How can canal users and canal side residents ‘live harmoniously and healthily together’?

canal moorings


Kings Cross is a densely populated place. People from all walks of life live cheek by jowl. Occasionally frictions will arise due to this proximity and, over the years a body of rules has built up to enable harmonious co-existence without infringing unduly on peoples rights and encouraging some give and take. Quite often on this website people raise problems with us and we air them, usually getting both sides of the argument.   There’s discussion  in the comments on a recent post about canals (see panorama picture above for moorings last Friday) and a local resident has got in touch with the following which encapsulates a range of issues:

‘regarding the smoke pollution emanating at face level from canal barges moored up alongside residents` houses and flats (between Thornhill Bridge and Maiden Bridge).

Today, in our communal gardens the stink of smoke was particularly bad, so I took a photo of one of the offending smoke stacks.

The owner emerged from his cabin. When I put it to him that London was under an air pollution alert, and that his smoke was drifting into our gardens , flats and houses, he became immensely aggressive, ranting a lot of gibberish about the pollution being caused by `your power stations` and that I was intruding upon his private way of life and he was calling the police etc etc etc.

So you can see the problem of nil enforcement of existing laws and the failure to provide barge users with adequate mooring, electrical power points, staged and assisted introduction of electric motors, refuse collection – and so on.

I hope that you can use this to support the movement to unblock the log-jam preventing canal users and canal side residents from living harmoniously and healthily alongside each other.

And why are barges no longer permitted to moor up alongside the St Martins development? So as not to spoil the view?

Regards, resident who wants the right to breath smoke free air……….’

The canal is an integral part of Kings Cross and it’s no accident that a canal museum is here.  The canals enabled the industrial transformation of the area.  I have sympathy with people who live on boats, but in urban areas the clean air act and noise nuisance reflect real issues that crop up time and time again in Kings Cross.  And an unwillingness to accommodate new neighbours where you choose to moor, regardless of how limited mooring choices may be is not good.

About William Perrin

Active in Kings Cross London and South Oxfordshire, founder of Talk About Local, helping people find a voice online and a trustee of The Indigo Trust , Good Things Foundation and ThreeSixtyGiving as well as Connect8.
This entry was posted in Anti Social Behaviour, Crime etc, Noise and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to How can canal users and canal side residents ‘live harmoniously and healthily together’?

  1. Sophie Talbot says:

    I live next to the canal (although next to a very expensive permanent private mooring) and use it just about everyday walking at least the stretch between The Cally and Camden Lock market. At night I regularly walk between The Cally and York Way. I’d love to see enforcement of clean air whilst I would hate to see the boats moved on. Inhabited boats lining the canal have helped make the canal a safer place. There are noticeably fewer intimidating men hanging around and fewer aggressive men with abused dogs too as the presence of inhabited boats is deterring them from their worst excesses. I love meeting friendly boat dwellers and occasionally chewing the fat with them, again this makes me feel much safer. The sterile increasingly hard landscaped Granary Square area of the canal is softened considerably when boats are allowed to moor there from time to time too. I yearn for a solution that will welcome boat dwellers of all kinds in King’s Cross whilst keeping the air clean.

  2. Rupert Perry says:

    The canal is a pretty big space so there is no need for boat owners to moor adjacent to peoples homes if that causes a problem. Most moorings are for a temporary period, and permanent moorings require planning permission. The planning process enables issues such as proximity to houses, noise, pollution and impact on short term moorings etc to be considered. It would be helpful if the Canals and Rivers Trust do more work in enforcing their own rules in addition to advising on best practice.
    At the weekend I visited the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and saw that there were sensitive parts of the canal which were for 3days max mooring only. Other parts had prohibited mooring. If parts of the Kings Cross section of the Regents Canal had similar rules then this could help avoid any potential conflict between the interests of boaters and those of residents.

  3. The people currently living on the canal between the tunnel’s west portal and Maiden Lane bridge (York Way) are not “boaters”. They own boats, it’s true. But they are semi-permanent residents. They do not “moor” temporarily on the canal, they moor for long periods of time, contrary to the rules.

