AWCC Responds to British Waterways’ Licensing Consultation

On 9th November, AWCC sent the following letter to British Waterways to represent the views of the Association on proposed changes in Boat Licencing policy.

Dear Simon,

BOAT LICENCE FEES

You will appreciate that all of the members of the BWAF Working Group spent many hours debating with BW and deliberating among themselves on the proposals now contained in this consultation.  You will understand that, whilst representing major user groups, my colleagues and I gave our advice as individuals, but with considerable personal experience and knowledge of the waterways and those who use them.

Like the other user groups, I have consulted widely among AWCC members and other boaters generally since the last WG meeting on 8 August and have established some consensus, but I find much difficulty in providing a unified result.  The following comments are an attempt to steer a useful path through what is perceived to be a mass of largely unrelated and somewhat inconsistent terms and conditions for BW licence charges that have grown over many years.

The existing T&Cs are also seen as perpetuating some unfairness to some classes of boater.  Hence, if there was one theme that came consistently from the majority of my members, it was that any revision should attempt a better balance of fairness for all boaters.  One long-term member of my own club put it succinctly by saying, “What is needed is justice and fairness for all!”

We live in extraordinary times – a point referred to by the BW Chairman in the House of Commons on 6 November.  Since the BWAF WG last met, the financial world has turned upside down.  A deep recession is inevitable and BMF have already commented on the grave effect on boating and the boating industry.  Many individuals are now suffering financial hardship and there is a need to ensure that boating does not collapse.  As responsible people entrusted with running the waterways, we need to ensure that the waterways emerge from the recession in a good state and one that will allow leisure and tourism to recover rapidly.  We need to consider how this may be achieved.

It is now clear that we have a Prime Minister whose belief in the effectiveness of Keynsian economics, as a path to recovery, is much stronger than any of his recent predecessors.  Many of us have already called for investment in waterways as being just as good an investment as any other UK infrastructure project.  However, considering the hardship I have mentioned, I would like to put forward that BW (and the Environment Agency) place on hold any above inflation (RPI) increases to licences charges in 2009 for just one year and that you seek Government support for that action.  (I have raised this with the new Minister.)  We would then have extra time to consider how to tackle this difficult subject and to correctly assess how to emerge from the recession with vigour.

You will recall that AWCC has always pointed out in previous consultations on this subject that licence fees act in the economy as a tax.  As such, it is difficult to relate them directly to any market for goods and services.  Without repeating previous detailed arguments, (which you may look back at if you wish) the principles that should apply are that the charges are set at the minimum level necessary to achieve their purpose and also related to the persons ability to pay.  You may like to have these principles in mind when reading our detailed comments, which follow.

Yours sincerely,

David Pearce

National Chairman
Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs

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Detailed Comments from the AWCC

1. All boats should pay licence fees on a standard basis not related to the type or extent of use [3.10]

The AWCC continues to support this principle, together with the principle of a national cruising licence to allow all boaters equal access to the entire system.  We have always supported the principle of the Gold Licence and anything that supports the concept of a national licence.  We remain opposed to any suggestion that licensing should be regionally based, as any such move would detract from our primary objective of encouraging cruising on the entire waterways system.

2. The feasibility should be examined of removing or reducing the rivers-only discount

The AWCC has with other national user groups devoted a considerable amount of its volunteer effort and meagre financial resources over several years in assisting the Environment Agency with its Transport and Works Act Order.  We recommend that this action should not be undertaken lightly by BW.  Hence, unless there is an overwhelming case and obvious majority user support, we suggest that the idea be shelved as being impractical and too wasteful of resources in present circumstances.

3. £50 additional charge for boats over 2.1m

Whilst the AWCC appreciates the argument that wide beam boats cannot access the entire system, the decision to own a wide beam boat is solely with the boat owner and consideration of his personal situation.  The majority reaction from our members, including wide beam boat owners, is that the current system appears to be an unfair method of charging and that the a system based on boat area, similar to that used on the Thames, would be fairer to all concerned.  This is the AWCC’s considered recommendation on the matter, but we would expect to be consulted on the detail of any change in this direction, as such details are not part of the current consultation.

We would underline the point that many people start boat-owning with a cheap second hand cruiser at say 7’6″ or 8′ beam and we would not wish these people to be disadvantaged with a fixed extra fee that in the future grows in size.  We will go along with the £50 extra for wide beam boats pro tem, if this is the majority view, but we would seek an assurance that the charge will not creep.  However, given that it is neither one thing nor the other, at even this modest marginal charge it may cause some dis-harmony and resentment, rather that the ‘fairness’ that is sought.  We assume that it is NOT BW’s intent to be pedantic about any difference between 2.1 m and 7 imperial feet for narrowboats!

4. Variable supplement for wide beam boats [8.4 (b)]

Clearly, from the above discussion, AWCC would prefer this option if it is an interim move to get closer to charging by area.  We accept that it would need to be phased over a period of time and the subject of further consultation.

