Boat­ing groups have their say

As the Canal & River Trust’s boat li­cens­ing re­view gets un­der­way in a se­ries of dis­cus­sions with na­tional boat­ing groups, we asked for their thoughts on the way for­ward

Canal Boat - - News -

A 50 PER­CENT PRE­MIUM for wide­beam boats, a ma­jor in­crease in the dis­tance ‘con­tin­u­ous cruis­ers’ are ex­pected to cruise (backed up by higher fees for those that don’t), and a com­mit­ment to no dif­fer­en­tial re­gional pric­ing are all among the sug­ges­tions put for­ward by na­tional boat­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions in the first stage of a po­ten­tially ma­jor shake-up of the Canal & River Trust’s boat li­cens­ing sys­tem.

Launched by the trust on the grounds that the cur­rent sys­tem has been largely un­changed in over 20 years and “of­ten cited by boat own­ers as be­ing com­plex and out of date”, the re­view aims to “ask boaters the fairest and sim­plest way to split the im­por­tant fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion made by the dif­fer­ent types of boats and boaters” to run­ning the canals.

Although the trust men­tioned a num­ber of pos­si­bil­i­ties – such as dif­fer­ent fees based on the type of boat, area of the wa­ter­ways sys­tem or moor­ing – it was stressed that th­ese would need to come from the boaters and their or­gan­i­sa­tions, not from CRT.

The first stage of the process is there­fore for In­volve, an in­de­pen­dent char­ity spe­cial­is­ing in pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion and ap­pointed by CRT, to con­tact rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a num­ber of na­tional boaters’ or­gan­i­sa­tions to ask them their views on how the con­sul­ta­tion should work and what it should cover.

Canal Boat got in touch with a num­ber of th­ese groups and asked for their thoughts on the sub­ject. As one might ex­pect, there were some widely dif­fer­ing view­points…

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Boat Own­ers, rep­re­sent­ing all boat own­ers, took the view that li­cens­ing should take ac­count of the width of boats as well as the length, but that at the same time it should be greatly sim­pli­fied – with per­haps six price bands rep­re­sent­ing three length ranges (rather than 18 now) and two widths, boats over 2.25m (ap­prox 7ft 4in) pay­ing 50 per­cent more.

NABO also pro­posed an op­tion on the li­cence ap­pli­ca­tion for a do­na­tion of per­haps £10 to £20 to a boaters’ wel­fare fund man­aged jointly by CRT and the Wa­ter­ways Chap­laincy to sup­port boaters in need. Other than that, the as­so­ci­a­tion largely favoured re­tain­ing the sta­tus quo: no dif­fer­en­tial charg­ing for boats with­out home moor­ings, or for boats in pop­u­lar ar­eas, and the re­ten­tion of the prompt pay­ment dis­count.

The In­land Wa­ter­ways As­so­ci­a­tion, on the other hand, did feel that boaters might be charged dif­fer­ently based on their moor­ing and cruis­ing, but came up with a novel means of do­ing this.

IWA sug­gested that the li­cence fee be in­creased to a level equal to adding on a typ­i­cal moor­ing charge – but that a dis­count should then ap­ply, bring­ing it back down to around the cur­rent fee, for all boats with home moor­ings or ‘gen­uinely con­tin­u­ously cruis­ing’. This might have the ef­fect of de­cou­pling the con­tin­u­ous cruis­ing guide­lines from the 1995 Bri­tish Wa­ter­ways Act (by us­ing them as a rea­son for a dis­count rather than a li­cens­ing re­quire­ment) – en­abling the re­quire­ments to be pro­gres­sively strength­ened.

IWA sug­gests ‘in­dica­tive’ fig­ures of 300 miles cruis­ing per year, 60 per quar­ter, and a min­i­mum range of 100 miles dur­ing the li­cence pe­riod – and that boats should not be re­garded as con­tin­u­ously cruis­ing if their size means they can­not achieve this. On the other hand, IWA would like to see in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions for af­ford­able new res­i­den­tial moor­ings for those who do not want to cruise but can­not find or af­ford a moor­ing.

