Amid school, a pandemic, and moving to a new country, I have struggled to find moments of calm. This past weekend I took a day to myself to go on the famous Regent Canal Walk from Little Venice, London. To preface, I use this word with total infrequency and with purposefulness- Little Venice is perfect. As people go on runs, there is even a moment when a kitten walks across the eclectic canal boats. As I stop to take a photo, I notice a sign that says, “Say no to ‘safety zones’.”
Little Venice and the Regent Canal is home to many of the 10,000 boat dwellers. As housing prices have increased in the past ten years, people’s only affordable option is to live on the water. From 2019-2022 there is believed to be “35-52%” growth in these boat dwellers. The average boat dwelling mooring in London costs around £9,000 a year after a boat purchase, compared to the average London rent of £17,000 a year.
However, the Canal and River Trust, the charity which controls British waterways, is increasing the mooring prices, citing boats as an “obstruction,” and attempting to increase the costs up to 89%, from £9,000 to £12,000 yearly mooring. As a result, for many canal residents, there is no way they will be able to stay in their homes. The culture of the canals is to support those who are artists and/or lower-income who want to live in London but simply can not afford it.
In addition, around 500 homes may be taken away in 2022 because of a change in “water safety zones” due to claims of overcrowding on the waterway, particularly on the River Lea. Dwellers claim the accidents and overclaiming are false. This new proposition also asks dwellers to move 20 miles each year, making child dwellers’ school lives more complex. Children will be forced to live in areas of London that lack decent school systems, safety, and healthcare. The National Bargee Travellers’ Association says the boaters make the community a safer space by cleaning litter and having walking paths. When asked to do a risk assessment of the plan, the Trust responded: “We believe it is not the responsibility of the trust to undertake such a risk assessment for this.
The ongoing feud between the Canal and River Trust and boat dwellers must be handled fairly, so the boats don’t become isolated to those rich enough to afford them and so homes are protected. Hopefully, through tax write-offs or incentives, these boating communities can help solve the housing crisis in London rather than another reason for displacement. Their culture has enriched my life, and I hope no way is lost on visitors anytime soon.