On Thursday 1 September 2011 I wrote the following letter to Justin Tomlinson, who is the MP of Swindon North, and as such the MP of the address where I get my post delivered to and the DVLA have my car listed as being owned at.

Dear Justin Tomlinson,

I am writing to you to express my concern that the transfer of British Waterways to charity status will remove the minimal protection that boat dwellers currently have for their homes, this protection currently derives from British Waterways status as a public body, namely the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

I have previously written to you to consider the Public Bodies Bill asking for the British Waterways amendment (99A) to be withdrawn from the Bill because the transfer to charity status is likely to result in boat dwellers being made homeless by the New Waterways Charity. The group said that the transfer should not be made until the introduction of specific statutory protection for boat dwellers from harassment and unlawful eviction, applicable to those both with and without permanent moorings, equal to that enjoyed by the tenants of houses.

Boating organisations such as the Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA), and Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA) have long maintained that boat dwellers are the only household group whose homes are not recognised in law. In 2006 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister held a consultation on the introduction of security of tenure for moorings but despite lobbying by the RBOA and NABO, the Government decided not to go ahead with this.

In order to protect boat dwellers from homelessness, I would ask that you consider the addressing the following recommendations to the Public Bill Committee, which is due to meet on 8 September.

British Waterways should not be transferred to charity status until the following conditions are met:

  • Section 43 (3) of the 1962 Transport Act should be declared incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • Sections 13 (2) (3) and (4) of the 1971 British Waterways Act should be repealed;
  • Sections 8 (1) (2) (3) and (4) of the 1983 British Waterways Act should be repealed;
  • Navigation authorities should not have the power to bring injunctions banning boat owners from their waterways for life;
  • The British Waterways Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers and plans for Local Mooring Strategies should be abandoned;
  • The February 2010 British Waterways Revised Draft Byelaws should be abandoned; The amendment to Schedule 5 of the Public Bodies Bill, exempting the functions of the British Waterways Board from the provisions of Clause 22 falling within section 22(3)(b) to (e), should be abandoned;
  • No other navigation authorities should be included in the above-mentioned amendment to Schedule 5 of the Public Bodies Bill and
  • The powers of British Waterways and other navigation authorities to make “subordinate legislation” should be restricted to existing Byelaw making powers (such as the 1954 British Transport Commission Act).

In place of the above powers, which are inappropriate for the 21st century, the following powers and duties applicable to all boat dwellers in the UK should be established:

  • Legal recognition of the homes of boat dwellers on a par with that enjoyed by house dwellers.
  • Statutory protection of boat dwellers from harassment and unlawful or summary eviction, of the same magnitude as the protection enjoyed by house dwellers, applicable to all boat dwellers on inland and coastal waters, whether or not they have a permanent mooring.
  • Clarification that the test for compliance with s.17(3)(c)(ii) of the 1995 British Waterways Act is as intended by Parliament, namely, whether the boat has remained in one place for longer than 14 days without good reason.
  • Explicit recognition that boat dwellers without permanent moorings are classed as travellers for the purposes of s.225 of the 2004 Housing Act; and are classed as a protected minority group for the purposes of the 2010 Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the EU requirement placed on the UK to draw up a national plan in 2011 to ensure that every homeless traveller has access to suitable accommodation.
  • Security of tenure for mooring holders on a par with that enjoyed by the tenants of houses.
  • Statutory protection from increases in boat licence fees and mooring fees on a par with that enjoyed by the tenants of social housing in respect of rent increases.
  • Navigation authorities explicitly classified as housing authorities for the purpose of protecting the homes of boat dwellers.

The charitable purposes of the New Waterways Charity should include:

  • The protection of the homes of boat dwellers and
  • The provision of waterway space for boat dwellers to both travel in without permanent moorings and to keep their homes permanently moored.

As some one who is looking to move to living aboard a narrow boat, on the Thames Navigation, and Oxford Canal, I would like the following protection in the future:

  • That boat dwellers are able to live their lives free from the threat of losing their homes, whether that threat is direct or indirect.
  • That there is no reduction in the amount of 14-day mooring space along the canals managed by British Waterways and no further restrictions on mooring time limits placed by other navigation authorities.
  • That boat dwellers are able to live their lives free from prejudice and interference by the settled community.
  • That navigation authorities, especially British Waterways, defend the interests of liveaboard and other boaters where there appears to be a conflict of interest between boaters and the settled community.
  • That British Waterways enforces the 14-day rule fairly and consistently, as opposed to its current practice of using its statutory powers in a patchy and partial manner.
  • That boat dwellers without moorings on British Waterways navigations feel secure that as long as they adhere to the 14-day rule (and licence their boats) they will not risk losing their home or their access to employment, education, health care and social participation and that boat dwellers without moorings on all navigation authorities are protected from changes in mooring regulations that jeopardise their access to employment, education, health care and social participation.
  • That the liveaboard boating community is respected by the settled community for its diverse, independent and resourceful nature.

Yours sincerely,

Philip

Today I received the following response:

Dear Philip,

Thank you for your detailed e-mail of 1st September about British Waterways and the Public Bodies Bill, I was interested and concerned to read the points you made, especially in light of your clear knowledge and interest in this area.

In order to address your specific points and raise them at the highest level I have written to Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries. I will write again as soon as I receive a response.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely, Justin Tomlinson MP

I wonder what the response will be from Richard Benyon MP will be…