone can live with, is the suggestion we should collectively seek to increase the overall availability of moorings of all types.

17. In fact in the case of travellers, the 2004 Housing Act does not seem to treat the issue of Security of Tenure for those on existing sites and the issue of encouraging the creation of extra pitches either in isolation or as mutually exclusive, but as complementary. (6) I believe that policy makers correctly recognised that enforcement against those without pitches without first trying to accommodate those people was not the way to go.


18. If residential boaters fail to attract a similar level of recognition from national policy makers, I believe a substantial number of your fellow citizens, perhaps as many as ten thousand people, will by default continue to exist in circumstances where that lack of recognition combined with a lack of a suitable places to stay will continue to exclude and marginalise them from the services and considerations the rest of society take for granted.

19. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly about these concerns today.

Simon Robbins

06 March 2007

References/background material

(1)  ODPM Consultation Paper, “ Security of Tenure for Residential Boats”, November 2005, Chapter 2, page 7 under “Numbers of Residential Boats”

(2)  See British Waterways – Inland Marina Investment guide,
In particular the section on market demand:
(Therein BW estimate demand exists for 11 700 new moorings in the coming five years, though they do not appear to conclude what proportion of those extra moorings should be residential.)

(3)  The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) launched it’s “Residential Boating Issues Group” in November 2004 with a round of three half day working groups for representatives of the residential boating community, representatives of private moorings operators and representatives from it’s member navigation authorities respectively.

At the time of writing a final report has not been issued (though I have been advised that this will happen very shortly).

(4)  ODPM report: “Summary of responses to the Consultation Paper on Security of Tenure for Residential Boats”, May 2006,

(5)  See Westminster Hall Debate on “Residential Boat Owners”, 27June 2006, and the response from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith).

(6)  Housing Act 2004, in particular see:
Chapter 3, ss 206 – 208 – re “Site Agreements”, ss 209 – 211 – re “Protection from eviction etc”, and
Chapter 5 and ss 225 – 226 – re “Accommodation Needs of Gypsies and Travellers”.


About the speaker

I am a housing manager by trade and I work as a freelance Housing and Regeneration Consultant. I live on a 70’ Narrowboat at a long term residential mooring in West London and have lived on the waterways for over 15 years.

I am also a Council Member of the National Association of Boat Owners and act as the Association’s London Secretary. I am also the Council member with responsibility for Moorings Matters, and take an active interest, as do many colleagues both in NABO and other organisations, in the provision of short and long term facilities for all boaters whether they live on their boat full time or not. I am also a member of the Barge Association and the Residential Boat Owners Association.

I was recently appointed as a member of the London Waterways Commission, part of the advisory and scrutiny structure working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority, local and regional government to promote and improve access to and use of Greater London’s waterways for the whole community.

The text above is offered solely in a personal capacity as an Associate Member of the PWG. For the avoidance of doubt the views I have expressed must not be taken to represent the views of the National Association of Boat Owners.

For more about the work and interests of the National Association of Boat Owners please see: