Many boaters reading this will I'm sure be aware of the situation I'm about to describe. It's not recent news but an ongoing problem which sees visiting boaters from up country actively discouraged from visiting one of the gems of the canal network. Right now there's an opportunity to let CRT know how we feel about this. First let me paint the picture.
In our first few years of having Herbie, we made frequent visits to London, mostly tying up in Paddington for a city break and sometimes continuing on down to Limehouse, or turning off for a trip up the Lee and Stort. It was a joy, and for the first time in our lives we were able to take regular advantage of what the city has to offer without expensive and tedious train journeys and even more expensive hotels. Later, I joined the Towpath Ranger volunteer gang in London and spent many an hour talking to London boaters and towpath users and seeing from the inside some of the operations of CRT.
When we first started making these visits, we sometimes paused at Kensal Green for a night or two before moving on in to Paddington. On the stretch between the two, we saw no moored boats until we got to Little Venice, then on arrival in Paddington it was often fairly full, but we never failed to find a spot to tie up. The Paddington security guards would pay us a polite visit reminding us that we would be expected to leave after seven (I think) days.
Skip forward ten years and I'll describe our more recent experiences. (It's been a year or more probably since I last patrolled the area, but I'm pretty sure my recollections hold to this day). From the time you arrive anywhere past Acton, the bank will be lined with boats two or sometimes three abreast all the way into Paddington. That's four miles of nose to tail boats virtually all residential. Your chances of finding a vacant spot are virtually nil. There are of course moorings designated as Visitor Moorings throughout London, but those occupying them will not be visitors but mostly boaters resident in London. It is common to see boaters exchanging mooring spots late at night, so that they can fulfil their time limit obligations without losing a spot.
CRT knows the problem but thus far they have been unable or unwilling to protect the needs of visiting boaters to any proper extent. There are a couple of spots on Rembrandt gardens which are bookable by visitors. That's two or three moorings which you might be lucky enough to book in a huge city of thousands of boats. I'm sure that places in Paddington basin can be found on some days, but they wouldn't be vacant for more than a few hours. Other spots at Camden and Victoria Park have long since been virtually impossible to obtain. I think I also read that Limehouse was now a no no, but you may correct me on that. How anyone who wishes to make the trip from the Grand Union to the Lee navigation can guarantee to do so defeats me, you cant't reasonably do it in one day, so you need somewhere to stop for the night.
The upshot of all this has been that the uncertainty of finding anywhere to moor has meant that anyone cruising into or through London from further afield runs a high risk of finding nowhere to stop. So most of us, sadly, just don't go there even though we'd love to. In practice we feel excluded. Locked out.
CRT has problems enough with managing all the residential boaters in London and that is where much of their energies are spent, but having worked alongside them for some time (admittedly not very recently) they do seem totally absorbed by the issues of London based boaters at the expense of those visiting or passing through the city.
This is not a rant against London residential boaters, it is a plea for the rights of the rest of us.
At the moment they are running another consultation on boating in London, and yesterday I filled in the survey. If you feel like me, I urge you to do the same. What I suggested is this. CRT has a duty to enable navigation through the system and that must include maintaining places where visitors can stop. Visitor moorings should be for visitors to the city, not for boaters already resident in the area to move back and forth. It would not be difficult for CRT to issue a distinctive licence for boaters based in London, so that genuine visitors to the city could be identified as such. In that way a reasonable number of spaces for visitors could be maintained for their sole use and barred to boaters with a London licence.
I get the feeling that CRT feels that very few 'genuine' visitor spaces are needed, and of course that's because so many of us have given up bothering to take the risk to visit or pass through the city. Were the places available, the people would come - as we have every right to do.
Rant over. If you feel as strongly as I do about his issue then spare a few minutes to complete the CRT survey on Managing Boats on London's Busy Waterways. If you feel so moved, then please encourage others to do so. You can be sure that the boaters from within the city will be eagerly protesting their own needs (as they have every right to do), but those of us who wish to exercise our right as visitors need to speak up. I don't know about you, but I feel as though London is virtually a no go area for visitors which makes me very sad.