Last week there was a blog on Autumn Barlow’s site about the things British Waterways do around boat licensing. I live on a boat, and I’ve spent the last week wondering how much to say openly. So here goes… I do not like what I see when it comes to BW and their attitude to people who live on boats and I do not think they interpret the law fairly. I also believe that there is a conflict of interests issue here, and that people who benefit financially from a system should not be allowed to police said system as well.
My situation is this. I am paying for a permanent mooring for my boat because British Waterways have told me that I must do so to comply with the laws. I have always moved my boat in accordance with the law, but the rules are vague, and their interpretation is not the same as mine. However, if I used the mooring I’ve been obliged to pay for, I would be breaking the law.
Let me explain. There are no available moorings on this canal that have planning permission to be used residentially. All we have are leisure moorings where people can leave hobby boats when not in use. You can live on residential moorings, legally, all the time, you pay council tax and everything. But we don’t have any of those. So in essence I have been told that I am legally required to pay for something that I cannot use, and do not want.
The only way to go up against this, would be to refuse to take a permanent mooring and wait for British Waterways to take me to court, and then slog it out. Or in other words, my only other option is to gamble with my home, because if I lost, I would lose my home. As I have a child, there is no way I am going to risk his physical or emotional security, so I’m paying up.
I do wonder what’s going to happen when British Waterways becomes The Canal and River Trust. British Waterways has made people homeless in the past and, to my knowledge, has threatened a lot more people with homelessness, threatened to take boats out of the water, and encouraged people who live on boats to seek council housing instead. These are people who own their boats and who live far more independently than they would in a council house scenario, at a time when the system is over burdened anyway. Making that entirely crazy.
In these hard financial times, are people going to put their hands into their pockets to support a charity that spends time and money taking people to court, and making them homeless? To my mind, that is absolutely in conflict with the nature of charity. I’d bet I won’t be alone in thinking that.
With my Druid hat on, the whole scenario raises a lot of issues for me. The Canal and River Trust will be responsible for canals and rivers. That’s a great deal of our water supply and watery infrastructure. It’s a huge environmental consideration as well as covering a lot of heritage and history. For me, there’s a spiritual aspect to the rivers as well. These are things I want to see protected, and things I care about passionately. Personal issues aside, there’s a huge moral dilemma for me here. I want to support the environmental and heritage angle of the Canals and Rivers Trust. But at the same time, I also care about human rights issues. I’m conscious that by speaking up about the treatment of boaters, if I succeed in drawing attention, I will be undermining a charity that should be doing work I believe in. But I want to support a charity that spends money on restoration and conservation, not one that pays people to monitor the movement of boats, and spends money on harassing people, no matter what the legal justification is. To the best of my knowledge, the enforcement department at British Waterways is talking like it expects to be part of the charitable trust.
Laws should be fair and reasonable, complying with one should not push you into breaking another. No one should have to pay for something that they cannot use, that’s just nuts. The breaking of laws and the enforcement of laws is, in my opinion, the business of the police, and not the proper work of a charity. Those who benefit financially if allowed to interpret the laws unchecked, should never be given the power to police the system. There should be no victimless crimes, and how far a boat moves really makes no difference to anyone so long as it moves often and far enough not to violate planning laws. Under no circumstances should a charity be working to make a person homeless. The whole system needs cleaning up.