NABO response to CRT’s consultation on congestion in London

In this paper, NABO is responding to CRT’s recent consultation and Zoom meetings, seeking suggestions from boaters to further address congestion, principally in the London area.

For several years, CRT sought views via the Boater Relationship Group and subsequently, when this collapsed, it facilitated meetings that resulted in the publication of its London Strategy document in June 2018. This document outlined the actions that CRT would take to address congestion in London.

We are concerned that CRT is seeking to repeat this exercise without first implementing a significant number of the promised outcomes. Surely, after all the effort that went into the 2018 strategy document, it would make sense to implement it in full and then carry out a review of where the strategy had worked or failed, before seeking to repeat the exercise. By CRT’s own figures  the numbers of boats have not risen substantially since the strategy was published. The effects of the current pandemic have seen boats spread out further and the longer-term implications are as yet unclear.

Turning to some of the agreed actions, these included:

  1. More general towpath mooring and limited offside moorings outside the Regent’s Canal area;
  2. Increase the number of short-stay visitor moorings;
  3. Increase monitoring and management of towpath and visitor moorings;
  4. Major improvements to facilities:
    • 6 new water points
    • 9 new rubbish disposal points
    • 4 new pumpout facilities
    • 5 new Elsan facilities plus one reopened facility and potentially one more.

A key outcome was improved information and communication for boaters. The reality, sadly, is that the London boating manager has left and not been replaced, and the information flow between CRT and London boaters is almost non-existent. There has been one update since the London Strategy document was published. Even when the current consultation was launched, no explanation was given of how much of the 2018 Strategy had been implemented and the reasons for any delay. It’s hardly surprising that London boaters are disengaged and the attendance of boaters at the Zoom meetings was so poor. Even these low numbers were often as a result of boaters themselves using social media to suggest that others attend.

There has been little visible or published evidence of increased management of towpath and visitor moorings, nor indeed of addressing the problems of boats mooring on lock landings or at service blocks. This is despite it being relatively easy to identify the relatively small number of boaters who blatantly ignore any regulations and overstay, and against whom no visible action is apparently being taken.

As can be seen from the above, the timing of the current consultation seems to be based more on PR perception and politics within CRT than on evidence of changes on the ground. Perhaps it was influenced by the comment of the facilitator on the Zoom meeting that: “the last Tim and Pru programme made London look bad as they had to cruise late into the day to find somewhere not very nice to moor”.

The fact that London hosts a busy and diverse range of boats, people and ages is a good thing and should be celebrated. It is exactly what CRT needs to replicate elsewhere. In applying for a renewal of its grant, CRT should promote this diversity, both on and off the water. There is nothing from CRT to suggest an optimum number of boats in the London area that any changes are seeking to achieve.

Notwithstanding the above, we appreciate that congestion exists in central London. However, it needs to be recognised that, from a boater’s perspective, the London area is effectively from Rickmansworth to Hertford. Any changes proposed to the Regent’s Canal area need to take the knock-on effect for other areas into account.

From NABO’s perspective, the available options are limited. We would suggest:

  • The 2018 strategy should be fully implemented, with regular boater updates on progress. The current consultation should be deferred until the effects of this strategy and the pandemic can be assessed.
  • Given that CRT cannot prevent boats travelling to the London area, much more needs to be done to counter the easy journalism in the national press, which presents London boat life as a cheap easy lifestyle, with little mention of the practicalities.
  • Stronger and visible enforcement of bylaws to prevent boats mooring on lock landings and at services.
  • Stronger and visible enforcement to prevent double/triple mooring, where this hinders navigation.
  • Use the available bylaws as part of the enforcement regime and not just the long drawn-out S8 process.
  • Many boaters would support the introduction of a range of stay times, including some additional bookable moorings for boats visiting from outside the London area. However, these should be proactively managed by mooring wardens/rangers to ensure that all boaters have the opportunity to make use of them. Where feasible, these should allow for boats to be breasted up.
  • There needs to be more dredging to the edge and, where it is difficult to use pins, mooring rings should be put in. This should be the default action when towpaths are re-graded or derelict high-voltage cables are lifted.
  • The suggestion to change the acceptable interpretation of ‘bona fide’ navigation from the current one is not practical. How can you be ‘bona fide’ navigating one year and not the next for the same cruising range?
  • There are no legal grounds that would support a no-return policy or fines.

In conclusion NABO believes it is important for CRT to re-establish its credibility with the London/SE boating community by implementing the mutually agreed outcomes from its 2018 strategy commitments. It is perhaps premature to propose further changes until the effect of these improvements together with stronger towpath management can be evaluated.

Mark Tizard & Mike Rodd