From the Tiller

by Alan Wildman

As has been said many times before, you can’t please all the people all the time. In response to my “From the Tiller” musings in the January/February edition of Soundings, wherein I made comment on the benefits to the waterways of long term residential boaters, with or without home moorings, and the deep commitment we make as residentials to this way of life, I received both positive and negative comments. On the one hand, it was thought I had put our case pretty well; on the other, I received an Email from an ex-RBOA member suggesting my comments were irritating. Whatever your views of what is said in Soundings, good or bad, why not drop us a line or two making those views known.

CRT has recently announced increases in licence fees and CRT operated permanent moorings charges, effective from 1st April, 2017.

Myself and the rest of the RBOA Officers, Committee and Area Reps only ever aim to do our very best for residential boating and boaters. That’s far from easy because there are usually a number of different aspects to issues that we have to deal with. For instance, personally, my hackles are usually raised when I hear of increased charges being levied on boaters. That said, whilst we must always be prepared to resist profiteering, we must also accept that moorings providers will only continue to operate existing moorings and/or look favourably upon creating new moorings if it is economical to do so – supply and demand market forces have to apply. Similarly, Navigation Authorities are often driven by legislation stipulating that they must obtain best price for services they provide and generate adequate return on capital tied up in the waterways and infrastructures for which they are responsible. So the next time we encounter an increase in charges, if your immediate reaction is like my own, perhaps we are better advised to take a step back and ask “Is this fair and reasonable?” before we are tempted to challenge them. As much as we may not like it, such increases really are a regrettable but unavoidable fact of life if we wish our waterways to remain usable, and adequate moorings to be made available to us. And, of course, if these increased costs become unbearable for those on low incomes, the housing benefit scheme should be available to assist. RBOA can readily secure advice for members to whom that might apply.

CRT is now starting its “open to all” consultation on boat licensing, not just pricing but all aspects of its licencing policies and processes. The first stage is to ask the major user organisations what our views are; the next stage will be to invite all users to respond. As ever in these important issues, there are potentially winners and losers. Some will possibly be asked
to pay more, some not. Overall though, CRT has implied that it will seek to make the overall outcome cost-neutral. That is, CRT is saying this is not to be seen as an income raising exercise; it is to find a way to create a simpler, fairer licensing system than the one that presently exists. CRT has also declared that there are no pre-conceived notions as to what might be the result at the end of the day. The Officers and Committee of the Residential Boat Owners’ Association will do our utmost to achieve the best possible result for residential boaters, whether static or continuously navigating. Amongst many others, there are two aspects we must keep very much in the forefront of our thinking though – the increasingly negative attitudes of some boaters towards craft without home moorings, particularly those that don’t appear to travel very far; and the ability to merge CRT and EA licence/registration charges into a unified licensing regime if or when EA navigations are eventually brought under CRT control.

RBOA has already declared its stance firmly against the private renting out of craft for residential use, a potentially dangerous and morally questionable practice when aimed at uninformed and possibly already disadvantaged individuals. The consultation is potentially our opportunity to re-iterate that view.

CRT has announced that Mike Grimes, Head of Boating, is shortly to leave the Trust so that he may explore other career options. During his term at CRT, Mike has provided RBOA with a listening ear and was proving to be an individual we were happy to work with. I, for one, am sorry to see Mike leave and wish him every success for whatever his future direction might be.

Edgbaston Tunnel has a towpath running through it which is becoming increasingly busy with cyclists and pedestrian traffic. So busy is it now, there are genuine concerns that there might be accidents waiting to happen. CRT is considering widening the towpath at the expense of narrowing the canal. From a boater’s perspective, and in principle, this is worrying, not
because of any anti-cyclist opinions, but because it could create real problems for deep drafted boats if they were to have to wait to traverse the tunnel due to insufficient width of water for meeting oncoming craft. The canal either side of the tunnel does not lend itself well to holding a long, deep boat floating free whilst waiting for tunnel access, particularly when there is a bit of a blow on. Besides this, the needs of safe navigation should always be paramount in such  matters. Cyclists can always be advised to dismount and walk with their bikes until it is safe to mount up again.

Another seemingly strange idea is the proposed “floating park” at the end of Paddington Basin. Although the particular water space there has not recently seen free access to boaters, it could probably have easily been made so for moorings and winding. Disappointingly, we are not aware of any wide spread boater consultation on this. A worrying release was published by Environment Agency (EA) recently. It has stated that, in light of the many funding cuts imposed by DEFRA over past years, it could find itself unable to fund all repairs to its waterways and, in consequence, may have to consider closing some navigations to boating. The General Secretary of the National Inland Navigation Forum, of which RBOA is a member, will write to Richard Parry at CRT to ask what knowledge CRT has of the situation, considering the extensive investigatory work that has already occurred between CRT and EA.

On a happier note, the Crick Boat Show is fast approaching – Bank Holiday Weekend, 27th May to 29th May. RBOA will be there with a bigger, better stand than ever before and Beryl is scheduled to give a talk on residential boating, each day in the seminar marquee. If you can make it, it would be good to see you at Crick – an opportunity to come and tell us what you
want from RBOA as we continue to move forward.

As ever, my sincere and very best wishes go out to every one of you.

The RBOA Newsletter, Soundings, is sent free to members six times a year.
It is also available to non-members for £2 (+ £1.20 P&P).