I’VE mentioned before in this column that I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Environment Agency because, in this age of austerity and Government cutbacks, it has struggled to meet all its commitments to river users because of a lack of funds.
But I have to say that the Agency’s latest wheeze – announcing that it proposes to put up the registration fees for boat owners on the non-tidal Thames by a sizeable 4.8 percent has me struggling to defend it.
This rise consists of the consumer price index figure for July – 2.8 percent – plus a two percent surcharge to try to bridge the funding shortfall caused by cuts in government subsidy.
And of course this follows on from several years of above-inflation increases in the licence fee.
I don’t mind paying a fair whack for the right to use my boat on the Thames but it’s beginning to feel as though I’m being forced to pay for the upkeep of the locks on our stretch single-handed.
Apart from the tightened purse strings of HMG, a significant contributory factor to this problem of under-funding comes from the large number of boat owners who do not pay their annual licence fees with a reasonable chance that no one will ever challenge them for not having one.
I’ve heard Matt Carter and his colleagues from the Environment Agency telling law-abiding boat owners who do pay their fees that the agency is cracking down on the evaders.
But when my brother and I cruised from Shepperton down to Teddington Lock recently we must have passed at least 30 boats showing no licence. They were moored up on the stretch between Sunbury and Molesey Locks on the Surrey Bank adjacent to the Thames Water reservoirs. There were more tied up alongside the bank just past Platts Eyot, again on the Surrey side and another bunch just down by Garrick’s House in Hampton on the Middlesex bank and a positive crowd of them by Teddington Lock itself.
And I’ve also repeatedly seen some of these guys moored on the public moorings by Lady Lindsay’s Lawn in Shepperton.
The agency announced earlier this year that it had put the business of prosecuting these evaders in the hands of a wheel-clamping company but that seems to be having little effect.
Like the majority of skippers on the non-tidal Thames, I shall protest most strongly at having to pay an increase in the fee that is nearly double the rate of inflation. And I suggest others do likewise.
THOSE fantastic people at Thames21 continue to do great work keeping our river banks clean and tidy.
Their next foray will be at Sunbury Lock Ait on Saturday, November 16 from 10am to 1pm and they are hoping for a bumper turnout of local volunteers to give them a hand. If you ‘d like to help with a clean-up, litter pick and vegetation cut-back, meet up at the bridge by Sunbury lock house.
For more information, contact Luke Damerum by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give him a call on 07824 491166.