A brief history of how Residential Moorings have developed is given for information, brought up to date with recent planning and other matters.
IWA often maintains that it supports residential boating and the provision of appropriate moorings for residential use but it is not clear how we achieve this. This paper gives some ideas on the action that we can take to give support.
The ongoing issue of non-compliant mooring has to some extent brought a greater focus on the supply of approved residential moorings although it is now accepted that not all of these problems relate to residential use. Nor will the problems be solved purely through a greater supply of moorings; many boaters comply with the continuous cruising requirements and do not wish to take up a permanent mooring. This is supported by IWA although it is recognised that difficulties occur when significant numbers wish, for whatever reason, to stay in a narrow geographical area. Equally there is likely to be a number remaining who wish to stay in one location but are not prepared to pay for a mooring, sensible enforcement has to be the answer here. However, an adequate supply of varied and affordable residential moorings at least gives this opportunity to those who wish to take them up and Canal & River Trust recognises that it strengthens its enforcement powers.
Much of the information and experience used in this paper has been amassed by the Residential Boat Owners’ Association and its contribution to this issue is fully acknowedged.
Residential boating is well established (the Residential Boat Owners’ Association celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013). Several founder members of the IWA lived afloat, noteably Tom Rolt who stayed for 1,800 days on Cressy at Tardebigge. The original nucleus of people who lived afloat as a lifestyle compatible with their enjoyment and appreciation of the inland waterways has now been extended by people who see this as cost effective housing and may have no great affinity with their environment.
For many years issues related to residential boating were largely ignored by British Waterways and other Navigation Authorities, it was just seen as too difficult. There was an attempt to issue Houseboat Certificates which sat alongside the standard licence, to those accepted as being on residential moorings. (see note below regarding the more current definition of ‘houseboat’). The status of these was never clear and it probably did little to progress residential boating although a few people still zealously protect their ‘Houseboat Certificate’ status.
Equally most Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) lacked understanding of this niche use category and preferred to turn a blind eye to it unless an issue arose. Quite bizarre issues arose from time to time; in one marina, a group of well-established and responsible residents approached their council to pay council tax as they used the local facilities. Their honesty resulted in the loss of their moorings, so it is understandable why most residential boaters preferred to keep their heads down. RBOA spent a great deal of time dealing with individual situations such as these whilst progressing the general recognition of residential boating.
RBOA was instrumental in the production of the advisory document Residential Use of Inland Waterways (PDF) latest copy dated February 2011 which was supported by BW and the EA but published by AINA therefore gaining at least nominal support from all Navigation Authorities. Through government there was an increased recognition of this minority and legislation to give residential boaters greater security of tenure only just failed to reach statute with the Park Homes Act.
More recently BW, increasingly with CRT and to a lesser degree the EA and PLA have fully recognised residential boaters as a significant and valuable sector. Although the recent shift of the boating customer base from leisure to residential has been met with some concern, it has been a positive factor in maintaining boating businesses during the recession during which spend on boating as a leisure activity has greatly reduced.
The charitable aims of CRT do not include the provision of residential moorings or indeed social housing. This is generally supported by IWA although some feel that CRT has a responsibility towards its customers who choice to live afloat within the rules.
There is no specific license covering residential use but applicants must either have a permanent mooring or declare that they are continuously cruising as defined under the 1995 British Waterways Act. Currently around 5,000 boats are licensed on this basis and many are genuinely making a ‘bone fide’ journey around the waterways and the Trust fully supports this lifestyle. However around 50% of these are thought to remain in limited areas and many have a job or family commitments which necessitates this.
There are many residential boaters who need a more permanent mooring and these are provided either in marinas, smaller boatyards, off-line facilities or in some cases by on-line moorings. IWA has encouraged CRT policy to reduce the latter and particularly those located on the towpath side. Long lines of permanently moored boats do impair the enjoyment of boating. The policy of providing winter moorings on-line is beneficial to those who wish to cruise continuously through the warmer months but prefer a more permanent base during the winter and this is supported by IWA.
This leaves the small but increasing number of residential boaters who need to stay in one locality but do not wish to take up a mooring. The increase in this sector, particularly in certain places such as the Kennet & Avon Canal and the London area is becoming a major challenge for the Trust and considerable resources are being focused at enforcement to resolve the issue.
This is important but it should be balanced with a more proactive approach to providing appropriate residential moorings. This would assist in dealing with those who wish to live afloat legally and responsibly and to pay a reasonable amount in return for the benefits that secure residential moorings offer. Enforcement can then be focused on those who wish to stay in one location but are not prepared to take up a mooring.
It is important to give a range of mooring options, not everyone wishes to live in a large marina and anyway supply of these is limited in some regions. Many residential boaters are content to stay at simple mooring sites accommodating a few boats and with minimum facilities
As well as contributing towards the solution, residential moorings offer several benefits in their own right and the following list is taken from the RBOA’s advice to planning authorities and those considering setting up mooring sites.
