Memorandum by Residential Boat Owners'
Association (RBOA) (AFH 18)
1. OVERVIEW OF
This paper will introduce you to a form of affordable
housing you may not have thought of. The potential is limited
in absolute numbers but removing some of the barriers to this
form of housing could ease housing problems in some areas or at
some stages in people's lives.
We will also illustrate the difficulties encountered
in trying to sustain imaginative housing solutions in the hope
there may be something to learn for other housing ideas.
We are a not-for-profit organisation run by
unpaid, elected officials and many volunteers amongst the ordinary
membership and their friends and families. We represent anyone
who lives on a boat on the inland and coastal waters of the British
Isles. Our income is derived entirely from members' subscriptions,
sale of publications and donations.
We were established in 1963 and are the only
national body focused on representing residential boaters.
The objects of the RBOA are:
to safeguard existing residential
moorings and to increase the number of residential moorings throughout
to maintain the variety of liveaboard
to encourage high standards of boat
ownership and residence to at least the standards laid down by
the relevant navigation authority;
to promote good relations between
members and their landlords;
to negotiate with national, local
and other authorities whenever necessary in the interests of the
Association and its members; and
to encourage craft to cruise.
The RBOA believes that residential boats and
moorings can be an asset to their surroundings. They improve the
safety of other users and the security of unoccupied boats and
waterside premises and as an integral part of the economy, culture
and heritage of the waterways, they generate life and interest.
3. HOUSING, HOMES,
"Housing" is generally used to mean
"house" or reality of some sort. "House" is
used but "home" would more inclusive. We suspect it
is ignorance not malice that causes this but it does lead to all
manner of difficulties and exclusions.
A boat is legally a chattel. You can elect for
a boat to be your main residence for income tax and, when mortgage
relief was available, you could claim tax relief on the interest
for a loan to buy a boat if it was your home. However, you can
be made homeless if you have legal costs awarded against you because
it is houses that are protected, not homes that happen to be chattels.
We won't bore you with the fun and games boat dwellers have with
welfare benefits as we are sure you have the imagination to envisage
the difficulties when a complex system is faced with an unanticipated
set of circumstances.
What is a Residential Boat?
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. Usually,
residential boats are indistinguishable from pleasure craft and
their needs are no greater.
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.
4. ARE BOATS
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 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.
Living on a boat is often a life cycle choice
for just the sort of people who are generating the pressure for
additional housingyoung singles, young couples, separated
and divorced people, retired people. Partial boat dwelling with
the boat in use as pied-a-terre during the working week is increasingly
popular in London and Birmingham.
5. WHAT SORT
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 coasts
of Britain and beyond.
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!
An indicative survey carried out a few years
ago indicated that there could be around 15,000 people living
on boats in Britain.
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 aboard.
Many could not enjoy boating if they had to
afford house and boat.
Those working in waterway-related businesses
find it convenient and appropriate to live aboard.
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.
We don't need much by way of facilities. Most
boats have all necessary services and can be moved as necessary
to take 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, sewage in tanks
or portable toilets.
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!
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.
Residential boats can help 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.
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.
Because of these attributes and the ability
to introduce them to a locality almost overnight, residential
boats and moorings are uniquely suited to become "pioneer"
communities in regeneration schemes. 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.
7. CASE STUDYATTEMPT
We responded to the proposed revisions to Planning
Policy Guidance Note 3 (PPG3) on Housing. We begged for the eight
words "Boats can be a form of affordable housing" to
be inserted in the paper.
We made several representations and eventually
were granted an audience with a civil servant. We spent a frustrating
time having every point we made carefully noted but blocked without
reason. The expense of taking time off work and travelling to
London to see someone who had clearly been instructed to reject
any of our ideas was also annoying and not the best use of our
All we wanted was for local authorities, via
the Guidance, to be given permission to consider us. Without a
mention in the Guidance local authorities can just reject us out
of hand as they have no policy framework to link us to.
8. CASE STUDYBIRMINGHAM
FUTURE" 26 FEBRUARY
Birmingham City Centre needs residential boats
to provide boats all year round on the waterspace, to draw attention
to the historical and current use of the canals and to provide
"safe ties on quality routes" for visiting holiday boats.
Just think how often the boats at the Worcester Bar are photographed.
People live at the Worcester Bar. People stop and stare and ask
lots of questions when boats manoeuvre and tie up in the area.
The canal would not attract that interest it
does without boats and you won't get boats mooring and moving
round a city centre area without the security of a permanent local
live-aboard community. 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.
Both British Waterways and Birmingham City Council
are very positive about residential boats and recognise the many
benefits they bring. Despite this, live-aboard boaters often feel
their existence is threatened. It is often not a case of anyone
doing anything wrong, there is sometimes a lack of thought that
may or may not be spotted and rectified. It must also be remembered
that until very recently (1995), British Waterways at national
level wanted residential boats to leave the waterways under their
control. BW now have a national policy that welcomes residential
Many residential boaters have a lingering fear
that they are not welcomed, merely temporarily tolerated. There
is a view that the various authorities would prefer to remove
us. They are just biding their time, thinking of ways to get us!
It is vital that residential boats feel valued,
not threatened, and are not enticed away or pushed out. Regard
them as a fragile species, upset the local conditions too much
and you'll lose them.
Please find below a few recent examples from
the boaters' perspective:
Redevelopment of Gas Street
Gas Street used to have, pre-regeneration, the
finest collection of working boats in the country. Most were lived
on and many were worked from time to time. For a variety of reasons,
the existing community was broken up and dispersed. This can be
attributed to thoughtlessness, lack of good communications and
the introduction of hefty mooring fees in addition to a change
in the environment so dramatic and fundamental that it no longer
There is a persistent rumour that all the boats
are going to be evicted from Gas Street. In just the last year
(1998-99) because of . . .
Proposal from British Waterways to construct
Chinese-style Junk G8 conferencenote there was no talk
of evicting bank dwelling residents Rosie and Jim.
The original proposals for the expansion and
redevelopment of Hockley were to evict all existing boats. Luckily
residents discovered this in time to negotiate being allowed to
stay. The unrest did result in a significant proportion of the
existing community leaving.
Boats at Granville Street Wharf have been removed.
Boats at Holiday Wharf have gone. The developers were not informed
by BW or the Council that there are moorings with residential
planning permission at Holiday Wharf and that there have been
residential boats at Granville Street Wharf for quite long enough
for a Lawful Development Certificate.
Sherborne Street Wharf
Persistent rumours that the wharf will go for
up-market flats and boats will be evicted. Fear that people in
the new flats overlooking the canal will resent living so close
to cheaper dwellings and complain leading to harassment. Fear
that mooring charges will be increased and non-residential boats
Residential moorings under threat from Rosie
Icknield Port Loop
Temporary but regularly used (especially as
a sanctuary) moorings under threat from Rosie and Jim.