    They should not be “living” there at all. The purpose of the canal (according to the legislation and Canal & River Trust) is not to provide floating homes. The purpose of the canal which is reflected in the Trust’s objectives is (a) navigation; (b) for walking on towpaths; (c) recreation or other leisure-time pursuits of the public in the interest of their health and social welfare; (d) conserve the engineering and architectural heritage; (e) protect and improve the natural environment; and (f) to promote economic growth and sustainable development in the vicinity of the waterways and, in particular, “improve the conditions of life in socially and economically disadvantaged communities in such vicinity”. So, nothing about providing homes of any description at all.

    The people “living” on the boats have little regard for the places they have moored alongside. There is a group of anti-social boat-dwellers who believe they can pursue alternative lifestyles without any regard for the impact their presence has on residents by creating noise and smoke nuisance. As Rupert Perry rightly points out, there is a regulatory regime which prohibits anyone from building a home or parking a caravan on the road next door to existing homes. And whilst the canal is not quite the same as a highway (where there is regulation controlling parking of vehicels), in practice, it is the same.

    Some of the current group of people who are semi-permanently moored on this sensitive section of canal, run engines, generators, burn smokey fuel, play music, dump rubbish on the towpath and put effluent into the water. Some of them have killed a mature plane tree on the towpath, pulled it down and are slowly cutting it up to burn its wood in their stoves.

    That’s why Islington Council is working-up a series of enforcement measures against people causing noise nuisance and, most importantly, creating pollution by static diesels, generators or burning smoke-producing wood. The Council is also having very blunt conversations with CRT about their failure to enforce mooring rules which are a clear breach of license conditions. In fairness to the Trust, they have rarely experienced this kind of behaviour on the canal and appear nervous about enforcing rules which, elsewhere on Britain’s large waterway network, are observed by genuine boaters.

    Be clear, I am not demanding that all boaters be removed from the canal. I want stretches of the canal kept clear of boat moorings so that other canal users can carry on doign the things historically we have done for years: fishing, feeding the ducks or just enjoying proximity to the water. I also want mooring rights to be respected – used short term by people who are cruising the canal for recreation. Not for semi-permanent canal dwelling.

  4. Stephanie Ellis says:

    It’s not just the noise and anti-social behaviour; the boaters are paying no council tax yet have access to and use LBI facilities e.g. dumping their rubbish in local residents’ bins and using local car parking spaces. I haven’t suffered as much as my neighbours who have been threatened by some aggressive boaters.

    • michael bennett says:

      You are correct that boaters don’t pay council tax but the council does not maintain the waterways. Everyone who owns a boat pays for a yearly waterway license which covers the costs of maintaining the canals and rivers, for my boat it is over eight hundred pounds a year. The canals are man made waterways and it’s important to remember that without this waterway fee which is paid by boaters (live aboard or leisure) most of the canals would be derelict (as many around the country are)and not be there for everyone else to enjoy.

      • Geraldine says:

        I live on a boat in Rickmansworth, (permanent moorings), and I have paid my council tax for the past 25 years. As do most of my neighbours as far as I know.

  5. Albert Beale says:

    From: Albert Beale, 5 Cally Road

    A small but important point: the “gibberish” referred to in the quote above, about [land-based] residents’ power stations causing more pollution than a boat resident’s stove is self-evidently true. Someone with low energy use, such as no doubt most boat dwellers are (by necessity?), is indeed living very gently on the earth, compared with most people, whose lifestyle in terms of energy “needs” for heating their homes, producing their possessions, and so on, is much more energy- and resource-intensive. The latter are inevitably likely to be responsible – directly and indirectly – for a much larger share of air pollution (and of most other environmental problems) than is the case for someone living a more low-consumption lifestyle. I hope the land-dweller who complained never uses a private car, the pollution and environmental damage caused by which will dwarf anything produced by a stove (even if the latter is more visible).

    Having said that, of course there’s no need for the boat dweller to be aggressive, and it’s certainly inconsiderate to moor, with a stove in use, by someone’s window! But the point remains, that the complainant was probably causing much more poison to be pumped into the air than the boat dweller was.

