One of the things my Druidry drives me to do is challenge injustice when I encounter it. There’s not a vast amount I can do on this issue apart from speaking out, but, if you are not impressed by what I share below, then please reblog, or tweet the link or otherwise help to put the word out. I believe that governments should be bound by the rule of law, and should not be able to go beyond the laws that govern us all to serve their own ends.
We’re back to the outrageous behaviour of British Waterways again. Much of the content in today’s blog has been taken from other sources and is online other places. Thanks to a Freedom of Information request, we now know that BW’s internal Licensing and Enforcement management reports between June 2011 and March 2012 show that BW has set a target for “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period to be within enforcement process. The policy of taking enforcement action against “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period” is at odds with the evidence given to the House of Commons Select Committee on the British Waterways Bill 1993-94.
The only time frames and distance requirements in the guidelines are as follows: You must move every 14 days unless you have a very good reason not to (like a broken leg, or a broken gear box). You should not return to the same spot in under a month unless you have changed direction – eg reached the end of a canal. Over the term of your licence, you have to move more than ten miles. The license lasts a year, but I’ve seen for myself that BW is harassing boaters about their movement over the winter months, not with regard to the 14 day requirement, but with regard to not having moved 30km in something a lot shorter than the period of their license.
Furthermore, the policy of taking enforcement action against “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period” has remained secret. It was not disclosed to the User Groups who met with British Waterways Legal Director Nigel Johnson and other officers including the Head of Enforcement Denise Yelland, the author of the Licensing and Enforcement management reports, on 23 June 2011 to discuss the revision of the Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers. The policy and the secrecy with which it is being pursued appears to reveal British Waterways’ objective of removing itinerant boat dwellers from its waterways.
Let’s pause and repeat that. A government body, soon to be a charity, looks like it has a policy to remove poor people from the canals. Since when was it the business of a charity to ‘cleanse’ a space of poor people who live there so that the rich folk have more room in which to play with their toys? There is every reason to think that British Waterways prefers not to mention it’s creative interpretation of the law to boaters, so as to hold a threat over the heads of itinerant boat dwellers with the intention of pressurising them to move off the waterways altogether, rather than giving them information that would enable them to know how to avoid enforcement action. My own experience is certainly consistent with this. Emails saying things like ‘I wish to comply, please tell me what to do’ were not even answered. Also, I have emails in which BW staff have told me that any person with a conneciton to an area – work, family, school doctors, that means the need to be in viable striking distance of somewhere, cannot be continuous cruisers. This isn’t in the guidlelines either, and would rule out pretty much everyone but the indepenedantly wealthy.
My source says… “In addition, British Waterways reported in its Boating Projects report for May 2011 that it has plans to introduce “longer term towpath [mooring] permits” in certain areas such as the Kennet and Avon canal which boaters without a home mooring must pay for to “allow” them to travel in a way that the rules already entitle them to do. To introduce such permits would be unlawful, but to introduce them without informing boaters of the policy of taking enforcement action against “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period” amounts to extortion in addition.” Which is interesting because such towpath moorings already exist on the Sharpness to Gloucester canal, I have no idea what the legal basis for them is. Morally I find them suspect because we are told that the point of a permanent mooring is to provide a safe place, off the towpath for your boat when not in use. Mooring permenantly on the towpath is magically safe if you pay to do it.
You can download all the Licensing and Enforcement reports and Boating Projects reports that were provided in response to this FOI here:
The Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committees that drafted the 1995 British Waterways Act are available for the public to read and copy in the Parliamentary Archives, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can email email@example.com and tell them what the likelihood is of you giving money to a charity that acts in this way. Feel free to write to your MP as well if you are in the UK. This is not just about the abuse of boater’s most fundamental human rights, it is about the principle that government bodies should not be able to act in this way. They should have to uphold the law. They should not be extorting money from people or using threats, they should not be causing homelessness. What would happen if other departments took the same attitude? If we let them get away with this unchecked, what comes next? Culling protected species for the benefit of rich people who like to shoot pheasants? Oh, they’re talking about doing that already…