Response from Friends of Regent's Canal
I am writing on behalf of the Friends of Regent's Canal, an umbrella group that embraces a diverse range of canal users and supporters. My comments are based on feedback I have received and observations I have made over the past three years; and I am reasonably confident that my comments reflect the views of the majority of our attendees and contributors.
My comments focus on supply and demand of moorings rather than pollution. This is partly because I think the latter is a consequence of the former and partly because the former is easier to measure.
DEMAND FOR MOORINGS
I can think of six categories of boaters that need moorings in London
1. Boaters with residential (fixed) moorings
2. Continuous cruisers, moving from one stretch of the towpath to another
3. Visitors to London (including holidaymakers on hire boats, leisure boaters from outside London or London-based leisure boaters on short trips away from their base)
4. Trading boaters (e.g. sandwich barges, bookshops, clothing shops, passenger boats)
5. Community groups (e.g. Tarporley, ACCT, borough-based boat clubs)
6. Commercial freight boats, pausing on their journeys.
The demand has increased significantly in the past ten years. Between 2002 and 2012 there was a 34 percent increase in the number of licences issued annually. This is a nationwide figure and it does not represent the changes in London. However, there appears to have been a net migration into London, as people turn to boats rather than bricks and mortar or as boater dwellers move towards London to find employment. So it is quite likely that the demand in London has increased by over 50 percent in the past ten years.
RECOMMENDATION : we should find some aerial photographs of London, taken in the past twenty years, and then we should count up the number of moving and static boats in each borough. (The analysis could be carried out by volunteers, but an appropriate authority would need to source the photographs).
We need to understand what has fuelled the ever growing demand for mooring space. Is it due to an increased popularity in boating for education or leisure? Or a revival of water-borne freight? Or due to large numbers of people choosing to live on the water?
Who is advising newcomers to live on water rather than land? And what advice are they giving? Is it true that a housing minister recently suggested that living on the water could help to resolve the housing shortage? If so, then have his researchers assessed the spatial sustainability of this idea? (In housing terms, boats are effectively bungalows on water, with very limited room for growth in supply).
Are newcomers experimenting with any winter experiences before committing to buying a boat as a home? Are people choosing to live on the water because they have a passionate interest in boating or because they see it as a convenient or low cost option?
RECOMMENDATION : we should itemise all suggested reasons for the increase in "liveaboards" in London and review the education and induction that they are offered when taking responsibility for boat ownership.
SUPPLY OF MOORING
I have never seen a map of London that shows the zones where mooring is permitted or practical, and whether the land is public or private. I would like somebody to produce and publish a map and then boating groups can comment on the suitability of each zone. There are around 100 miles of navigable waterway in London, so there must be an absolute maximum of 200 miles of mooring space if both sides of the water are considered. My definition of practicality is a space with mooring rings or a grass verge on the towpath. Once such a map has been produced, I would like to know what factors determine the relative popularity of the public mooring spaces. This might include proximity to schools or doctor surgeries, proximity to tube stations, fear of crime, availability of water supplies and pump-out facilities.
Stretches like Regent's Park do not allow mooring, and reasons for this must be explained. There might be good reasons for mooring restrictions (e.g. preservation of open space, narrowness of the navigable channel, obstruction of wharves and boatyards) but there might also be dubious reasons (e.g. social cleansing on the water to raise property prices of new developments).
Experienced boaters will be able to advise about spaces that are no longer accessible or affordable. For example, at Limehouse Basin it has been reported that there is now always a charge for the visitor moorings, which means that visitors are treated like overstayers on their day of arrival.
The procedures for allocating residential moorings need to be investigated. In a fairer world there would be a waiting list, but I have heard that moorings are sold/rented by auction, which means that a long-standing licence holder who lives and works on the water could be gazumped by a multi-millionaire with no plans to make regular use of the waterways.
Visitor moorings are designed to be special places where visiting boats can spend a few hours or days in a welcoming environment before continuing their journey. They should be particularly suitable for families or groups on an inland waterway holiday. However, visitors often complain that there are never enough spaces at these moorings. In my view, this is not a constraint due to excessive volumes of visitors; instead, it is due to visitor moorings being used by boaters who do not leave London or who overstay at these moorings.The root cause of the problem is that the mooring rules are ambiguous or unenforceable. For example, at the Noel Road moorings a restriction of 7 days per calendar year would enable around 400 different boats per year to use these moorings; but the rules are not always interpreted in this way and many potential visitors to Islington are denied the experience.
RECOMMENDATION : The Canal and River Trust should tighten up the rules at Visitor Moorings even if this requires a relaxation of the rules elsewhere along the towpath.
RECOMMENDATION : The Canal and River Trust should publish the data they collect regarding daily sightings of boats. If there are Data Protection restrictions, then boat identifiers (e.g. licence numbers) should be encrypted and a delay of about a month could be tolerated prior to publication.
Opinions are often divided over the level and nature of pollution caused by boats. Some people have reported that they enjoy the smell of wood smoke while others find it unpleasant and dangerous. There are many variables, and people's perception can depend on the state of their lungs or the type of wood that is being burned during their visit. There is clearly a need to educate people and to find ways of dispersing, reducing or eradicating the impact. For example, it has been reported that smoke lingers in the Noel Road cutting, but it gets blown away in other parts of the waterway. It might be prudent to customise the mooring or energy rules and guidelines according to location.
RECOMMENDATION : All parties need to be advised about health risks and best practices regarding solid fuel.
I trust that the above information is helpful. It is not exhaustive, but it is intended to provide sufficient comments and questions to move this process forward. I will be happy to elaborate on all my comments and to add further ones after I have seen other contributions.
Chair, Friends of Regent's Canal.
7th June 2013