More powers for communities to allow live-aboard boats

 Published 27 August 2011

Minister Grant Shapps of the Department of Communities & Local Government said that more people than ever are choosing to make a boat their home and that boats with residential moorings could be an example of how unconventional housing can allow people to live in areas of the country where perhaps they couldn’t afford to do so otherwise.

And as new moorings could be eligible for the New Homes Bonus, the Minister said that there was a strong incentive for councils and communities to grant planning permission for more residential moorings. The money that they receive could be invested in new marina facilities or waterside recreational activities that everyone could benefit from, as well as being used to attract further private investment and drive the regeneration of the often-Brownfield land around parts of the country’s waterways.

Half the population live within five miles one of Britain’s waterways and so not just those living on the water could benefit from the fresh injection of funding; water based recreation and tourism is thought to generate over £1billion for local economies, and supports 24,000 jobs.

Mr Shapps said that the Government’s commitment to Localism could be an opportunity for living on boats to be given a new lease of life, and allow people to secure a residential mooring that would allow them to live closer to their jobs, family, or children’s school.

Citing the inexorable shift in power down to councils and communities, he said that where boaters, councils, navigation authorities and local communities work together, they could create more residential moorings as part of the contribution to increase the housing supply in their area and house more families:

  • New powers in the Localism Bill restoring local control over housing, and untying the hands of communities that will allow them to find innovative ways to meet local housing need and regenerate their area
  • Handing over control of British Waterways in England and Wales – the country’s biggest navigation authority – to the voluntary sector from April 2012, giving local communities a stronger role in determining the future of their waterways
  • The Government’s commitment to a new, simpler planning system better tailored to the needs of communities
  • Greater transparency from councils and other public bodies on their public property ownership – including on the waterside – allowing them to identify new development opportunities.
  • And emphasising the need to find a mooring with residential consent before choosing to live afloat, Mr Shapps said that creating more residential long-term moorings could also help reduce the numbers resorting to unlawful overstaying on the towpath.

Grant Shapps said:

“Whilst they will never overtake bricks and mortar in putting a roof over the heads of families, innovative new ways of housing families – such as residential moorings – play an important role in allowing people to live near to their place of work, children’s school, or family, and where perhaps they would not be able to afford to otherwise.

“Around 15,000 people live on our waterways and many more would like to do so. The Government’s commitment to Localism could be an opportunity for living on boats to be given a new lease of life. Where houseboats pay council tax, communities will be eligible for the New Homes Bonus, so the potential economic benefits are huge.

“Landlords, councils and communities all have a clear incentive to get more mooring sites in their areas and not become landlocked in their quest to meet local housing needs.”

Sally Ash, Head of Boating at British Waterways said:

“The number of people visiting and enjoying our canals and rivers has grown in recent years and this waterways renaissance has triggered strong demand from people wanting to live afloat.  We welcome the Minister’s encouragement to local authorities to support the creation of purpose built residential mooring sites which we hope will help to alleviate localised congestion along the towpaths.  We are also pleased to note the reassurance from Mr Shapps’ department that people can qualify for housing benefit for help with mooring fees.”

Alan Wildman, Chairman of the Residential Boat Owners’ Association (RBOA) said:

“Living afloat is arguably the most sustainable, lowest impact way to live, whilst still being able to enjoy 100 per cent of the modern amenities that are available to those who live in conventional housing.”

British Waterways, the country’s largest navigation authority responsible for 3,000 kms of navigable canals and rivers, estimates that it is host to around 7,000 residential boaters, but that the majority of these do not currently benefit from having a home mooring suitable for long term residential use.

British Waterways has recently published guidance for development of new residential moorings sites as an aid to local authorities and private investors, which is available at (external link).

via Shapps: more powers for communities to choose boats on water alongside bricks and mortar – Newsroom – Department for Communities and Local Government.

