Managing London’s Busy Waterways. AWCC support for CRT’s initiative to reduce overcrowding

The Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs (AWCC) is a body representing over ninety boat clubs based on the inland waterways of the United Kingdom with a total membership of seven thousand boaters.

The Association exists to secure the interests of its member clubs and their members in all matters relating to their enjoyment of the navigable waterways of the United Kingdom.

The Association seeks to make representation to all bodies exercising control and use of those inland waterways.

It has become apparent to AWCC that an excessive population of moored boats and general overcrowding in recent years has significantly reduced the attraction of visiting London’s Waterways. In December 2020 the Association conducted a nationwide survey of its boating members to gather their views on the subject. The survey resulted in a unanimous return against cruising in the Capital or visiting the area by boat due to overcrowding. There were no positive returns on the subject. Most survey returns suggested that boats without a home mooring are the main cause of overcrowding.

The Canal and River Trust (CRT) launched a strategy in June 2018 aimed at managing boating activity in London. The Trust has been steadily improving the services, facilities and welfare considerations for London’s boaters during the intervening two years. In October 2020 the Trust began a consultation “Managing London’s busy Waterways” to evaluate improvements to date and form a future plan for London’s waterways. This action is welcomed and supported by AWCC.

Prior to 1995, a boat used on British Waterways (BW) canals and rivers was required to have home mooring, a place where that boat could be safely and lawfully kept. It was recognised that another class of licence was needed for those boaters who, largely by retirement or sabbatical, wished to cruise the waterways without a permanent home mooring. The Continuous Cruiser (CC) status was created to provide this facility. This proved very successful and attracted a small but enthusiastic group of boaters who added, and continue to add, much to the waterway scene.

The nature of continuous cruising was not closely defined in the 1995 Waterways Act, a situation perpetuated by the Transfer of Functions Order when responsibility for BW canals and river navigations was transferred to CRT in 2012. This lack of clarity allows a boater to effectively shuffle back and forth over a relatively short length of waterway rather than embarking on a genuine, continuous journey.

In recent years, and probably fueled by a lack of affordable housing, the CC status has been employed by a group who wish to remain in one area for their own convenience. This behavior results in unacceptable overcrowding and congestion in London, other conurbations and certain transport hubs, often making it difficult for visiting boaters to moor as they enjoy the waterways. Many ordinary boaters feel this is an inappropriate use of the CC status, and an evasion of the costs they have to pay to lawfully moor their boats at a single location. Much of the charm for which waterways were renowned has been lost for both users of towpaths and visiting boaters by continuous rows of boats often moored several deep. There is also widespread concern about damage to water quality along with noise and air pollution by large concentrations of moored boats.

AWCC appreciates the difficulty in providing additional mooring sites and waterside services, and recognises the resource that CRT is dedicating to the task. CRT is not a housing organisation but has been forced into accommodating large, residential boating communities comprised mainly of boats holding Continuous Cruising status.

AWCC is of the view that CRT cannot, with all best intentions, provide a realistic number of new sites to accommodate the boats currently based in London that habitually use towpath and visitor mooring sites. AWCC considers that this places an unfair financial and resource burden on CRT. AWCC further considers that the situation will only be resolved by the combined approach of all bodies responsible for planning, development, housing and welfare. Appropriate areas of water should be considered for off-line, residential mooring at affordable rates. A recently completed marina in Northampton is an example of a successful partnership between a Local Authority, Development Corporation and Navigation Authority that delivered high quality, residential moorings at reasonable cost. A blueprint for other areas perhaps?

AWCC considers it essential that the current situation on London’s waterways is resolved as soon as possible and the resident boat population reduced to an acceptable level. The Association defines acceptable in this context as a situation where all boaters have a fair share of waterspace and bear a similar financial burden. AWCC is keen to work with CRT towards a situation that encourages members of the Association, along with the wider boating community, to visit the Capital’s waterways.

There is no doubt that genuine continuous cruisers are a welcome addition to the waterways and have support from the wider boating community. AWCC fully supports those boaters who wish to genuinely travel the waterways without the use of a home mooring.

The Association intends to make representation to the following bodies:

1) The Mayor of London.
Overall responsibility for civil planning and development in London, including waterways, housing and amenities.

2) London Boroughs that host canals and rivers managed by the Canal and River Trust.
Responsibility for local government planning and development including waterways and surrounding environments.

3) The All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group – Chairman: Michael Fabricant MP.
Independent government panel whose responsibilities include scrutiny of inland navigations.

4) The Waterways Minister - Rebecca Pow MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), responsible for all aspects of water resources including activities of the Environmental Agency.

5) Lord German.
A life peer and long standing supporter of inland waterways. Vice Chairman of the APWG who has visited Saint Pancras Cruising Club out of interest and an opportunity to experience boating in the capital.