In ad­di­tion, IWA pro­poses that the li­cences should be charged on the ba­sis of boat length mul­ti­plied by width (as they al­ready are on the Thames), that the trust should con­sider cheap first-year ‘starter’ li­cences for new boaters, and that li­cences should con­tinue to cover the en­tire con­nected sys­tem (other than ‘rivers only’ li­cences which should be lim­ited to craft re­stricted by their size).

Com­pared to those ma­jor pro­posed changes, the Na­tional Bargee Trav­ellers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, rep­re­sent­ing live­aboards with­out home moor­ings,

‘Turn­ing all of th­ese re­sponses, which dis­agree with each other on var­i­ous points, into some­thing more co­her­ent will be an in­ter­est­ing task’

chal­lenges CRT’s claims that the sys­tem needs chang­ing at all. “Over the eight years of NBTA’s ex­is­tence we have not re­ceived one sin­gle re­quest for ad­vice from boaters who find the li­cens­ing sys­tem ‘overly com­plex’, ‘un­fair’ or ‘out of date’.”

Fur­ther, the as­so­ci­a­tion dis­agrees that there have been no changes in 20 years, quot­ing eight con­sul­ta­tions dur­ing that time, sug­gests an “ul­te­rior mo­tive” for the re­view, be­lieves that the trust “has al­ready de­cided on the changes it will in­tro­duce and will go ahead with th­ese re­gard­less”, and that at­tempt­ing to ad­dress “per­ceived un­fair­ness” is a waste of re­sources which will “re­in­force prej­u­dice and di­vi­sion”.

NBTA op­poses any above-in­fla­tion rises and any dif­fer­en­tial or re­gional pric­ing, and main­tains that any pric­ing to dis­cour­age peo­ple from li­cens­ing boats with­out a home moor­ing would be “so­cial en­gi­neer­ing” and in breach of CRT’s char­i­ta­ble ob­jects which in­clude “the im­prove­ment of the con­di­tions of life in so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties”. Fi­nally, NBTA says the late pay­ment charge is “grossly dis­pro­por­tion­ate” to the cost of chas­ing late pay­ers.

The Res­i­den­tial Boat Own­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, rep­re­sent­ing all liveaboard boaters, would like to see far more done to cre­ate new res­i­den­tial moor­ings in the in­ter­est of “pro­tect­ing the very idea of liv­ing aboard”, but at the same time feels that boats with­out home moor­ings should be “fi­nan­cially in­cen­tivised” to keep bona fide nav­i­gat­ing. RBOA also sup­ports fees based on length times width; is against any pri­vate hir­ing of res­i­den­tial craft with what it sees as at­ten­dant li­cens­ing, in­sur­ance and main­te­nance is­sues; op­poses re­gional charges, and it sup­ports track­able ‘smart’ li­cence discs, not just to help CRT but pri­mar­ily for emer­gen­cies and stolen boats. Fi­nally, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Wa­ter­ways Cruis­ing

Clubs, rep­re­sent­ing more than 100 boat clubs across the net­work, sim­ply said that it was “pleased that CRT is en­cour­ag­ing the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the wider boat­ing com­mu­nity in its Li­cens­ing Con­sul­ta­tion”.

Turn­ing all of th­ese re­sponses, which dis­agree with each other on var­i­ous points, into some­thing more co­her­ent will be an in­ter­est­ing task. The next stage of the process, due to start in April, will see In­volve host­ing a num­ber of “in-depth work­shops” around the sys­tem with boaters who “re­flect the di­ver­sity in the boat­ing com­mu­nity”.

The plan is then that th­ese two stages will pro­duce a se­ries of op­tions, on which all boat own­ers will then be able to give their views in the third and fi­nal stage of the process. Fol­low­ing this con­sul­ta­tion, CRT could im­ple­ment the first changes dur­ing the an­nual li­cence fee re­vi­sion on 1 April 2018.

Should boats with­out home moor­ings (like those on the right) be charged more?

Both NABO and IWA sug­gest wide beam boats should cost more to li­cense

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