Issue 59 — December 2005
Boaters face eviction and paying legal costs
The struggle over the Castlemill Boatyard in Jericho seems to be coming to a head. At a court hearing on December 9th the boaters currently occupying the site were ordered to leave and pay costs of £2,500. British Waterways say that they will evict those currently on the site by February 28th. But the boaters are determined to fight on. They have lodged an appeal and will hold various fundraising events.
The boaters occupied the yard on July 29th following the departure to Yarnton of Steve Goodlad who had run the Alchemy Boats repair business. They are not against redeveloping the site but want to maintain a boating element there and ensure that British Waterways fulfil their responsibilities to Oxford’s boating community for repair facilities.
Their case received a boost from the Planning Inspector who on August 6th turned down the appeal by British Waterways and Bellways Homes against the Council’s refusal of planning permission for their proposed development. He accepted the need for boat repair facilities and said that although his site was not suitable British Waterways had to ensure an alternative. One of his reasons for turning down the appeal was that “firm arrangements for such replacement in an equally accessible and convenient location are not in place”. Spokesman Adrian Arbib says that “research that we have done demonstrates that they are showing no commitment to complying with the Inspector’s ruling”.
The boaters have also received widespread public support, notably from author Philip Pullman, and in November, the City Council passed a motion in support and urged British Waterways not to evict the boaters before the development started.
Who are the protesters? They include boaters from Oxford, London and all over the country who are concerned that British Waterways is selling off boatyards and wharves across the UK canal system. Castlemill is one of the latest, but one of the most high-profile, cases. They argue that British Waterways does not want to be involved with residential narrow boats as a valuable and affordable option for inner-city housing.
Why are there not more Oxford boaters here? Adrian Arbib says: “They fear that fighting British Waterways will result in the loss of their moorings – as has happened in the past. Worse, they could see their homes removed from the canal and cut up for scrap.”
Photo: Adrian Arbib
Meanwhile the protesters are maintaining the boatyard. “We’d like to assure local residents that we are doing everything in our power to keep the yard in good order, including a recent big clean up; hiring skips from monies raised from the boating and Jericho community. We would like to thank the people of Jericho for, yet again, being so supportive.”
Although reluctant to retain canal facilities on its own land British Waterways’ is enthusiastic about increasing canal activities on land owned by other people. It has just finished a study for a £4-million project to reinstate the former canal basin that is now covered by a car park owned by Nuffield College. This, however, would offer no facilities for the narrow-boating community. And since a basin would also generate more canal traffic it might make more sense to retain canal facilities in Jericho rather than eliminate them.