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Some thoughts on post-lockdown on the Thames

LimL

Member
Joined
4 Jun 2008
Messages
97
Location
Surrey
Like most boat-owners, I haven’t seen my boat since 23rd March when the lockdown was announced. My marina (MDL) was quick to announce the complete closure of the marina, whilst also pointing out that they continued to look after all our boats in the same way – no doubt in anticipation of demands for a reduction in marina fees! The Environment Agency too was quick to suggest that non-essential boat trips were not desirable, and enforced this by switching off power to most locks, preventing the use of others completely, and allowing fallen trees, sunken boats and other obstacles to remain, obstructing the navigation.

The effects of the Coronavirus lockdown has been very uneven. All too many families have lost loved ones as a result of the government’s muddled and delayed policies. And some families have been left without any income, or greatly reduced income, for many weeks, whilst at the same time coping with children at home because of school closures. Others have been relatively little affected; such as those on secure pensions, or still able to (or having to) work. And some have seen an increase in demand – NHS workers, carers, supermarket staff, DIY outlets, etc.

The many businesses that have been seriously affected are keen to get back to work, even if on a limited basis, to provide an income stream to offset their fixed outgoings. This includes river-based firms running repairs, chandlery, valeting, hire-boats and others. And maybe even those whose income is derived from collecting mooring fees! So these businesses have a big incentive to return.

I wonder however about those organisations who continue to take, or have taken, their fees and no doubt have no intention of giving any of them back again. Maybe the current situation suits them quite well, and they will be keen to find excuses not to get back to any level of normal working?

For the Environment Agency, no annoying boaters complaining about unmanned locks, overgrown vegetation on lock laybys, inadequate dredging, excessive wash, arrogant rowers, fallen trees blocking the navigation, navigation signs unreadable or broken, lock hydraulics needing emergency repair, regattas to co-ordinate and supervise… I could go on.

For marina operators, no need to provide any more than skeleton manning, no complaints of pump-outs not working or shortage of fuel or gas, no need to maintain and clean toilets and showers, no complaints about bird fouling on walkways – it’s a dream way to make money!

It seems clear though that enjoying the river, and using marina facilities, meets most if not all of the requirements for social distancing, fresh air and exercise. A prompt resumption of the activities that we all love is now due, I think. Or is it?
 

Outinthedinghy

Active member
Joined
18 May 2008
Messages
589
Location
Limehouse hole
I was quite interested to hear that the EA said no when a Thames contractor offered to remove the tree above Marsh lock.

The danger is that a boater will turn up and try to cut it which could possibly result in quite a nasty accident.

I've not seen it but apparently it is reasonably serious in that it would need a work vessel to deal with it. Not something you can just push out of the way.

Obviously boating is miniscule in terms of importance in the greater scheme of running a country but it would be nice if they switched the power back on. Maybe go back to the old system public power during working hours. Keeper comes out at 9am switches it on then comes out again at 5pm and switches it off.

Boating is actually quite a good socially distant activity for many people.
 

Actionmat

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13 Dec 2012
Messages
8,799
Location
Teddington
Yes. How can jogging, walking, cycling and even sitting on a park bench now be encouraged but using a boat is supposedly a no no? No one's suggesting club meets and mass BBQs on the towpath. Paddleboarders and kayaks are lapping it up. And all you boaters paying mooring fees, Teddington Lock is lined with liveaboards and if my information is correct, free moorings, they're not being charged by the EA.
 

bourne35

New member
Joined
25 Oct 2011
Messages
3
My understanding is that , The charges are for a service of keeping the navigation open and at a minimum depth. This is not just a tax its a fee for a service, no service no charges. We cant use our boats , so I would expect the months of lock down to be removed from the fees , and as these are half the summer months, if you charge anything for this year it should be 50%, that is if the navigation is open and clear of issues .
Can you please have your lawyers look into this.
If I pay a house painter 1k to paint my house and they do not do it it would be theft. I do not see any difference in this we pay for a right to use a river which the government has shut.
I also understand that many of your staff were left on full pay at home and not furloughed can you confirm this? Your chairman earns 218k a year + a 240k pension . Your directors add up to millions a year. a private firm would have reduced its costs to reflect that if they were not able to do their usual jobs and therefore they would not collect as much money . Has the EA done this?


EA Response

Thank you for your email of 13 May to our Enquiries Team, which has been passed to me for a response.

You are right that the boat registration charge makes a significant contribution towards managing and maintaining our waterways and the service we provide that benefits boaters, ensuring people and the environment are protected from harm. We provide this service 365 days a year, 24 hours a day (in normal times, not including a pandemic situation) – it costs us in the region of £20m per year across all the waterways we look after, although the income from charges is only around £7.5m. Therefore this income is vital for us.