7 comments to Government – more powers for communities to allow liveaboard boats on waterways

  • KABoatingCommunity

    It is not in the gift of local communities to "allow" live-aboard boats. There is no prohibition on living on your boat on the waterways, and it is not up to local communities to control whether people live on boats. Grant Shapps' announcement refers to the provision of permanent residential moorings through the planning system, which is not the same thing at at all. British Waterways' interpretation of "unlawful overstaying" includes thousands of boaters who obey the law yet are being harassed by British Waterways. Mr Shapps should have checked his facts before repeating this statement, which merely reflects BW's attempts to circumvent Section 17 3 c ii of the 1995 British Waterways Act and harass law abiding boaters into giving up their homes.

    • Well as a Parish Councillor you would expect me not to agree with you. As I am cruising at the moment and on the end of an unreliable internet connection I am not in a position to quote any law to you. However, my gut feeling is that as Councillors are elected to represent the interests of local residents, I really can't imagine how Councils don't have the power to decide what happens in their communities.

      Can you quote any law that conflicts with this?

      • KABoatingCommunity

        Local authorities are also bound by primary legislation such as the Local Government Act, the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, health and safety legislation, and many other statutory provisions which define, regulate and limit their powers to decide what happens in their communities.

      • KABoatingCommunity

        Yes, as already stated, Section 17 3 c ii of the 1995 British Waterways Act. In planning terms, the use of the canal as a waterway for the passage of boats and canalside land for uses ancillary to that such as mooring for temporary periods, loading and unloading boats is included in the Use Classification of the canal as a canal. Therefore local communities do not have the power to restrict mooring as there is no change of use of the land. Even the use of canalside land for permanent mooring of non-residential boats is not a change of use – BW won a case in 2006 on this basis regarding moorings at Ladies Bridge in Wiltshire. Only the issue of planning permission for permanent (ie all year round) residential use of moorings is subject to local authority control. The only way this could change is if BW wanted to change the canal's Use Classification from that of a canal to something else. See Appeal Ref: APP/E3905/C/06/2019638 on the Planning Inspectorate web site.

  • Will Chapman

    I read Section 17, 3 c II of the British Waterways Act 1965 to say that BW may refuse a license unless the applicant satisfies the Board that the vessel will be used bona fide for navigation without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days. What has that got to do with local authorities having the right to grant or refuse live-aboard moorings? Surely this section of the Act simply gives BW the right to move a boat on after 14 days?

    Where does the change of land use come into the point? Surely if a local authority receives a planning application for a mooring site which allows long term residential mooring then it is up to that authority to approve or disapprove the application? That is essentially what happens now except that many planning authorities have chosen to ignore planning guidelines. As I read Grant Shapps’ proposals, they are making the long requested step of actually encouraging local authorities to grant such planning permission. I see this as a positive move.

    • KABoatingCommunity

      You don't need a permanent residential mooring to live on your boat. Local authorities and parish councils have no power to control whether people live on their boats without home moorings. BW is the body that enforces Section 17 3 c ii of the 1995 Act. The mooring of boats for temporary periods on the towpath is inherent in the planning use class of the canal. Only a change of land use of the canal would stop this happening. The only aspect of living on boats that local authorities and parish councils have any control over is planning consent for the residential use of permanent moorings.

  • I think your post is misleading. It is true that it not necessary to have a permanent mooring to live on a boat on the canals. It is, however, necessary to have a licence to use a boat on the canals and when you apply for that permission you agree to abide by terms which restrict the period that you can stay moored in a single place and the frequency of return. These terms basically say to me that if I wish to stay at a mooring longer than 14 days, I should find, and pay for, a residential mooring. See….

    You say that 'mooring a boat for temporary periods on a towpath is inherent in the planning use class of a canal'. The key word there is surely 'temporary'. If a residential boat moored up on the towpath and did not move at all, it would no longer be for a 'temporary period' and I would expect a that a local authority could consider this to be unauthorised change of use of the land and require planning permission for residential use.

    It is correct that BW has no interest in how a boat is used. However, my understanding of Section 17 3 c ii of the 1995 British Waterways Act is that BW can remove a boat from the waterway for not complying with mooring guidance. If the boat is a primarily residence, then they can seek a court order to achieve the same aim. You will be aware of the recent case of BW v. Davies, Bristol County Court, September 2010. For a discussion on this case see

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