Memorandum by the Residential Boat Owners
Association (IW 53)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
The waterways are a dynamic environment. It
is vital that the elements that make them so attractive to so
many people in so many ways are not lost through a careless failure
to understand how the components come together.
Residential boats and moorings have a key role
to play in the conservation and development of Britain's waterways.
Areas where a significant contribution can be made include safety,
regeneration and heritage.
We were surprised that residential boats did
not get any mention in Waterways for Tomorrow. We estimate
that around 15,000 people make their homes on the inland and coastal
waterways of the UK in a wide variety of navigable vessels and
other floating structures. We appreciate that it can be difficult
to know quite where to slot us in to a report but we are a significant
feature of past, present and (we hope) future waterway life.
We note (6.46) that bank side housing is recognised
but not existing floating housing. We note that this very detailed
document does find space to mention virtually every other existing
and potential use of our waterways. We are concerned that the
omission denies legitimacy to our homes and lifestyle.
We are in the AINA strategy "Steering a
New Course" and our Association (established in 1963) is
well known to waterway authorities. In "Renaissance"the
BW/Heart of England Tourist Board strategy document for the BW
Midlands regionresidential boats are regarded as essential
to provide "safe ties" on "quality routes".
As mentioned in our covering letter, we petitioned as an organisation
against some clauses in the 1995 British Waterways Act, as did
two individual residential boaters. We participate actively in
the meetings of the Parliamentary Waterways Group. We are routinely
consulted as a user group by waterway authorities. In recent years,
we have had considerable success in working with waterway authorities
and in having our contribution recognised (see minutes of questions
and responses of both British Waterways and Environment Agency
1999 AGMs). Both British Waterways and the Environment Agency
have policies welcoming residential boats.
In addition to our role within the inland waterways,
we feel our lifestyle challenges many assumptions of space and
resources required for housing. We could of great interest to
DETR as part of the wide debate on sustainability.
Any covered vessel can be a home. The static
pontoon with a small building sat upon it associated with the
term "Houseboat" is very much in the minority
It is not necessary for planning and waterway
authorities to get bogged down in defining what constitutes a
residential boat and devising onerous conditions concerned with
the fact of residence. Usually the only difference between a residential
boat and a pleasure boat is its more frequent occupation (planning
decisions have confirmed this). Residential boats need little
more in way of facilities than non-residential boats.
On the inland waterways, it is appropriate for
use of the bank to be regulated for all moorers through mooring
agreements that set standards in keeping with the location. Where
a navigational obstruction is caused, a towing path cluttered
or facilities used selfishly, regulations need to be applied even-handedly
to whichever boats are causing the problem. The fact of residence
should not be an issue in itself.
Many live-aboards on inland waterways navigate
regularly or even continuously. It is a common retirement dream
amongst pleasure boaters (often realised) to sell or rent their
homes and move on board.
Live-aboards are not restricted to the inland
waterways. A significant number live on sea-going vessels in estuaries,
harbours and ports and travel around Britain and abroad.
We are diverse not only in location but in occupation
and behaviour. A sociologist's study adjudicated us "not
a sub-culture". We are however happy to be considered a "linear
village" extending along the waterways, and around the coats
of Britain and beyond. An indicative survey carried out a few
years ago indicated that there could be around 15,000 people living
on boats in Britain.
The RBOA committee of the last five years has
included an accountant, an architect, a journalist, a bus driver,
a lexicographer, a masseur, a youth worker, a consultant immunologist,
a surgeon, a shop worker, a building restorer, a police officer
and only one artist!
Some live-aboards stay put in immobile houseboats,
many more, especially on canals, travel as much as their other
commitments permit. Others fantasise that they are free spirits
but never quite manage to complete that engine re-build!
Many non-residential boaters could be regarded
as living on their boat when they go on extended cruises.
Many boaters aspire to retire and live abroad.
Our largest number of enquiries comes from people thinking of
retiring onto a boat.
Residential boats and moorings are an unvalued
asset. Work with us to create a climate where we can live openly,
not furtively and enhance the waterways for the benefit of all.
Canals were built and river navigations enhanced
for boats. Boats give meaning to the waterways. Canals in particular
become dull ditches without the dynamism and interpretation of
boat movement. Canals would not attract the interest they do without
boats and you won't get boats mooring and moving round a city
centre area without the security of a permanent local liveaboard
Residential boats are integral to the economic
and cultural life of waterways, generating activity and underpinning
Residential boats and moorings are uniquely
suited to become "pioneer" communities in regeneration
schemes and can be introduced almost overnight. The RBOA already
works with several waterway and planning authorities to increase
awareness and encourage appropriate provision for our varied lifestyles.
We believe this co-operation could and should be extended to many
more areas where there are waterways.
A community of boats can offer site security
during redevelopment projects.
