London Waterways Projects was set up following a series of meetings in a pub with a few of the social enterprise minded boaters who were active in London circa 2011/2012. I brought a group of about 6 boaters together to discuss whether there was a case to set up a social enterprise,or something, to just get on and do stuff which we all agreed could be done and BW weren’t doing. I was very aware I’d not been on the cut all that long (about 6 years now – so comparatively little at the time) so was pleased by the support of people who had been on the water far longer than I and most of whom I think still are. I ended up taking this project forward, and developing it into London Waterways projects by convincing London Met the project was a valid planning and architecture project. I’m pleased to say that I still regularly speak to the other boaters who were there at the beginning.
Working with boaters to define places back in 2011
The gist of the project is pretty simple but it hopefully has quite far reaching positive benefits to the waterway. Though moorings are the most obvious thing right now, the overall project isn’t just about moorings.
The general idea is to develop non-auction moorings which are priced based on cost to develop and operate, rather than just maximum profit. There is an application process which is intended to help to create a community rather than a parking space for boats and the intent is to support people who need a mooring most for whatever reason. (E.g. family with a child who used to moor in town some of the time and out of town at others but now find they just can’t get into town because its all too busy, or who can’t double moor because someone is disabled etc etc.) The ultimate aspiration is to outsource this shortlisting process to local organisations who have skill and experience in assessing applications – to this end, we are currently working to develop strong relationships with a number of local housing associations in proposed areas.
I have spoken informally to CRT a number of times over the years about supporting community projects through providing sub market rate leases and, whilst they have been supportive in principle, the quite rational response it that central London also needs to support less-loved parts of the network which still need to be maintained. Whilst I would love to have CRT give sites away to community groups, it makes sense to me that these sites shouldn’t be in zone 2 where there is some potential for revenue, considering they have 2200 miles of canal across the country to keep in water. What London Waterways Projects aspires to do, is to meet CRT in the middle and to pay market rate for the land/water on a site; by then not making a huge profit from the development (and minimising costs more intensely that a commercial developer might), we are able to make the actual price of moorings significantly below the prevailing market rate. This also comes down to leases, and we are working with CRT to secure the longest leases they are comfortable with to spread the initial financing over the longest period of time. After the initial lease period it’s probable that the site will be maintained by London Waterways Projects, but a negotiation will take place over new lease terms as with any commercial lease renewal.
Though the moorings are priced based on their costs, they are still a revenue stream and in time when the construction work (and worse the banks interest!) is paid off this will hopefully result in some surplus to support other projects which benefit the canal. This might be £500 to support a community garden like Skyway or paying for training for people to do a Community Boat helmsman course so they can skipper for the Pirate Castle or frankly anything which makes the canal the unique place it is. I would love to be in the position where London Waterways Projects is grant giving on a monthly basis – it’s a way off but its part of the plan!
Collecting boaters waste in the Bins By Boat Trial
I’m a firm believer in getting on with something if you know it’s right – to that end I’ve started the Bins By Boat Trial, as a part of London Waterways Projects. I’ve not been paid a penny for doing that but have spent a not insubstantial amount of time and my own money supplying bags to boaters, developing and maintaining a website and managing the whole thing. This was a situation where everyone agreed it made sense but it just needed someone to get on and do it to make it happen. In time, with the ability to offer small grants, I would love to support other boaters in similar projects which just get on and do something that hopefully has a lasting benefit on the canal.
Aside from moorings supporting community projects, they can also be used to piggy back much-needed facilities for the wider boating community – e.g. a pump out on a mooring site could be made public access (that was the plan for Corbridge but it’s taken so long to work through that CRT have now put one in with their moorings above the lock). I don’t believe in relying on solely on CRT to fund new facilities when there is a viable alternative, in London at least I think my approach is a viable alternative. We need facilities and we need offside moorings (particularly if you consider the demographic of boaters in London – what are people to do if they need to make stronger ties to a particular local area, for example to start a family? – move back to an expensive flat they can’t afford? I personally would rather have the option of a mooring and staying on the canal, and think this should be a potential choice for people). It seems logical to me to try to use offside mooring development to fund new facilities rather campaigning for more facilities solely funded by CRT, resulting in more money which CRT can invest elsewhere.
Following a conversation the other day I revisited the GLA moor or less report and had a look at the 7 recommendations it made, I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say we are working to deliver on most of what they deemed was most needed in London, specifically:
Recommendation 1: Mooring Supply
Recommendation 3: The auction process
Recommendation 4: Community Moorings
Recommendation 5: Facilities
London Waterways Projects supporting a clean-up event on the Limehouse Cut with Barnet
Beyond the moorings the wider remit of London Waterways Projects is to make the case for boats and boaters with planning authorities and to engage with surrounding community groups to increase understanding of the needs of boats and boaters. (Recommendations 2 and 6 of the GLA report as well). An example of some of this would be representations on planning applications and ongoing dialogue with a number of London Boroughs and Housing Associations to make provision for and better understand boats – by no means are we the only ones doing this, but through extensive experience I have gained over the years I have a ton of knowledge about the costs and the practicalities of doing stuff on the canal, and can now quickly fag packet ideas & costs to move a conversation beyond “we’ll look into it” into maybe actually happening. This ranges from the simple provision of a tap at a development in Camden to 200m of towpath mooring rings funded by a developer in west London.