Whilst I recognise your frustration, I am afraid we are not able to offer refunds, extensions or a reduction in our boat registration charge as a result of recreational customers not being able to use their boats as normal during the coronavirus restrictions. This is because all boats afloat on our waterways must be registered by law and the registration charge is due whether those boats are being used or not. This is consistent with our refund policy and is supported by our Executive Directors and Board.

It is correct that the Environment Agency has not furloughed any staff. They have continued to provide a public service in response to coronavirus, with our navigation teams continuing to manage waterways and carry out essential maintenance. All staff have been based at home at this time, many are supporting our incident response and have been busy planning for how we gradually return our waterways to normal use for all of our customers.

I hope that you have now received our Guidance Note 5 (attached here for reference) which sets out our plans for lifting our advice against non-essential travel on the waterways. In order to ensure the safety of both boaters and staff we are carrying out channel and asset inspections, marking hazards, erecting signage and issuing local guidance for boaters. As this work is completed on sections of the waterways we are then communicating out to our customers to let them know that it is safe to undertake non-essential leisure cruising. We expect the Thames to be fully available for you to resume boating very soon indeed, possibly as early as this weekend.

Kind regards


National Navigation Manager



My response

Thank you for your reply.
I seem to remember reading a few years ago that it was The EA responsibility to keep the navigation open and you have failed to do this. The highways authority kept the motorways open and I do not see any difference in difficulty.
I know some EA staff an I know they were at home with nothing to do on full pay. If you had furloughed staff with nothing to do like any sensible private firm would have The EA would have saved money. You directors get paid a huge amount of money and as customers we see an EA only interested in collecting money with no interest in improving the navigation, no attendance in flooding, no removal of illegally moored boats, no enforcement to stop residential boats discharging sewage or enforcement of the Thames bye-laws. Ineffective hot lines and no access to Thames based staff.
The Thames licence is not a tax, it is supposed to pay for a service. Quiet frankly all we see from the EA is financial waste.
You turn up at the Henley festival each year and have a big taxpayers paid for picnic, this is a private event like football, if your attendance is required the Henley festival should pay for it, and I don't think they would pay for a picnic encampment when the boats are based at Hambleden lock.
One of your boats has been cruising around Henley today with two staff not socially distanced in the cabin , this sets a poor example.

Regards


24 April 2020
The Canal & River Trust is extending all boat licences by one month in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The situation will be assessed again in a month’s time when a further view will be taken about the extent and likely timescales around the coronavirus disruption on boating.
 

Old Crusty

Active member
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28 Aug 2017
Messages
457
Just to clarify - the registration licence permits you to float your boat on the Thames, you get nothing else. It's just like road fund tax in that regard.

The ancient, public right of navigation has not been closed nor can it be. The EA may not prevent you from navigating, it can only advise you not to but it may require you to conform to the legislation pertaining to the river. It is the EA's duty to protect the PRN and to maintain the fairway but this is not a service. As I've said often before, the EA does not provide a service, it is the navigation authority and the clue is in the second word.

As modern consumers, we have become accustomed to having services from a variety of providers but the EA is not such an organisation, it is the regulatory body managing (or mismanaging depending on your view) the non-tidal river.
 

oldgit

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Joined
6 Nov 2001
Messages
21,270
Location
Medway
"The Canal & River Trust is extending all boat licences by one month "

Had Thames users not be so hostile to change and had CaRT not run a mile at the terms imposed to take over the navigation, you would have now been under the aegis of CaRT and enjoying your extended boat licence.
Would need a change in the law for for any organisation publicly funded, such the EA , to offer refunds.
CaRT are a charity and control their own cash.

CART. Wikipedia.
"The idea was revived by the management of British Waterways in 2008 in response to increasing cuts in grant-in-aid funding, a drop in commercial income after the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and growing calls by waterway users for a greater say in the running of the waterways."

A common view at the time was that CaRT would spend ALL the "Jewel in the Crown" Thames money on canals and rivers somewhere in the wasteland outside the M25 and would be profligate spenders of the funds so willingly given by hard pressed Thames boaters. :)
 
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Gibeltarik

Member
Joined
11 Dec 2018
Messages
33
The most recent legislation for the Thames (and other EA waters) is the 2010 Inland Waterways order.

Clause 23 states:
Charging Without prejudice to any other power available to it, the Agency may demand, take and recover or waive such charges for or in connection with the use of the waterways and for any services or facilities provided by it in connection with the waterways as it thinks fit.

