British Waterways, that rather sleepy quango that runs our canals and navigable rivers, is to be replaced by an independent charitable vehicle with safeguards built in to ensure adequate maintenance and public access. Good. The new body will have to find ways to do without the £70m a year public subsidy, and this prospect is causing ripples of concern amongst ditchcrawlers. pah.
Look, £70m a year is a pittance, a tiny drop of money, in relation to the asset value of the entire inland waterway network in England and Wales. And the whole lot can be found overnight without costing genuine ditchcrawlers a single penny more. BW estimate that 25% of boats at their primary mooring sites are being used as primary residences without planning consent. In many cases, they even receive mooring fees paid in Housing Benefit. Mooring fees on the 'line' of navigation are a pittance compared to housing costs, or to private residential marina costs, and an attractive alternative to boat gypsies.
Developers are not blind to the attraction of living on a boat. Generally they buy land adjacent to the canal network, dig out a big basin, connect it to the canal and install pontoons, power, water and other facilities. And charge a commercial rate for residential mooring. Encouraging suitable additional private mooring sites and moving illegals off the line of navigation, together with a full commercial recovery for those few legitimate residential moorings on the canal network, would make up that £70m in no time at all.
[NB for non boaters there are two types of boat on the inland waterways; first, the narrow boats and cruisers fitted with little engines and large kitchens that know they belong on the canals. Then there are proper sea boats fitted with radar, life rafts, distress flares, EPIRBS, sea anchors, W/T (VHF and SSB), RORC medical supplies and the like that say "we could go on proper tidal waters if we wanted" but never do, and spend their lives cruising at 5mph between Reading and Windsor.]
[NBB And for true tales of heroism and daring-do from a narrow boat that didn't accept that it should stick to inland waters, see The Tuesday Night Club - crossing the Thames Estuary in a loaf-tin is one of the great eccentricities of our time]