Published: 29 November, 2013
LAST week I helped to conduct a precarious public meeting to discuss lawlessness on the Regent’s Canal. We covered some emotive subjects and the meeting attracted more than 50 guests.
A hot topic was the visitor moorings in the picturesque yet troubled stretch of water in the cutting between Noel Road and Vincent Terrace, just below the eastern portal of the Islington Tunnel.
Few people choose to sacrifice their valuable free time to attend meetings unless they sense a threat to their parking space, their property value, their health or their children’s education. On this occasion, all of these threats were on people’s minds.
Parking spaces for boats are highly sought after, especially near tube stations and other facilities.
Demand is outstripping supply several times over.
Boat-dwellers are flocking into London while facilities and mooring spaces are steadily declining.
Property developers are marking territory with glossy signs and construction equipment and they are steadily squeezing boats into other locations.
Residents in existing buildings are experiencing unprecedented levels of mooring congestion on their doorsteps, accompanied by extra noise and smoke.
Visiting boats are deterred from exploring the sights of Islington because the canal now feels like a red route and the parking problem has throttled inland waterway tourism.
Property values could tumble in certain spots if noise and smoke levels persist, but the more immediate issues are quality of life and health risks.
Residents have been lobbying the authorities on a daily basis but they constantly complain that there are no signs of improvement.
Children’s education is a sensitive topic for certain boaters because it could become untenable to moor within reasonable distance of a school without incurring fines. If they are to avoid homelessness then their best hope is some flexibility in the rules.
However, we can find solutions by thinking more laterally.
Tensions between Noel Road residents and boaters are well publicised, but this localised conflict has become a convenient distraction from wider issues.
The root cause of the Noel Road problems is that the designated visitor moorings are being used as semi-permanent homes rather than as short-stay stopovers.
If the visits were restricted to 48 hours and if annual limits were applied then these moorings would encourage a higher turnover of boats, many of which would arrive with fully charged batteries.
Tourism would become viable again.
This is not a form of social cleansing, because locals will still be entitled to moor casually along the intervening stretches of the canal.
There are now proposals to turn the visitor moorings into a quiet zone and some critics view this as favouritism towards the fiercest lobbyists. Admittedly, the immediate residents would benefit from this measure but they are not the only users of this area.
This is a unique wooded area that is open to everybody. It includes footpaths on both sides of the water and it is a perfect destination for visitors and locals seeking a quiet rest area.
Life on the Regent’s Canal is now at a crossroads. If the authorities turn a blind eye to recent trends or if they fail to synchronise their combined objectives, then the canal could evolve into a floating caravan park with very few colourful open spaces to attract visitors.
Alternatively, if all stakeholders can look at the wider picture, if the public can start to appreciate the need for certain rules and if peer pressure can displace the need for formal enforcement then we could be back on track for making the canal a pleasant destination for visitors and locals alike.
• Ian Shacklock chairs the Friends of Regent’s Canal