Some­one needs to do some­thing...

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats -

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?

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