Someone needs to do something...
Let me make my position crystal clear. I believe that more people should be encouraged to live on the canals. The life won’t suit them all but, at a time of steeply rising property prices when thousands of young people without wealthy parents can’t afford homes, the waterways provide an option for cheap and attractive living.
Local councils need to be encouraged to grant planning permission for marinas that provide liveaboard facilities. They should be pushed to recognise the benefits of a vibrant, self-reliant community in their midst – they’d get extra council tax, too. And CRT should continue to work with local councils to make canalside space available.
In London, in places, the canal is wide enough for residential finger moorings without impeding navigation. All over the city – and across other cities too – there are patches of waterside land owned by CRT and local authorities which could be adapted for residential use.
However, residential mooring can’t be allowed to develop unrestrained as it has in London where the situation is out of hand and getting worse by the month.
I’m familiar with London’s waterways. In the 1970s there wasn’t a boat to be seen along the whole of the canal from my home south of the river to Islington in north London where I worked, apart from Little Venice and a few around the old power station.
I welcomed the first few residential boats that began to appear in the late 80s; it seemed they were pioneers of a new age who would forge new communities out of the mud and dereliction which was the cut in those days.
But I never imagined it like this; relentless lines of boats jammed into every half-metre of space, most double-moored but increasing numbers now beginning to triple moor.
I didn’t imagine a situation in which boaters would moor on water points and lock approaches with impunity and without embarrassment. Neither did I imagine that sewage and water facilities would be collapsing under the strain of abuse and overuse.
This is becoming a crisis, make no bones about it. And surely it won’t be long before so many people living in these conditions begin to excite the attention of the health and fire authorities.
Don’t get me wrong here though. I don’t blame the people, what alternative have they? If I was young and trying to establish myself in London (as I once did) I’d be living on a boat, too – far better than paying a fortune for a shoebox.
It’s just that the debate depresses me. How are we going to solve this problem if we aren’t honest about what the problem is? The National Bargee Travellers’ Association may hope for a legal cure-all in the courts, but the likelihood is that eventually the courts will stumble their way to a definition of continuous cruising which is likely to be far more rigid than the one we currently have. Because, of course, we all know that the ‘continuous cruisers’ in London and Bath aren’t continuous cruisers at all: they are people living on boats, attempting to sidetrack the regulations by nit-picking, a process with which CRT has cravenly conspired.
Honestly! Twenty miles! As an acceptable annual cruising range to establish a bone fide journey! What does CRT think it’s playing at? Doesn’t it realise the contempt most boaters feel for this so- called sanction. Twenty miles is what most genuine continuous cruisers do in three or four days. Or maybe three or four months if they were travelling on a beautiful stretch and didn’t want to hurry.
CRT claims the idea is to get London moorers ‘used to moving’. But what they’ve actually got used to is moving around the system in a coagulated, slow moving group too big for the water space available to them.
And still they keep coming. Like the guy on the London Boaters group on Facebook last week. ‘Looking to get my first boat,’ he wrote. ‘Will be based in London for the next two years at least. Any advice?’
‘I never imagined it like this; relentless lines of boats jammed into every halfmetre of space, most double-moored’
Tied to the towpath, but do they have to be?