We receive a considerable volume of enquiries
from people seeking affordable, flexible housing in the London
region. We suggest that there are many areas where residential
moorings could be created as part of the regeneration of an area
and to generate income. We are surprised that this use does not
feature strongly in London Docklands for example.
Residential boats help to reduce the housing
pressures on those who live on land.
Existing communities of residential boats are
vulnerable to riparian development. New adjoining land uses can
result in the loss of access and services to the waterside making
it difficult to re-establish a boat community. Businesses that
are essential to the waterways and depend on income from residential
moorings may be forced to close.
We need appropriate planning policies and sensitive
development control to ensure that boating communities are encouraged,
maintained and reinforced.
Living afloat is not necessarily a cheap option
but it is an attainable aspiration for many people who cannot
afford to occupy houses generally available on the open market.
It does therefore fall within the scope of affordable housing.
We were unable to persuade the relevant civil servant to give
us a line in the green paper BUT we have had a letter confirming
that we can be regarded as a form of affordable housing.
We are not suggesting that waterway authorities
become housing providers but we see no reason why a system of
grants and or loans should not be available, perhaps through the
Housing Corporation, to lease areas of land or waterscape and
to construct residential moorings. Developers of adjoining land
could also be required by planning agreements or conditions to
provide residential moorings available at controlled rent levels.
Residential moorings may be particularly appropriate
where land or money is scarce. A boat often occupies less space
than a house, and residential mooring can be provided at a fraction
of the cost of building a house or flat. Possible locations where
residential boats could ease the supply of affordable housing
encompass rural areas as well as premium city waterside neighbourhoods.
Boats can provide convenient housing for those who in work in
We don't need much at all. Most boats have all
necessary services and can be moved as necessary to taken on water
or dispose of rubbish and sewage. Power comes from batteries,
gas, diesel or solid fuel, all of which can be stored on board.
Water is kept in built-in tanks, and sewage in tanks or portable
On canals and non-tidal rivers, we need a reasonable
depth of water so we can tie to the bank. Mooring rings or bollards
are nice but we can usually hammer in mooring stakes.
On tidal waters, rise and fall pontoons are
marvellous, but rings fixed to runners on posts in proximity to
the shore are adequate.
Welcome us! Re-train waterway and planning officials
to treat us as valued customers and put aside any personal prejudices
about people pursuing an unconventional lifestyle.
Low mooring fees are a major incentive. Why
not offer free mooring for a limited period and kick start a new
project with "pioneer" boats
There is a market for more luxurious facilities
such as on-site water, sewage disposal, connections to mains electricity
and telephone. These are welcome if not over-priced, but are not
essentials. We can travel for the first two, buy inverters to
run power tools and computers and communicate by mobile "phones,
pagers, e-mail and the good old "snail mail" postal
system. A dry dock may be valued more than an on-site laundrette!
Waterways attract considerable interest from
the general public. The presence of residential boats improves
the safety of visitors and other waterway users (walkers, rowers,
cyclists, anglers, holiday boaters) and the security of unoccupied
boats and waterside premises. Residential boats are integral to
the economic and cultural life of waterways, generating activity
and underpinning essential businesses. By restoring old vessels
that would otherwise lack a viable future, residential use helps
to preserve both boats and boat building skills that are an important
but often neglected part of our heritage.
Residential boats improve the security of unoccupied
boats and waterside premises. This is recognised by British Waterways
(BW) in their moorings pricing mechanisms. Private boatyard operators
also like to have residential moorings at their premises, not
only for their income, but for the security they provide at night.
A mix of residential and non-residential boats
is ideal. The live-aboards provide security, the intervening pleasure
craft afford additional privacy to the residential boats.
The mix can vary from site to site and indeed
throughout the year. For example from April to October, a site
could have one or two residential boats and many short-stay moorings
for holiday boaters. During the quieter months, there could be
more residential moorings and one or two short stay moorings.
On BW waters, visitor moorings are provided as part of the navigation
licence. Renting out visitor moorings for longer stays during
winter could provide additional income from a facility that exists
In "Renaissance"the BW/Heart
of England Tourist Board strategy document for the BW Midlands
regionresidential boats are regarded as essential to provide
"safe ties" on "quality routes".
Live-aboards improve security for all waterway
users. A survey carried out by our Cambridge members revealed
that walkers would make use of an area of common land if the residential
boats were there.
Live-aboards are first on the scene, mobile
"phone in hand, for emergencies.
Residential boats provide interest to all waterway
visitors. There is enormous affection amongst the British public
for the waterways. People are invariably fascinated when they
discover that you live on a boat. Residential boaters thus frequently
act as informal educators and ambassadors for the waterways.
