Freedom News

Boaters take license fee protest to CRT head office

On Saturday November 25th, boaters from around the country protested outside Canal & River Trust’s (CRT) central Birmingham office to stand against the Trust’s plan to increase licence fees above inflation and introduce differential pricing based on mooring status on the country’s inland waterways. Over one hundred boaters marched on CRT’s offices against the licence fee surcharge. There was also a contingent of boats with banners.

Pamela Smith, Chair of the NBTA, said:

“CRT’s latest attack on the travelling boater community is discriminatory, unpopular, financially illiterate and quite possibly unlawful – none of which comes as a surprise given the Trust’s increasingly chaotic mismanagement and desperate attempts to distract from it in any way they can. This time, however, they’ve only strengthened the resolve of many in the boater community – both with and without home moorings – to resist their attempts to eradicate our whole way of life and demand one licence for all.

Hundreds have actively joined the resistance campaign so far, and anger with the Trust is at a fever pitch. The NBTA is helping to channel this energy and to ensure that – just like every other time CRT or British Waterways before them have tried to get rid of our community – we stand united, strong and victorious in our opposition.”

Boaters and their supporters met at midday at City Centre Gardens. They marched to CRT boss Richard Parry’s offices (B16 0AA) to defend their way of life, voice their concerns about the Trust’s continued attacks on the liveaboard boating community and call for the continuation of one fair and equal licence for all.

CRT has been putting up boat licence fees over the last two years. On September 19th, 2023, they announced plans to increase licences above inflation over the next five years and introduce a ‘surcharge’ for boats without a home mooring from April 1st, 2024. They would also be extending the existing surcharge for widebeam boats. NBTA believes this differential pricing based on mooring status is part of a thinly veiled attempt to divide boaters and price itinerant boaters off the water.

Licences went up 8% in 2022 and 9% in 2023, and CRT’s plan is now to raise the fees another 14% in 2024 – a staggering increase of one third (34% compounded increase) in just three years, with further increases planned. Dividing boaters into multiple sub-groups and setting the community against each other on who should subsidise the other doesn’t raise finance.

12% of CRT income is raised in licence fees, and 2.4% from boaters without home moorings. Funding raised by these measures is inconsequential to the Trust’s bottom line. It could be life-changing for a largely marginal community of travelling boaters, some of whom are driven into hardship and poverty or priced off the waterways they call home.

CRT claims that this differential licence proposal is the ‘fairest’ way to reduce their current financial problems and maintain the crumbling waterways infrastructure. But those financial problems and the precarious nature of the waterways are due to their mismanagement. Whether it’s spending money on vanity projects such as a new logo or paying subcontractors hundreds of thousands of pounds to enforce their ill-conceived mooring schemes, CRT’s finances are in tatters because of their own negligence. CRT has had enough time and knowledge to prepare for its financial situation.

NBTA calls CRT to accept the results of their own ‘consultation’ survey earlier in 2023. 80% of those who completed the survey were boaters with home moorings, yet 60% of all respondents chose options that did NOT include charging boats without home moorings. Most licence holders disagree with the policy being introduced by CRT despite the biased and misleading manner in which most questions were phrased.

Aside from being discriminatory, impractical and unpopular, these licence fee increases are also unlawful. Section 17(3)(c)(ii) of the British Waterways Act of 1995 enshrines in law “the right of all licence holders to use and live on a boat without a home mooring”. The licence comes first, not the circumstances in which you use it.

CRT also makes unsubstantiated claims about the impact of liveaboard boaters’ way of life. Claims regarding itinerant boaters enjoying “greater utility in the use of the network” and “greater impact on ageing infrastructure” are not backed up by any evidence and do not reflect real experiences of the waterways – demonstrating further CRT’s disconnect from the realities of the public infrastructure that they are responsible for.

Finance should be fairly generated within the remit of a charitable trust like CRT. NBTA believes the proposed surcharge and rationale are insincere political manoeuvres designed to segregate and marginalise travelling boaters, with no serious concern for canal management finances.

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