British Waterways has announced that this year's licence fees are to rise by 8.3% - less than the 12.4% originally proposed (which would have been a 9% rise plus inflation). Today's press statement reads:
British Waterways (BW) has published the results of a three month public consultation into boat licence fees in England and Wales. As a result of responses from a range of boaters and boating organisations, together with acknowledgement of a downturn in the wider economy, BW will introduce lower than anticipated licence fee increases for 2008. The 10% prompt payment discount which benefits many fully paid-up boaters will be retained, whilst further measures to crack down on licence evasion, including a new penalty for late payment, will be introduced.
The boat licence fees applicable from April 2008 will be an 8.3% increase for private boat licences (rather than the previously proposed 12.4% increase). Workboat and trade plate licences will also increase by 8.3%. Leisure business licences will rise by 3.3% in line with BW's cost inflation index, whilst a relative licence fee increase of 5.35% will apply to small traders and cargo carriers.
A number of further proposals put forward by respondents during the consultation that could impact upon boat licence fees for 2009 and beyond will now be the subject of further consideration with the British Waterways Advisory Forum.
Robin Evans, BW chief executive, comments: "The breadth and depth of submissions to the consultation were well argued and passionate. In the short term we've recognised the concerns about increasing cost pressures on the boating community by revisiting the licence fee increases for 2008 and in retaining the prompt payment discount which benefits many of our boating customers."
However in making the announcement, Robin acknowledged concerns voiced during the consultation about the requirement for BW to do more to tackle licence evasion which, having completed the recent National Boat Count at the end of 2007, has slipped back 1.3% and now stands at 10.4% (8.7% if those that pay within 28 days are excluded).
Robin continues: "I recognise that the vast majority of boaters are fully paid-up members of the waterways community and considerate of the increased costs incurred when craft licence fees aren't paid on time. It is only right, and in the best interests of the waterways, that we crack down on the minority of unlicensed boaters who are seemingly happy to ignore both their legal and moral obligation to buy a licence and contribute to the cost of maintaining the network."
Specific new measures to tackle licence evasion include proposals for a £130 fixed cost-related penalty charge for boaters not renewing their licence within one month of its expiry. In addition, greater investment in patrol staff and budget for legal and contractor costs has been allocated for 2008 and 2009, particularly in the South East and West Midlands which together accommodate over a third of the boats on BW's network.
"Our investment in enforcement has not kept pace with the recent growth in boating and particularly the increase in residential boating which has pushed up the cost of dealing with evasion, but our enforcement systems and procedures are sound. I am sure that with the further measures we are now adding, there will be a sustained improvement in performance over the coming months," adds Robin.
Commenting on licence fees for 2009 and beyond, Robin says: "Having set out our immediate plans for 2008, our attention will turn to the many suggestions made during the consultation that would impact licence fees from 2009. We will be inviting the BW Advisory Forum to take a closer look at these suggestions which range from creating a more transparent link between licence fees and improvements in services, to charging differing rates for continuously cruising and 'wide' boats.
"BW will also continue to look at other funding sources, including those local authorities who many boaters feel aren't shouldering their responsibilities for the considerable benefit their communities receive from well maintained waterways. We are building a relationship with the Local Government Association and plan to meet at director level with a number of key riparian councils to discuss funding over the coming year."
British Waterways announced this morning that it is pulling out of the Cotswold Canals restoration - with potentially grave consequences for the project. It is blaming the decision on the need to find funds to repair the Monmouthshire & Brecon, which breached last year.
British Waterways is today (4th February 2008) announcing its decision to withdraw from the Cotswold Canals Partnership from April 2008.
The move follows a review of funding commitments for the next financial year and the diversion of significant funds to progress the urgent first phase of a repair programme for the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in Wales, which is expected to cost in the region of £15 million over four years.
Announcing the news, Robin Evans, Chief Executive said: "We have thought long and hard over this decision and know it will disappoint our partners in the project. Ultimately, however, we have a finite pot of money and the needs of our existing waterways must take priority. Around 16 miles of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal is currently closed and will require significant investment from us over the next 18 months as we undertake a massive repair programme to reopen it. These works are essential for those businesses and communities that depend upon and contribute to the canal and we are committed to getting it up and running in time for the 2009 cruising season."
While the failure of the lottery funding bid for the Cotswold Canals restoration (known as Phase 1B) was a major setback for project [WW note - this refers to the Big Lottery bid to connect to the Gloucester & Sharpness and Saul, not the Heritage Lottery-funded phase 1a], British Waterways remains optimistic that the restoration will be achieved in the future.
"We hope that the £1.5million we have invested in the project to date will help to lay the foundations for the canals’ ultimate restoration and reintegration with the national network,” said Robin Evans. "In the meantime we will continue and complete the works at Oil Mills, expected at the end of April 2008, and shall work with the partnership to ensure an orderly handover of all the good work that has been achieved thus far so that it can provide maximum benefit to the remaining partners in the project."
The decision will not affect British Waterways’ involvement in other canal restoration projects which include: the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal; the Helix project in Grangemouth; the Bow Back Rivers in London; the Liverpool Link and; the Droitwich Canals.
More news as the story develops.