Many boats of historic or engineering interest
have been saved because they have provided someone with a home
who has been able to carry out the necessary and often costly
repairs. Wooden boats are especially vulnerable and deteriorate
rapidly without regular attention. Boats sink more often through
neglect. Residential use protects both the boat and the skills
required to keep it in good repair.
Residential boats can re-colonise regenerated
water space, drawing attention to its historical use and creating
We are the culture and community of the waterways.
People have always lived on boats. Whilst the
reasons may vary over the history of our waterways, current live-aboards
are the latest link in an unbroken chain of evolution.
We are the lateral thinkers' approach to integrating
waterways into the community!
Some new mooring schemes would not be viable
from a number of aspects (security, caretaker accommodation, financial)
without there being a group of residential boats present.
Having a boat as your residence creates a smaller
global footprint than the combination of dwelling house and leisure
boat. The more restricted space of a boat reduces consumption.
Whilst not averse to a bit of luxury, boat residents are generally
thoughtful about green issues and are piloting a different way
of utilising resources.
Because live-aboards are about much of the time,
they notice changes in water quality, report problems early and
provide information and pressure for regulation authorities to
We could be used to log and monitor wildlife
activity, saving the need to send a waterway official to visit
Ducks, geese and swans seems to welcome our
presencethey nibble the weed on our hulls and soon beg
for bread. Fish are reputed by anglers to enjoy the shade and
shelter offered by our hulls.
An example of how residential boats can improve
the environment and enhance wildlife is the development at Three
Mills, Bromley-by-Bow. Please ask if you would like more details
on this scheme, including our brief biology report.
It is for others to comment in detail on this
but it is worth pointing out that residential boats can help to
safeguard wharves required for freight operations by generating
an income and providing security. Boats can easily be moved when
the wharf is required for freight movement.
A difficulty we have experienced is of establishing
exactly what policies a waterway authority has in force. This
precedes any concerns about interpretation or establishing a hierarchy
for policies. We would suggest a review of all waterway authority
policies would be useful to authorities, government and users
alike. Whilst flexibility to meet local conditions is generally
desirable, we have found that explanations for actions have sometimes
been incomplete and unconvincing. For example, an answer to a
question we once put requesting the legal basis for levying a
charge was "we do this elsewhere".
Our detailed submission to the Waterways Ombudsman
on the British Waterways proposal to construct a five-storey restaurant
in the water at Gas Street Basin, Birmingham might make an interesting
case study for the inquiry. We were surprised to discover that
BW policies that we had been led to believe were in force had
never been formally adopted by BW and thus had no status. Whilst
excellent guidance documents exist within BW their exact status
remains uncertain, even amongst senior managers.
Most staff, within most organisations can explain
their reasons for taking decisions by reference to the law, their
organisations policies, the policies of their professional or
technical body and finally the fine-tuning of these by their professional
experience. This does not seem to be the route taken by waterway
We have experience of the British Waterways
complaints mechanism and have taken two complaints to the Ombudsman
with some success. Whilst we have every admiration for the work
of the Ombudsman, we have come to the conclusion that the complaints
procedure is not a mechanism for on-going review and improvements.
It is of most value in rectifying specific financial loss. Waiting
for something to go wrong then complaining is retrospective and
negative. We would prefer to see a way of identifying, sharing,
encouraging and if necessary, enforcing, best practice. We welcome
6.72 and 6.73 in this context and hope that the practice could
be extended to operational matters as well as one-off projects.
It is worth noting that whilst we welcome AINA
(we were invited to make a presentation in their first year of
formation), it is not an organisation that has been in existence
for very long and is a forum for discussion amongst waterway authorities
rather than a body with authority over waterway authorities. Obviously,
voluntary co-operation is preferable to coercion, AINA has an
important role to play and the commitment and ability of its members
is demonstrated by the production of its strategy document. We
just wonder if its current structure and membership will be appropriate
for all that might be asked of it by government. Perhaps an independent
Chair might be needed at some point, for example.
We are concerned about the issue of accountability.
The waterways are a public asset but opportunities for meaningful
consultation and for full accountability to the public are often
limited. Whilst the income that a move to more public/private
partnership brings is very welcome, control by the public becomes
more diluted. We are concerned that there is often no overarching
policy for waterway authority employees to refer back to, no framework
for decision making that provides guidance where conflicts arise
within the agencies. Issues of heritage and wildlife can easily
be in conflict with property development, to give an easy example.
Again we suggest our detailed documents submitted to the Waterways
Ombudsman might serve as a useful case study.
We feel that it would be appropriate to establish
a regulator for the waterways. This could be done on a pilot basis
if necessary. This should provide demonstrable independent guidance
to all waterway authorities.
It might be appropriate to separate roles between
different agencies rather than the current arrangement of separation
by region, waterway type and history. It would be a shame however
if this led to innovation being stifled, particularly the opportunities
for the generation and prompt implementation of ideas offered
by smaller navigation authorities.