In brief, mooring of boats does not require specific planning approval although developing a marina with ancillary structures will and moving from leisure to residential moorings will probably be considered as a change of use. Planning issues related to the provision of residential moorings are by no means clear and various LPAs will take differing approaches. Despite significant differences between residential moorings and built development, in terms of permanence, sustainability and environmental impact, there is no specific national planning policy or procedural guidance. Residential moorings are therefore treated as residential development and subject to the relevant national and local planning policies.
Attempts have been made by CRT (BW) supported by RBOA to obtain national planning guidance although there may now be less clarity under the NPPF. Heather Clarke, CRT’s Head of Planning is currently developing an e-planning kit which could include information on residential moorings for use by developers, planners and others involved in residential mooring sites.
There is a general recognition that one or two residential berths on a mooring site are acceptable as caretaker boats or for staff requiring to be on hand. This is not covered by planning law but has been likened to agricultural workers’ dwellings. Several marina operators have adopted quasi-planning rules to cover their residential moorers eg leaving the berth for at least one month in the year or ensuring that they have a postal address elswhere but it is doubtful whether these have any substantiation in planning law.
There is further planning uncertainty regarding houseboats, generally defined as craft not able to navigate under their own power. Because of their permanance including service connections, they may be treated as individual planning units requiring specific planning approval for the boat or change of boat on a mooring. Again the major difficulty is that there is no conformity between LPAs.
Encouragement for developing residential sites was given by the previous Housing Minister Grant Shapps who confirmed that new residential moorings with planning approval could qualify for the New Homes Bonus aimed to increase the supply of affordable housing.
These can be complex and uncertain for those considering this lifestyle, they are noted briefly here.
Council Tax - avoidance has been seen by some as a benefit of living afloat and this has caused animosity in the past. That should not be the case; those who are permanently moored and enjoy local benefits should pay a fair contribution. The difficulty is that the current system is inflexible and does not take into account services eg refuse disposal paid for through mooring fees. Recent negotiation with the Valuation Agency by RBOA and BWML has brought about the option of valuing and charging for a length of residential moorings rather than individual boats.
Voting Rights - all residential boaters have a right to this whether permanently moored or cruising they just need to establish a ‘place’ and ensure that they can be contacted there for delivery of voting papers.
Benefits, bus pass etc - these should be available to residential moorers although eligibility and obtaining them is not straight forward. If the criteria is met, permanent mooring fees are eligible for benefit payments. Although not strictly related to payment of Council Tax, it is becoming more common for local authorities to insist on this before making payments.
Other issues such as registering with a doctor, using on-line booking sites and receiving post can also be challenging for residential boaters.
A good supply of formalised residential moorings may have an impact on the current problems experience in certain areas regarding overstaying on visitor moorings. While It is recognised that non-compliant continuous cruisers are not the only source of this problem, there are clearly those whose lifestyle requires a more permanent mooring. A variety of residential moorings with different service options and costs will at least give those who want a more permanent base the option of taking it up. As enforcement is strengthened more boaters may see the benefits of a permanent mooring and costs can sometimes be met through the benefits system.
During the recent recession in the boating leisure industry there have been indications that marinas operators who had previously been reluctant to accept residential boaters, were accepting or even actively encouraging them. The advantages have been given above but it is equally important to keep a sensible balance between numbers of leisure and residential berths at a marina.
In recent years CRT and RBOA support the principle of all new and existing marinas having a formalised provision of residential moorings (10 to 20% suggested) as this removes the uncertainty and the risk of LPAs taking enforcement action.
There are also opportunities for residential provision related to major regeneration projects, the following examples are in Birmingham but there will be similar opportunities elsewhere. This has been taken up positively in the proposals for Icknield Port and the new hospital site on the remains of the Cape Loop will provide a further opportunity. The East Side regeneration centred on Digbeth is another with great potential for new moorings, including some residential in an area that will benefit greatly from the presence of boats. There may also be opportunities on the back of the proposed HS2 Curzon Street station.
On a smaller scale, the potential remains for utilising redundant arms and wharves for residential moorings. This has been promoted by the RBOA which has identified potential sites and agreed in principle within CRT but this needs to be progressed. Some investment in the infrastructure is needed and consideration of the means to deliver this eg. through private companies or social enterprise groups.
As identified in the benefits of residential moorings above, this can also be seen as supporting the boating leisure side by providing safe overnight stays particularly in areas considered as less desirable. The Engine Arm Smethwick, Birmingham is an excellent example of this with a derelict and virtually unnavigable arm turned into good permanent moorings with facilities for visitors.
CRT is working on a prospectus to encourage development of small scale moorings and investment by housing bodies/ social enterprise in London and this is something that could be extended elsewhere. IWA recognises that navigation authorities are unlikely to expend capital on establishing residential moorings unless it is shown to generate a return or can be proved to resolve the existing problem of shortage of on-line visitor moorings.
The provision of residential moorings may be beneficial in ensuring the future viability of waterways under restoration by providing an income stream. This has been the case with the new marina at Hanbury on the Droitwich Canal and the Lapal Canal feasibility includes for a major marina development at ‘California’ with residential moorings.
Download a PDF version of IWA's Policy on Residential Moorings (138KB)
IWA's campaign on mooring issues.