The Government would like there to be more houseboats in Britain. One way the hope to achieve this is through privatising the canals which currently host 15,000 houseboats. From next year British Waterways will cease to be a Quango, under the dead hand of the state and costing Defra £60 million a year. It will be reborn as the New Waterways Charity. This will make its operations and fund raising less restrictive.Free access to the towpaths will be protected.
The canal system was built by private enterprise but was nationalised in 1948. British Waterways owns 2,000 miles of canals and river navigations. It also have nine miles of docks and thousands of locks and embankments. It sounds as though it could host rather more houseboats than it does - for which it would gain more revenue from licence and mooring fees, currently generates £29 million. (It also gets some revenue from angling.)
Another 600 miles of waterway is owned by the Environment Agency although DEFRA haven't got round to sorting that out yet.
But this is also an matter of relevance to local councils. My council, for example, owns land along the River Thames. The requirements for transparency on asset ownership will help.
The incentive for Councils to allow houseboats by the land they own on the waterside is also increased by the New Homes Bonus – this will be in addition to the revenue from mooring fees.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps says:
"Whilst they will never overtake bricks and mortar in putting a roof over the heads of families, innovative new ways of housing families – such as residential moorings – play an important role in allowing people to live near to their place of work, children's school, or family, and where perhaps they would not be able to afford to otherwise.
"Around 15,000 people live on our waterways and many more would like to do so. The Government's commitment to Localism could be an opportunity for living on boats to be given a new lease of life. Where houseboats pay council tax, communities will be eligible for the New Homes Bonus, so the potential economic benefits are huge.
"Landlords, councils and communities all have a clear incentive to get more mooring sites in their areas and not become landlocked in their quest to meet local housing needs."
Sally Ash, Head of Boating at British Waterways said:
"The number of people visiting and enjoying our canals and rivers has grown in recent years and this waterways renaissance has triggered strong demand from people wanting to live afloat. We welcome the Minister's encouragement to local authorities to support the creation of purpose built residential mooring sites which we hope will help to alleviate localised congestion along the towpaths. We are also pleased to note the reassurance from Mr Shapps' department that people can qualify for housing benefit for help with mooring fees."
Alan Wildman, Chairman of the Residential Boat Owners' Association (RBOA) said:
"Living afloat is arguably the most sustainable, lowest impact way to live, whilst still being able to enjoy 100 per cent of the modern amenities that are available to those who live in conventional housing."