NBTA report back: CRT Annual Public Meeting 2016
Six members of the NBTA attended the 2016 CRT Annual Public Meeting in Birmingham on 22nd September. The meeting, including lunch, started at 10.30 and was scheduled to end at 1.00. However, formal questions and discussion were cut short by Chair of Trustees Allan Leighton at about 12.10.
CRT presented its Annual Report and Accounts including statistics about enforcement against boaters without a home mooring. There was also a detailed presentation about waterway “asset management” ie preventative maintenance. CRT’s presentation focused on its aims of delivering inclusion, community benefits, positive social impacts and enriching lives; ensuring CRT was loved and supported by more people; and changing the neglect that many communities feel by enabling people to de-stress and feel calmer.
The NBTA pointed out that these aspirations were being undermined by the statistics about enforcement in which almost 25% of the itinerant liveaboard community were under threat of losing their homes or had been forced off CRT waterways, and that CRT’s current unlawful enforcement policy is increasing their stress, damaging their lives and increasing their social exclusion. CRT responded by saying that the enforcement team was being re-branded to “help” boaters comply with the terms of their licence; the NBTA pointed out that CRT may call this “helping” but our members experience it as bullying.
Another NBTA member asked why CRT refers to boats without a home mooring as continuous cruisers when the British Waterways Act 1995 makes no reference to “cruising”, and “continuously” refers to the time permitted in any one place. CRT stated that it would be happy to consider using different terminology. The questioner then pointed out CRT’s apparent confusion regarding the differences of meaning between “continuous” and “throughout [the period that the consent is valid]” and stated that this had led to CRT misinterpreting the law.
CRT Council member Stella Ridgway, who is a liveaboard without a home mooring and a member of the NABO Council, pointed out that visitors to the canals come to see boats and the footfall increases when boats are present, yet liveaboard boaters feel disenfranchised by CRT. She asked how many new boaters without home moorings who moved onto boats in the past 18 months had their licences restricted to 6 months after their first year on the waterways. CRT did not have any figures to respond to this in detail.
There was another question about how CRT could get more young people aged 18 to 25 into boating; CRT replied by stating its promotion of cheaper forms of boating such as canoeing and paddle boarding.
There were some one-to-one conversations between NBTA members and CRT after the formal meeting. One member spoke with Richard Parry about the effect on boater families with children at school of the current enforcement policy, and Richard Parry later agreed to further discussion with her about this issue in a meeting and to discuss her proposal to assist CRT in implementing the changes needed by boater families.
Another member spoke with Allan Leighton about CRT’s confusion regarding the differences of meaning between “continuous” and “throughout”; Mr Leighton accepted the suggestion that clarification of the confusion could enable CRT to come up with a solution to the conflict over how far boaters have to travel.
One NBTA member asked Richard Parry afterwards if CRT would freeze their definition on “bona fide navigation” as we have seen the goalposts moved three times in three years,
pointing out that people had made massive capital investments in their boats and that we need to plan ahead to make sure we stay the right side of the “rules”. He refused to be drawn on the subject and offered no empathy.
A conversation between the NBTA and CRT’s Director of Customer Service and Operations Ian Rogers revealed something quite astonishing. The NBTA member stated that CRT was actively discouraging younger boaters because these are almost all liveaboards without home moorings, as living on a boat is the only way most younger people can afford to go boating, and yet CRT’s enforcement policy threatens them with homelessness and has already driven many off the waterways. How to get people aged 18-25 involved in boating had been one of the questions asked in the public discussion.
In the course of this conversation Mr Rogers said “we don’t have to take people to court to obtain a Section 8, but we do”. This shows a staggering ignorance of the law – or perhaps a deliberate disregard for it in an attempt to present CRT’s evictions of boaters in a better light. CRT and BW have accepted for many years that Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as confirmed by case law such as Kay and Others v The United Kingdom , mean that CRT is obliged to go to court before implementing a Section 8 notice against a boat dweller. This is because the Convention and case law confirm that everyone has the right to have the proportionality of depriving them of their home assessed by a court and the right to defend themselves. This is not optional. Only a Section 8 against a non-liveaboard can be implemented without going to court.
Indeed one of the undertakings made by Waterways Minister Richard Benyon MP in the debate on the transfer of BW to CRT on 26th June 2012 was that:
“the CRT will not exercise its powers to remove a vessel that is thought to be someone’s home without first taking the matter to the county court and obtaining a declaration from the court that the removal is lawful”.
The statistics presented by CRT regarding enforcement against boaters without home moorings over the past year are as follows:
900 restricted licences were issued
60% of those on restricted licences obtained a further licence at the end of the restricted period (this was not broken down into 6 and 12 month licences)
6% are subject to further enforcement
90 boats have been seized
700 short term [sic] Equality Act adjustments were made35% of those on restricted licences either took a home mooring or left CRT waterways
Other statistics showed that occupancy of CRT’s own long-term moorings had risen from 90% to 95% (hardly surprising when boaters are being pressurised to take moorings by the threat of losing their homes).