5. BWAF to continue advising BW on development of a commercial operator’s licence

AWCC is content for this to happen.

6. £150 supplement for boats without a verified permanent mooring [9.15, Option A]

AWCC members unanimously believe that there is an increasing problem with the whole concept of continuous cruising and are asking for something to be done with a great deal of urgency!  All agree that the real problem is those that continuously moor, particularly on popular visitor moorings.  Few have a problem with those who genuinely cruise the system for all of the open cruising season.  However, there is also a strong desire to remain united as boaters and not to be seen to setting one group of boaters against another.  In other words, they wish to solve the problem without causing conflict and to ensure that any changes made to licensing charges are seen to be fair to all.  We do hope that BW sees this in a similar light.

I have used the example recently of a couple of our members who genuinely cruise the system for 9 months of the year and take a winter mooring for the remaining three months.  They recognise that they do use the system a lot, that their boat is there main home and that they would not mind paying a little extra for the privilege.  For such boaters, the extra charge may appear thoroughly reasonable and this is our position.

However, the problem of those who adopt the waterways as their home and do not move in the sense of cruising, but also do not have a permanent mooring, is one that will not necessarily be solved by imposing an extra fee, even if some may view it as an extra contribution for services consumed.  There is also the danger that an extra payment may be seen as legitimising continuous mooring.  The perceived problem of continuous mooring has to be tackled from a different direction.

7. Use only strengthened enforcement of mooring rules to prevent ‘continuous mooring [9.16, Option B)]

The extra £150 would not solve this particular problem in any way, apart from indirectly providing a small extra income for enforcement officers.  AWCC accepts that it costs BW money to enforce mooring regulations, for which there is no financial return.  It is clear that some BW enforcement officers do attempt to enforce mooring regulations in popular spots.  We would comment favourably on the freeing-up of the visitor mooring this summer at Cosgrove.  Cruising boaters can now find an overnight mooring.  However, enforcement in general appears to vary from area to area.  Hence, it is our view that resources must be found to both provide better enforcement for licence and mooring matters AND to provide extra cheap moorings for continuous moorers.

8. BWAF to advise BW on the possible development of ‘roving mooring permits [9.17, Option C]

This may initially seem an idea worth trying as it may encourage those who currently continuously moor to move at least over smaller distances and enter the true spirit of continuous cruising.  However, it many then be seen as legitimising the problem to the detriment of other users and it may not be fully legal under existing waterways legislation, so we remain very nervous of even a limited trial.  The underlying social problem is that many of these people do not want to move and that the “boating” problem will only be solved when suitable off-line residential moorings are made available at a cost they can afford.

9. Create and promote off-line residential moorings [9.18, Option D & 13]

BW has said, “We are already in discussions with government and RBOA on this subject. It is a priority for us.”  It must, indeed, be a priority, as this is the only long-term solution in which Government needs to play their part through both funding and the planning system, as indicated in our opening comment above.  We emphasise the need for more, lower cost moorings in this category.

10. BWAF supports the principle of BW’s proposed late payment charge [11]

AWCC support the proposal for a late payment charge.

11. Consider the practicality of regularly validating customer declarations of home mooring [14.2]

AWCC support this proposal.

12. Licence should more clearly show the type of licence and the type of mooring [14.3]

AWCC support this proposal.

13. Builders should be invited to report new boat deliveries to BW [14.5]

AWCC support this proposal.

14. Increases in fees beyond inflation should be related to measured improvements in standards for which boaters themselves had asked [16.5]

The AWCC has proposed in its opening comments that because of the extreme economic circumstances, the licence fee increases for 2009 should be restricted to the general level of inflation (RPI).  We ask that BW consult with the Government on this matter.  From 2010 onward, we would wish to see a resumption of the formula based approach, that AWCC were instrumental in encouraging when it was first introduced, which would reflect the inflation factors relevant to BW with an efficiency factor.  Particularly in the current financial circumstances, we believe that licence fees must not be continually increased above inflation, as it will eventually restrict boat owning to the very rich.  This is not a principle contain in the Government’s social inclusion policies.  Charging for “improvements” is a method seen not to work in the Environment Agency situation and we are equally sceptical in the case of BW.  BW’s third party and commercial income should fund improvements and we would give every encouragement to BW to increase this area of resource.

Overall

The AWCC believe that the licence terms and conditions do need a thorough overhaul, as they have been tinkered with over many years.  On balance, we think that that the proposals have not addressed the issue of overall fairness and that others may see them as more tinkering around the edges.  We suggest a more wide ranging review.

David Pearce

National Chairman
Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs

Ends
For more information please contact Brian Rich, AWCC communications Officer
communications@awcc.org.uk

The full letter is available as a PDF here: AWCC responds to licence fee consultation