River Lea Houseboaters being 'socially cleansed' from Olympics area

MarkiB mark at tlio.org.uk
Fri Mar 11 10:19:50 GMT 2011

Houseboaters being 'socially cleansed' from Olympics area

River Lea residents fear licence could rise from £600 to £7,000, but
British Waterways says increase only option

by Ian Griffiths
The Guardian, 
Date: Wednesday 9 March 2011

Houseboat residents near the Olympic development site in east London are
accusing British Waterways of an attempt at "social cleansing". They say
proposed changes to rules for living on the canals before the 2012 Games
could force hundreds of people from their water-based homes.

British Waterways, which manages 2,200 miles of canals and rivers, has put
forward changes to the mooring rules on the river Lea, in east London, that
could increase the cost of living on the waterway from about £600 to £7,000
a year. Residents see the move as a deliberate attempt to drive them away.

A draft note from British Waterways on 6 December 2010, seen by the
Guardian, says: "The urgency … relates to the objective of reducing
unauthorised mooring on the Lea navigation and adjacent waterways in time
for the Olympics."

The canal boat residents fear they will be forced from the river if the
proposals go ahead as drafted. Alice Wellbeloved, a freelance fashion
designer, who has lived on the Lea for almost five years with her partner
and baby, said the plan meant it was no longer feasible to live the family
life they had built together. "For us it would be disastrous," she said.
"We have a 10-month-old baby, and these proposals mean we could not work or
get the childcare we need. We cannot afford to buy a new house. We feel we
are being uprooted from our community."

British Waterways says between 160 and 200 boats in the area are used as
permanent residences. These boats can exploit a lack of clarity in the
waterways legislation to use a "continuous cruising" licence, costing about
£600 a year, which lets owners move just short distances every fortnight.

Under the new proposals, people using a continuous cruising licence would
not be allowed to spend more than 61 days in a year in each of six
designated neighbourhoods across 40 miles of canal network, and they would
be forced to move to a different neighbourhood every 14 days.

British Waterways says the changes are in line with a national policy on
moorings. But residents on the Lea say they are being singled out to allow
a "cleaning up" of the waterways before the Olympics next year. For British
Waterways the Lea is a high priority because of "high demand for visitor
moorings during the 2012 Olympics".

Mike Well, a photographer and Lea canal-boat resident for four years,
said: "My boat is about a mile from the Olympic park and it is almost
inconceivable that the authorities would allow anything unsightly or tatty
during the games. This is social cleansing."

Wellbeloved said: "People say we're using the river on the cheap. We are
desperate for a permanent mooring. But there are none to be had around here
– they're so scarce that the last permanent mooring near here was auctioned
for £9,000 a year in rent."

Nick Brown, legal officer of the National Bargee Travellers Association,
which represents the interest of boat dwellers, said: ""These are extremely
draconian proposals. BW is riding roughshod over the rights of a vulnerable
minority group. The objective appears to be to stop new entrants on to the
river and drive away existing canalside residents."

Sally Ash, head of boating at BW, denied the proposals were an assault on
the "live aboard" boaters. "We want to encourage councils to support more
residential moorings.

"But we have to control the number of boats, which have increased by 40%
over the last four years on the Lea. The only way we can do this is through
price, and some people will have to suffer."

But she accepted that with feelings running high among river Lea
residents, British Waterways would have to take account of the plight of
those who feared losing their homes. It would consider "transitional
arrangements" for existing residents and explore ways to mitigate hardship,
she said.

"We will have to do something we prefer not to, and unwillingly accept
that we must consider a person's housing position. We are a navigation, not
a housing body – but we have to send the message that in future, living on
the river will not be such a cheap lifestyle option."

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