    As to Paul Convery opposing people living on canals at all – well, they have done for hundreds of years, and though it’s important to find ways of reconciling conflicting pressures on canal use, I’d hate to see them driven off. As far as I’m aware, many people who live on the canals are responsible for keeping their local ecosystem and the canal infrastructure functioning, and keeping the canals as something living, rather than just a pretty “museum” for alienated urban dwellers to go and look at.


    • I agree Albert, I’m so glad that somebody is representing a different perspective here. When the original post spoke about differing views, discussion, and encapsulating a range of issues, I was expecting a balanced piece, or at least some exploration of both sides of the story and some of the difficulties faced by boaters, rather than the boater bashing that I found instead! I own a local home, and the canal (including its alternative lifestyles) is one of the things that attracted me to King’s Cross. Conflicts are arising due to gentrification in the area as it develops and I don’t agree that harsh enforcement/regulation is justified.

  6. Sophie, yes the tree brought down is underneath the Copenhagen School wall. Residents have told me it was undermined by hacking at the roots and then being pulled down. The witnesses believe the culprits were boat-dwellers. It is certainly true that those cutting-up the tree are from the boats – many of the freshly cut logs are on their roofs.

    Albert, there are places on the canal system where permanent moorings are allowed and where planning permission is given, thereby ensuring that amenity conflicts are resolved, usually be setting legally enforceable conditions. What we have presently on the canal east of Maiden Lane bridge is anarchic mooring and boats that are emitting smoke and other pollutants (in breach of the Clean Air Act). Yes a land-based resident’s lifestyle might might result in a higher “carbon account” than a boat-dweller with a wood-burning stove. But the smoke pollution is not going into someone else’s home.

  7. Ian Shacklock says:

    Then why not put a stop to any further residential development alongside the canal? People in offices don’t generally complain about traffic noise outside, so why not put offices and workshops along the canal instead of homes?

  8. Ian, that’s a perfectly fair question. But the homes on our section of the canal have been there a long time indeed. The Council estate at Tiber Gardens/Treaty street was built in the early 1950s and Copenhagen Primary School has been alongside the canal for over a century. And when the school was built, boat owners did not moor semi-permanently alongside its playground. Also bear in mind that we’re not talking about the equivalent of “traffic noise”, this is the equivalent of motorhomes and caravans being parked outside peoples’ homes. With wood burning stoves that breach the Clean Air Act.

  9. Ian Shacklock says:

    Paul, I appreciate that your constituents are suffering unfairly at the moment and my comment was directed at the wider geographical area. Thanks to weapons like Twitter this discussion is going further afield and I am particularly concerned about FUTURE development as opposed to existing homes. For example, what horrors are in store for boaters at Mile End Park near the Palm Tree pub? Their solar panels will be rendered useless by the overbearing structures on the offside of the canal and if history repeats itself then the future residents will complain about anything that wasn’t explained to them by their conveyancing solicitors. Surely, whoever lives there has no moral right to change the environment around them. I have sympathy for residents in the Caledonian and St Peter’s areas, because things have changed around them, but I will struggle to sympathise with people who move into reclaimed spaces that could have served useful non-residential purposes. After all, the canal is a major, yet underutilised, highway for water-borne freight, and many of us believe it is a crime to swap a wharf for a luxury home.

  10. Compliant Boater says:

    I am a residential boater in and around London.

    Firstly, whether boats are used as residences or for leisure is not the issue. There are existing CRT rules for bona-fide navigation that apply to all boats away from their home mooring i.e. you have to move to a new place every 14days. There is a minority that give the rest of us a bad name by flouting these rules and in general these are the same boaters that are inconsiderate when using stoves/generators and aggressive when challenged. Consistent and effective enforcement by CRT is the answer here.

    Secondly, moorings in London are under a great deal of pressure, meaning that where boats can moor they do so in high concentration. This means that emissions from wood burning stoves and diesel engines become much more apparent, especially in winter. More places to moor up is what is needed to spread boats out, not less.

