A multi-agency working group on “residential houseboats” was set up by the DEFRA Inland Waterways Policy Land Use section in December 2017, “tasked to look at the issue of illegally [sic] moored houseboats”. The group appears to have been set up in response to lobbying by residents in wealthy waterside areas such as the Esher and Walton constituency of Dominic Raab MP.
Information obtained about this working group reveals a bias and prejudice against boat dwellers; for example a reference to “appropriate solutions” is truly sinister. It appears that interest groups opposed to boat dwellers have a disproportionate influence within DEFRA and that Bargee Travellers are likely to be the target of measures to drive us off the waterways. Please write to your MP to request a meeting to discuss your concerns about this development (see below for details) and ask your family and friends to write to their MPs as well. Here is a sample letter to download, although it is better to use your own words.
The meeting was attended by the Local Government Association; Port of London Authority; Association of Inland Navigation Authorities; Canal & River Trust; London Councils; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority. No itinerant boat dwellers or their representatives were invited.
Following Freedom of Information requests by boaters, DEFRA has refused to release the group’s terms of reference and the agenda, background briefing paper and minutes of the initial meeting on 4th December 2017. DEFRA justified its refusal to release these documents, citing Section 35(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act and stating that “information in relation to this meeting is subject to ongoing consideration and we consider that disclosure at this point in time could prejudice any policy development and implementation. Preservation of a safe space free from external interference and distraction where internal discussions can freely take place is paramount to achieving a balanced and objective view of the issues”. This suggests that even more draconian restrictions on boat dwellers are being discussed in addition to the unlawful enforcement practices that already exist.
The Waterways Minister Dr Therese Coffey claimed in a letter to Marcus Jones MP on 19th July 2018 that “user groups will be invited to attend any future meetings. There is every intention to ensure that the views of those who represent boat dwellers will be taken into account” but eleven months on, there is no sign of this happening.
The NBTA is pursuing this matter through its contacts in Parliament and is considering how to fight any further restrictions. Please go to see your MP – personal contact is far more effective than a letter – and ask him or her to intervene to halt any plans for changes in the law that would further restrict itinerant boat dwellers’ rights to live in their homes without a permanent mooring. Here is a sample letter to request a meeting with your MP.
If you don’t have a permanent address, your MP is the MP for where you are now; use a nearby postcode such as a boatyard, Post Office or pub and say you live on a boat with no fixed address. You don’t have to be registered to vote to contact an MP. To find your MP, see http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/ or http://www.writetothem.com/
Boaters found out about the working group from a letter dated 18th April 2018 from Therese Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment. The letter stated:
“Thank you for your letter of 29th March on behalf of your constituent [name redacted] about congestion on the River Lea. The responsibility for individual waterways sits with the respective navigation authority. I am aware, however, that the rise in the number of houseboats is an issue for all navigation authorities as more people choose to make houseboats along our waterways their homes.
My officials have pulled together a group comprising of representatives from a number of interested organisations, including local government, the Environment Agency and a number of navigation authorities which includes Canal & River Trust. The group’s remit is to serve as a platform for discussions to take place on a number of issues around moored houseboats. Although these discussions are at an early stage, I can reassure your constituent that there is a clear wish amongst the members of the group to find appropriate solutions that balance the needs of waterways users against those who choose to live on our inland waterways.”
The language used by the Minister implies that boat dwellers are not “waterways users” in DEFRA’s opinion. The NBTA maintains that there is plenty of room for everyone on our waterways, whether or not they live aboard. The activities of the DEFRA group are likely to violate the rights of boat dwellers to respect for their homes under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. According to the British Institute of Human Rights, although there is no human right to provision of a home, once a person has a home they are entitled to respect for it and respect for their private lives in the enjoyment of it. In some cases the State is obliged to address issues that prevent the citizen from enjoying their home.
The measures alluded to in the letter are also likely to conflict with the duty in Section 124 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 for local authorities to assess and meet the needs of boat dwellers “residing in or resorting to their district”.
Here is the information that DEFRA did release about the working group:
Response to request by DEFRA (2018/12182) FOI 12182 Response
Letter from Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to Dominic Raab MP 171809 letter to Dominic Raab Redacted
Letter from DEFRA inviting organisations to the initial meeting (Annexe A) FOI2018 12182 Annex A Redacted
Here is the letter from Therese Coffey MP 2018-04-18_Letter_Therese_Coffey
Here is the letter from Ms Coffey to Marcus Jones MP 2018-07-19_Letter_Therese_Coffey_Marcus_Jones
Some of the Freedom of Information requests are online. See