Canal & River Trust’s attempt to change the way boats are licensed is already provoking disputes between the charity and various boating groups.
There are those who want to see continuous cruisers pay a larger licence fee than marina-based boats and others who feel wide-beamed boats should pay double the fees of narrowboats.
Our survey results demonstrate – perhaps surprisingly - a fairly even split between those wanting licences based on length and those who would like to see the area of the boat as the basis for charges – with a small majority for an area based system – something that probably reflects the preponderance of narrowboats on the system.
The boaters who took part are split fairly evenly between those with a home mooring and those without – with a small proportion preferring not to say. It is noticeable that almost all those who favoured charging Ccers more either had a home mooring themselves or were shy about telling us.
If those who habitually attack liveaboard continuous cruisers want to use the consultation as a weapon to penalise such people – especially the hundreds who continuously cruise the canals of the capital – they may well find themselves in a minority when C&RT finally get around to consulting boaters directly.
It remains a mystery why has C&RT decided now is the time to open a can of worms over licences – even though it has decided to stand back from the consultation process by handing it over to a charity?
The Trust claims the current system is 'often cited by boat owners as being complex and out of date', something echoed by official pronouncements from the IWA but both fail to offer any evidence.
The consultation is being run by Involve, an independent charity specialising in public engagement.
According to C&RT: “It aims to ask boaters the fairest and simplest way to split the important financial contribution made by the different types of boats and boaters towards the upkeep of the waterways.”
Ian Rogers, customer service and operations director, admits: “It’s more important than ever that we plan to ensure the long-term sustainability of our waterways so that boaters can continue enjoying them both now and in the future.
“With income from licensing playing an important part in the charity’s finances it is essential that it is spread fairly across all types of boaters as well as other income sources like property, utilities and fundraising.”
If the transfer of Environment Agency (EA) waters to C&RT is to ever happen, that the charity will have to choose between the area of the boat in the water and the current simple system of measuring a boat's length as the EA uses both methods on different waterways. Our survey would seem to indicate there is no built-in boater feeling for either route.
The second stage, this April, will see the charity running the consultation for C&RT, Involve, host a series of 'in-depth workshops' with boaters across the country. C&RT says: “Participants will reflect the diversity in the boating community.”
That may well mean those being consulted will be chosen by C&RT or it's contractor and we have yet to talk to a boater who has been invited to have a say.
The final stage will be an opportunity for all boat owners to give their views on the options developed during the two previous stages.