    Thirdly, the lack of facilities available to boaters on the Regents canal combined with an abundance of tall, shadow-casting buildings on the south side means that often the only source of electricity for boaters is their engine or a generator. There is an (as yet unofficial) code of conduct around running these as a boater, which dictates that its unacceptable to do so outside the hours of 8am to 8pm. If there were more options available (e.g. mains electricity hook-ups that exist in abundance elsewhere on our waterways) boaters would not need to run them for this purpose.

    Lastly, the nuisance factors caused by non-compliant, inconsiderate boaters has as much of an impact on those of us who live within the rules on the canal as land-dwellers. I would urge anyone advocating draconian measures to consider the impact on these people and before doing so consider alternative options.

  11. matt says:

    Paul, your comments regarding the breaching Clean Air Act have no place in legal grounding in regards to boat dwellers….how ever ofetn you state it. Matt

  12. I suggest that Matt reads the legislation for himself. A canal boat is a vessel. It is covered by Part 6, section 44 of the Act. The section is here:

  13. A boater wrote a long and detailed piece to get to the bottom of the act’s applicability

    Click to access Clean%20Air%20and%20boats.pdf

    ‘to try and explain the way that both the Clean Air Act 1956 and Clean Air Act 1993 apply to boats on the waterways managed by the Canals and Rivers Trust (CRT), formally British Waterways’

    He concludes

    ‘The provisions made in Part VI Section 44 Vessels do apply to boats on the waterways managed the Canal and Rivers Trust, and can be enforced by local authorities that have these waterways within their boundaries.
    6.2 However such enforcement, would require a big change in the way boats on these waterways are perceived by all the parties concerned with regard to there legal status under maritime law. Such a change may create issues in future over the way the Canal and Rivers Trust manage the waterways under its care, and the way it supplies services to boats using them.
    6.3 Local authorities seem unaware of the relevant provisions in the Clean Air Act
    1993 and how to enforce them with regard to boats.
    6.4 The Canal And River Trust has no lawful power to enforce the provisions of the Clean Air Act 1993 as it is not an enforcement authority under that Act.
    6.5 This has resulted in flawed information being given to both local residents and boat owners by all the authorities involved.
    6.6 Resulting in conflict and confusion between boat owners and local residents who now live in developments in close proximity to waterways in cities like London.’

  14. lampini says:

    Better enforcement, coupled with more mooring provision, would go a long way.. let boats spread out more and the pressure will ease.. Towpaths in London are much safer if there are boats moored. There are a very few boaters who are taking the piss, but if there is not more consistent and fair enforcement of existing rules, those few will become many!
    Whilst we’re at it; why not make it easier and cheaper to be a canal trader, make a positive thing out of london’s canal system maybe? Not so crazy – have a look at how Birmingham is making the most of their canal heritage!

  15. Ian Shacklock says:

    Has anybody costed out or discussed the idea of installing electricity points? Would this eliminate the tensions with residents or are there are issues to address before mooring could be viable here?

  16. Ian Shacklock says:

    Question for Councillor Paul Convery: is the towpath covered by the new two million pound control centre? Surely it counts as one of the areas of Islington with the greatest problems? Or is it out of scope because it is in no-man’s-land?

  17. I do not know how much it would cost to install utilities, electircity especially, but we have called on CRT to consider and cost this this along with other mechanisms to reduce the problems casued by smoke pollution. On the CCTV question, the answer is no. The land belongs to CRT (so it’s not quite a “no man’s land””) and is not the direct responsibility of the Council. On the long list of proposals we are developing for CRT, I have included CCTV installation which we would ask CRT to fund but then the Council would could then plug-in to the Borough-wide system just like we want to do next with Housing Association estates.

  18. Ian Shacklock says:

    Paul, I think the CRT will take a lot of persuading before it contemplates any capital expenditure. This could be one for its chief executive Richard Parry, because it will require London to be treated as a special case. CRT management has complained recently about forking out 20K for a water point (something most people regard as absolutely critical) so I can’t see the electricity points appearing overnight. It’s such a same that the property developers have had such an easy ride in the past and that they were never pressured into giving something back to the canal. Same with the Olympic Legacy, I think. Will you be publishing your long list of proposals for the CRT? If the CRT does not see good reason to install CCTV then it will need to rethink its mission to lure more people onto the canal, so I think it might rise up the priority list quite quickly.

