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the current system has been largely unchanged in over 20 years and “often cited by boat owners as being complex and out of date”, the review aims to “ask boaters the fairest and simplest way to split the important financial contribution made by the different types of boats and boaters”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