Houseboaters being 'socially cleansed' from Olympics area

Published online: Mar 12, 2011 News Ian Griffiths - guardian.co.uk
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Houseboat residents near the Olympic development site in east Londonare accusing British Waterways of an attempt at "social cleansing". They say proposed changes to rules for living on the canals before the 2012 Games could force hundreds of people from their water-based homes.

British Waterways, which manages 2,200 miles of canals and rivers, has put forward changes to the mooring rules on the river Lea, in east London, that could increase the cost of living on the waterway from about £600 to £7,000 a year. Residents see the move as a deliberate attempt to drive them away.

A draft note from British Waterways on 6 December 2010, seen by the Guardian, says: "The urgency . relates to the objective of reducing unauthorised mooring on the Lea navigation and adjacent waterways in time for the Olympics."

The canal boat residents fear they will be forced from the river if the proposals go ahead as drafted. Alice Wellbeloved, a freelance fashion designer, who has lived on the Lea for almost five years with her partner and baby, said the plan meant it was no longer feasible to live the family life they had built together. "For us it would be disastrous," she said. "We have a 10-month-old baby, and these proposals mean we could not work or get the childcare we need. We cannot afford to buy a new house. We feel we are being uprooted from our community."

British Waterways says between 160 and 200 boats in the area are used as permanent residences. These boats can exploit a lack of clarity in the waterways legislation to use a "continuous cruising" licence, costing about £600 a year, which lets owners move just short distances every fortnight.

Under the new proposals, people using a continuous cruising licence would not be allowed to spend more than 61 days in a year in each of six designated neighbourhoods across 40 miles of canal network, and they would be forced to move to a different neighbourhood every 14 days.

British Waterways says the changes are in line with a national policy on moorings. But residents on the Lea say they are being singled out to allow a "cleaning up" of the waterways before the Olympics next year. For British Waterways the Lea is a high priority because of "high demand for visitor moorings during the 2012 Olympics".

Mike Well, a photographer and Lea canal-boat resident for four years, said: "My boat is about a mile from the Olympic park and it is almost inconceivable that the authorities would allow anything unsightly or tatty during the games. This is social cleansing."

Wellbeloved said: "People say we're using the river on the cheap. We are desperate for a permanent mooring. But there are none to be had around here - they're so scarce that the last permanent mooring near here was auctioned for £9,000 a year in rent."

Read more at http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2011/mar/09/houseboaters-socially-cleansed-olympics

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