  19. Ian, Martin Klute and I met the new CRT chairman earlier this year and he was taken with the proposal that the inner London sections of the canal need to be considered a special policy case. And, given many of the comments over recent weeks about all this, it’s clear we will not solve these problems by just taking an Islington or Camden-centric position. Excess demand for navigation, mooring and towpath use is creating too many conflicts throughout the inner London Boroughs (and probably a bit more where we are), ones that don’t happen in many other parts of the canal network. In short, CRT has to ration the busiest parts of the canal, probably raising extra revenue from people using it and enhanced services to support the high levels of use. So a special policy is needed. One that controls mooring, servicing, environmental rules. And has enforcement teeth behind it.

  20. Ian Shacklock says:

    Paul, I’m pleased to hear that Richard Parry is still treating London as a special case. The CRT’s tracking systems should reveal that a growing proportion of the UK’s licensed boats are in the London area, so this should be a driver for London to merit extra CRT expenditure before anybody starts to think about imposing extra costs. I accept that it’s inevitable that additional levies will creep in eventually, especially in the Zone 1 stretches of the canal, but we should all be very scared of words like “market value” because this would send boating costs into orbit. The canal could become a sterile, deserted network of empty floating homes for the super rich, reflecting the controversial misuse of modern residential developments in Central London. This might sound like a worst case scenario, but it is the direction we could be heading in if we don’t challenge every decision every step of the way.

    • Rupert Perry says:

      I agree that we need to avoid the canal becoming a “sterile deserted network of empty floating homes” which is why enforcement of the time limits for moorings is so important. Residential developments by the canal need planning permission. So too do residential moorings on the canal. If the CRT wish to increase the number of residential moorings, they will need to apply for planning permission, which gives an opportunity to consider the views of all who are affected. Unfortunately when granting licenses for mooring during the winter months, the CRT failed to do this. Hopefully in future the proper processes will be adhered to and enforced.

      • Ian Shacklock says:

        Rupert, for the record, residential moorings will get a massive thumbs down if the CRT attempts to introduce them on the towpath side. The idea was mooted a year or so ago for Noel Road and would have resulted in a net loss of publicly accessible towpath space. It would have been a gated community on space currently enjoyed by the public and would have been a spectacular contradiction of the charity’s aims.

  21. Fiona says:

    I’m coming into this conversation very late I realise but I have lived next to the towpath in Thornhill Bridge Wharf for 13 years and have never had any serious complaint about the boaters. On the contrary knowing that folk are living on the towpath make it seem much more alive and less barren – and certainly makes me feel safer when using it after dark. Sure sometimes the generator noise is irritating but they don’t generally run them for too long, and personally I like the smell of woodsmoke. As someone else pointed out I suspect that a boat’s ecological footprint is rather smaller than a flat or house. I have never had any trouble with boat residents – they are generally friendly, self-contained and respectful. I wish we could all just live-and-let-live a bit more flexibly in this overcrowded and over-priced city. My biggest gripe about canal-side living is the dog mess on the towpath – but I suspect that the culprits in the main here are landlubbers not boaters…

  22. Fiona, the problems have not existed during the past 13 years. They began in the late Autumn of 2013. There used to be very few boats moored on the stretch between Thornhill Bridge and Maiden Lane Bridge (York Way). Then suddenly there were many. Some of your near neighbours have not been so fortunate as you. Some of your neighbours including the primary school have been polluted by smoke. I don’t doubt the honesty of those who have been caused nuisance. Not least because I’ve observed and experienced that nuisance. I agree it would be lovely if we could all live and let live but the problem is that a small minority of people do not respect other people and cause nuisance. On the canal, that isn’t just boaters it also includes some towpath abuses – litter, drug dealing, high speed aggressive cycling.

  23. Kevin flude says:

    I think the canal benefits from a towpath full of boats BUT living by the canal my home in winter is pervaded with the smell of wood burning stoves. It makes me cough, gives me a headache and it is like living in a house with a smoker. Its unpleasant. I think boaters should make sure they use appropriate fuel, and there should be a ban on using wood burning stoves on moorings near to housing.

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