Residents of waterside homes at a Cambridgeshire marina, many of them pensioners, are
determined to fight demands that they pay an unlawful £430 annual river tax imposed by the Environment Agency or face heavy fines and a criminal record.
The caravan/lodge homes are on permanently fixed floating pontoons and connected to main services. They cannot be fitted with engines and with no means of propulsion are incapable of navigation on the waterways like a boat.
By law, a registration fee is due on all vessels using the river to help pay the costs of the locks and weirs essential to navigation and services provided to boaters. The marina home owners use none of these river facilities and pay local Council Tax.
In a victory for common-sense, a Crown Court Judge over-ruled local Magistrates and quashed the convictions of two residents. He found that the homes were not vessels and not subject to registration fees, and refused the Environment Agency leave to appeal.
Despite the ruling, officials from the Environment Agency, an unelected quango not directly accountable to the public, have now instructed Queen’s Counsel to appeal directly to the Administrative Court. The action comes at enormous cost to the public purse and is a waste of precious navigation funds which should be going only towards maintaining the navigable river.
It is clearly an unequal and unfair ‘David v Goliath’ battle, with the home owners who have
already dug deep into their pockets to fight the EA, now having to find thousands of pounds in additional legal fees. If they lose, they will have to pay the Environment Agency’s legal costs which could amount to £30,000. The peace of their idyllic riverside retirement has been shattered by fears of criminal prosecution and what can only be seen as theft of their limited retirement funds.
But the local marina residents are determined to fight on against the EA’s demands, which
amount to a tax without the sanction of Parliament. They are represented by an active
Community Association which is now looking to the public for further donations to fight the
injustice all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
They are not alone in fighting the Environment Agency’s arrogance in demanding taxes which have not been approved by Parliament. In a case with many similarities in South Oxfordshire on the River Thames, residents of boats permanently moored in private off-river marinas are being targeted to pay for facilities they never use. Twenty-four Thames marina berth-holders who refused to be brow-beaten are now to stand trial at Reading in November for failing to meet the Environment Agency’s unlawful demands.
The Environment Agency’s six-year battle to re-classify the private adjacent waters as part of the main river was rejected as unlawful by the Secretary of State in 2010. River taxes, or registration fees are only due on boats moored on or navigating the river. Despite the
government ruling, last year the Agency arrogantly recommenced threats of prosecution and many berth-holders fearful of the intense bullying just paid up.
The majority of the berth-holders have worked all their lives, contributing fully to society and are just looking forward to a peaceful retirement by the river. Like the Cambridgeshire
residents, they must find money to pay legal fees to defend themselves in court while the EA can just commit unlimited public funds. Without equal professional legal representation there is a real danger that justice will not prevail.
If you believe, as we all do, that we cannot allow any unelected quango to make up the law as it goes along and impose taxes without the express sanction of Parliament, then please support us in our fight.
In the 1628 Petition of Right , Parliament addressed King Charles I in the following terms “….[Y]our subjects have inherited this freedom, that they should not be compelled to contribute to any tax, tillage, aid, or any other like charge not set by common consent, in Parliament”. Despite this, Charles attempted to levy an obsolete charge, Ship Money, against an Oxfordshire gentleman, John Hampden. In the days before judicial independence from the executive was secured, five out of twelve judges were prepared to say the levy was unlawful. Five years later, his subjects made war against him. Five hundred years later, along comes the Environment Agency!
Please donate whatever you can and contact email@example.com , Secretary of the Hartford Marina Community Association, for further information.
Thank you for your support in making the Environment Agency cease their unjust and unlawful endeavours.