Our homes and our safety are now at risk, say ousted boaters

March 01 2020

Phil Harding, chairman of Saltford Environment Group, said that the decision to allow the moorings had proved to be a ‘major blunder’

Our homes and our safety are now at risk, say ousted boaters

LIVE-ABOARD boaters fear it is only a matter of time before an accident happens following the decision to remove “lifeline” moorings from the River Avon in Saltford.
After years of clashes between Mead Lane residents and people in houseboats, council leaders agreed to take away the two-week and 48-hour moorings amid concerns for the structure of the riverbank.
Boaters claim they will have no choice but to moor in unsafe locations and risk losing their homes.
But villagers said it was a “major blunder” to allow mooring in Mead Lane after a six-figure sum was spent shoring up the riverbank.
Laura Darling, who lives on a boat with her young son, said: “I had to leave the marina because I was pregnant. It feels like there’s nowhere left for me to go.
“This is going to have an impact all along the river. I’m worried about vulnerable people.
“I wouldn’t go on the river at this time of year. The conditions can be scary. More people are going to have to moor further down the river, where it’s more tidal.
“Boats can sink there quite easily. There’s a possibility of people losing their homes. It’s only a matter of time.”
She added: “Until recently, the Mead Lane residents said they wanted to get rid of boaters because of antisocial behaviour. We’ve had a lot of verbal abuse, disgusting things, just because we live on boats. All of a sudden they’ve pulled out a structural survey.”
Growing numbers of boaters started using the site after a six-figure sum was spent in 2005 stabilising the riverbank in Mead Lane, sparking complaints about unregulated mooring.
Animosity between residents and boaters escalated in 2017, when Bath and North East Somerset Council trialled a number of mooring points that allow users to stay for up to 48 hours or as long as two weeks.
Opponents said it was a “failed experiment” that ignored proper processes and residents’ views from the outset.
Saltford Environment Group chairman Phil Harding said details of the 2005 structural works only re-emerged when he was handed documents from a Mead Lane resident in October – and they trumped previous disputes between residents and boaters that saw them trade accusations of prejudice, threats and intimidation.
He said the road, the only access to a sewage treatment plant serving thousands of Bath homes, was at risk of collapse and a sewage pipe could fracture if the damage continued.
Mr Harding added: “The council made a major blunder allowing the moorings. The riverbank was never designed for boats. It wasn’t managed and got out of hand.
“The boaters are in denial if they’re ignoring the facts. You shouldn’t moor boats there.”
The Saltford Environment Group hopes the riverbank can become a nature reserve.
The arguments convinced B&NES cabinet members, who voted to remove the moorings.
The council will commission a structural survey of the river bank to allow an “informed decision” on the long-term use of the land. Next year’s budget includes a £35,000 allocation for the survey.
Calling for the moorings to be removed at the cabinet meeting, councillor Paul Crossley said the council must look along the riverbank for alternative sites for boaters and ensure their needs are met.
The authority said it would be putting more information out shortly.
Alice Young, who works in boater outreach for homelessness charity Julian House and lives on a boat herself, said: “It’s important we have conversations about alternative provision soon so we have some assurance about what the options are.
“The challenge historically is that the majority of the River Avon is privately owned. That’s why Mead Lane was such a precious resource. The issue will be displaced.”
She said a solution is needed by the spring, because that is when the river will be navigable and people will be on the move.
Councillor Crossley said: “Officers are currently working up plans to implement the decision taken by cabinet.
“Among these plans is the need for a specialist structural survey to establish the condition of the riverbank to see if it is suitable for moorings to continue.
“We will be doing further work to look at moorings along the river, taking into account weather conditions and safety of boaters who need to move on to alternative locations, to explore what alternative provision can be made.
“We have a very good working relationship with the Canal and Rivers Trust and will be working with them to monitor any potential displacement.”