RECENTLY I attended a protest at the Black Boy Pub organised by boat owners at Knowle locks who just aren’t happy with the condition of the waterways and tow paths there.
If a constituent in Meriden or Balsall Common complained that vandalism and theft were a regular occurrence, that people drove down the street without a licence and that residents did not have access to adult social care then people would sit up and listen. As taxpayers, they are entitled to the services they pay for.
But boat owners, despite paying their taxes and a licence too, seem to get second class treatment. They are victims of crime, the towpaths leading to their boats are in a serious state of disrepair and British Waterways’ policing of who holds a license seems ineffective. Not only that but people who choose to live on their boat are not eligible for social care because they aren’t registered to a home address. Boat owners pay a fee to British Waterways to use the canal but the service they receive isn’t matching up. They have a right to expect better.
After the event, I wrote to taxpayer-funded British Waterways to express my concern. But I also wrote to Hilary Benn at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who oversee new waterways because licence holders have a right to value for money.
I was also pleased to hear that boat-owners are getting their own neighbourhood watch scheme. ‘Canal Watch’, set up by the police, will bring the community together to make the waterways a safer place.
The regeneration of canals in city centres can transform deprived areas, towpaths beside canals provide miles of lovely places to walk in the fresh air, and carrying freight by boat cuts carbon emissions and reduces climate change. I think we should fight to preserve and care for our unique waterways so they can continue to be used and enjoyed by everyone in the community.