Despite prompting EA managers, its Executive Directors and the Board continue to ignore the key word 'waive' which gives them adequate authority to waive some or all (!) of the registration charges.

Full document here - The Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010
 

oldgit

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21,270
Location
Medway
The most recent legislation for the Thames (and other EA waters) is the 2010 Inland Waterways order.

Clause 23 states:
Charging Without prejudice to any other power available to it, the Agency may demand, take and recover or waive such charges for or in connection with the use of the waterways and for any services or facilities provided by it in connection with the waterways as it thinks fit.

Despite prompting EA managers, its Executive Directors and the Board continue to ignore the key word 'waive' which gives them adequate authority to waive some or all (!) of the registration charges.

Full document here - The Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010
but they dont have any money of their own to waive.
If they refund any money that means a short fall in what they will need to fund the river,less tree cutting, less dredging, money to raise sunken boats, so its cap in hand back to DEFRA and back to the taxpayer .
The days of public largesse to fund peoples hobbies are long gone ?
 
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Old Crusty

Active member
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28 Aug 2017
Messages
457
The most recent legislation for the Thames (and other EA waters) is the 2010 Inland Waterways order.

Clause 23 states:
Charging Without prejudice to any other power available to it, the Agency may demand, take and recover or waive such charges for or in connection with the use of the waterways and for any services or facilities provided by it in connection with the waterways as it thinks fit.

Despite prompting EA managers, its Executive Directors and the Board continue to ignore the key word 'waive' which gives them adequate authority to waive some or all (!) of the registration charges.

Full document here - The Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010
I think the clue here is the word 'may' and while the authority has the power it doesn't have the desire or the need to waive all or part of the charges..
 

Gibeltarik

Member
Joined
11 Dec 2018
Messages
33
And about 20% of the EA's Navigation money comes from us - the motor boaters. The major part of their income is indeed from the taxpayers purse - and we have contributed to that as well.

But - as Old Crusty observes - they do not have to waive any charges (only known occasion to floating structures - non-mobile houseboats- despite spending a huge sum of money on lost appeals - lost due to poor drafting of same IWO by EA lawyers)

The staff were probably not put on furlough - just left idle on full pay at home - as there is no point in transferring Treasury funds from Grant in Aid to Furlough funding!
 

bourne35

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25 Oct 2011
Messages
3
Most of the EA money seems to be spent doing nothing, its spent on directors huge pay and perks,expensive equipment they will not use and making sure they can not be contacted when needed. The Thames is in a disgraceful condition , The boats cruise about on sunny days but notice nothing . The flood management is a fiasco, the relief channels are silted and full of trees , the policy of opening all the weirs in any rain kills most he spring ducks etc , and the fish appear to have been decimated. The EA have no accountability.
 

Old Crusty

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Most of the EA money seems to be spent doing nothing, its spent on directors huge pay and perks,expensive equipment they will not use and making sure they can not be contacted when needed. The Thames is in a disgraceful condition , The boats cruise about on sunny days but notice nothing . The flood management is a fiasco, the relief channels are silted and full of trees , the policy of opening all the weirs in any rain kills most he spring ducks etc , and the fish appear to have been decimated. The EA have no accountability.
Hmm, that's quite a list of accusations without supporting and referenced evidence. I'm not going to defend the EA but it's important to understand the reality.

The directors may be a bit lacklustre but I'm not aware that they get 'perks' other than half a day at HRR annually. Please explain what you mean.

Please confirm what 'expensive equipment' has been purchased that is not in use.

Re contact, note that the EA is always contactable on the published emergency hotline 0800 80 70 60. Complaints to directors and other staff will be answered within 20 working days.

The EA has endured a significant and continued fall in revenue as have all other government departments so its inevitable that the Thames will look different to what it was prior to the austerity years. Riparian landowners are also not doing their bit.

Patrol boats are just that, on patrol. Just because they appear to do nothing at the time doesn't mean they don't submit reports to generate work to be done later, be that clearing obstructions, laying marks or pursuing registration evaders.

I believe that there is only one constructed flood relief channel (so far), known as the Jubilee River. Last I looked it wasn't silted nor were there any trees growing in it. To keep it sweet and the silt moving, it has a managed flow of about 10 cumecs rising higher in times of flood to about 180 cumecs.

Water level management has evolved over decades; there is an individual management plan for the moving of each weir. Weir gate movements are incremental as water levels rise and fall to prevent surging. Primarily, the water level is managed for the benefit of navigation and to protect properties from flooding, so far as that is possible. In my experience, more ducklings are taken by pike than drown in flood conditions. Speeding boats cause huge wash that flushes out chicks from riverbank nests.

I agree that fish stocks may have fallen over the last few years with the rise in keeping the catch for food as preferred by some anglers.

Hope that helps to clarify your points.
 

oldgit

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Any outsider might be suprised that a river, which historically enjoys a level of service which other navigations can only dream about , generates such a curiously high level of dissatisfaction. Almost a feeling of entitlement.
Other rivers controlled by the EA seem to attract a lot less critical comment, all managing on far less money and services.
Moving a boat elsewhere would instantly solve the problem of course.
 

Phill

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3 Sep 2004
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899
Location
Surrey/Kent borders
Any outsider might be suprised that a river, which historically enjoys a level of service which other navigations can only dream about , generates such a curiously high level of dissatisfaction.
There is a huge majority of Thames users that are very happy with the service provided and as we have very little to moan about, we stay quiet.
On a personal note, I think the EA should be very proud of what they’ve done in the last week or two.
 

sur-la-mer

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21 May 2020
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Location
Pyongyang
I agree that fish stocks may have fallen over the last few years with the rise in keeping the catch for food as preferred by some anglers.
People really eat the fish? God, that would be a final step before a zombie apocalypse diet for me. The only ones fishing around us are East European types who clearly have no idea what goes into the river. We have/had annual problems with Romanians camping out in benders along the river banks to add to the workload of dealing with shantytown continuous non-cruisers.

I'm not subject to the EA but do see a bit of the Canal & River Trust's work. In aviation, there's a joke that CAA standards for the "campaign against aviation" and one has to wonder about the tendency of people who are attracted to such bureaucratic jobs, but then end up becoming the biggest obstacles to the interests they are supposed to working for.

Do they start out with good intentions and interests but then are just worn down by having to deal with all of the idiocies and selfishness they are confronted by daily? Have to say a number of our local lot are miserable jobworthies of the type you used to expect working for local councils, whose first tendency is try and work out why something can't be done when it obviously could.

The go to "if you don't it, take your boat elsewhere" line is shameless response because the same types are everywhere. And, if it's not them, it's the property developers types, chewing away what remains of yards, harbours and coastlines.

I do feel they'd all rather not have boats spoiling their waters and giving them work to do, except perhaps on plinths as historic remembrances.
 

Old Crusty

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The eastern Europeans mince the whole fish, often carp, and turn the paste into fish cakes. I'm sure they have an earthy flavour.

After working in a dynamic business in the private sector for 38 years, I joined the public sector (EA). I was surprised by the lack of ambition to improve work systems and by the systemic management bullying designed to suppress those regarded as difficult to manage or who were not toeing the party line. Late incomers to the public sector like me were regarded with suspicion and discouraged from having 'good ideas' in case they caught on.

The senior managers' approach is to maintain the status quo as it's easier than having to deal with changing for the better and the focus is on process rather than outcomes. The EA and the CRT (where I now volunteer) are similar in this regard.

The good news is that there's a new Acting Waterways Manager with maritime military experience who is cracking on with how the river ought to be managed rather than the recent bureaucratic apparatchiks we have endured (especially the last four). It's a poison chalice job as it can be difficult to please river users. However, he has started at lock level, worked his way up and is leading his team and they are responding so far rather than poncing about for photo opportunities at public events, something that has infuriated the boaters.
 

sur-la-mer

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Pyongyang
Thank you for your reasonable reply. Sounds like a job for a military engineer. Could he slip through the widening the Northampton Arm while no one's looking, please?

Serving the status quo is terrible disease in England (and no doubt a fair argument against socialistic tendencies).

It's a great shame when one goes to see, for example, some of the canal work done in Scandinavia and compares it to what we have left here.

I don't know what went wrong. Perhaps we were too busy off conquering India, or something?
 

oldgit

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"It's a great shame when one goes to see, for example, some of the canal work done in Scandinavia and compare it to what we have left here. "
Wonder if its anything to do with their munificent " socialistic tendencies" in Scandinavia :)
 

sur-la-mer

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Pyongyang
Small island, lots of hills
Sweden. Big country, even bigger hills, huge canals. Yup, socialist tendencies, with their military onboard.

We really should have had a wide beam river/canal network to match the Trollhatte-Vanern/Vattern-Gota Canal linking east to west and London to the Midlands. Funnily enough, accepting that the money would be pretty impossible to find and the cost of compensation for property and land now, one of the resistance where it could be widened are the conservation crowd who defend the historical narrow locks.
 
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