Monday, 14 November 2016

Navigation committee report 27 Oct 2016

Once again in the interests of openness and keeping stakeholders informed, I offer my own account of the navigation committee's most recent meeting - which was chaired by Nicky Talbot, in the absence of Michael Whitaker who was unwell.

The agenda was certainly action-packed, primarily because this was the day when we were asked to consider the output of the Tolls Review Group, which had met 10 times during the year to consider changes to the tolls system with the aim of making it fairer and more transparent.

There's no doubt that a lot of effort went into this tolls review process and I think that most stakeholders would agree with the majority of its underlying objectives. However, as always, the devil is in the detail!

As is usual when important decisions are to be taken at the Broads Authority, we were presented with a lengthy report (41 pages), which required considerable resolve to plough through in advance of the meeting. In my opinion, the report was rather too long and overloaded with detail which wasn't relevant to the tolls re-structure.

The first proposal was to agree a new set of guiding principles:
The basis for the appropriate navigation charge is that the payment of a toll buys the customer a time-limited right of access to the waterways in the Broads
The guiding principles said that the tolls should generate enough income to maintain and improve the navigation, and should be flexible, fair, simple and efficient. Who could disagree? Nobody did.

It was confirmed, in response to a member question, that 'commercial' referred to all boats used for financial reward (not just hire boats) but that ferries would continue to benefit from a lower toll, as is currently the case.

Members then got stuck into the principle of a simple charging structure. There was a great deal of statistical data from the Insight Track stakeholder survey, but I couldn't see how it had any bearing on the proposal, which was to remove the fixed rate and only charge a variable rate per sq.m. Discussion points included:
  • The possibility of phasing any changes - this was rejected by members of the review group who said that they had considered this and decided that it would be "confusing and difficult to administer". 
  • The danger of changing the structure for laudable reasons, whilst at the same time plugging numbers into that new structure which had very extreme effects. This could result in stakeholders missing the point of the exercise simply because 'some of the numbers had gone ridiculous', which might generate negative feedback.
  • The risks of proposing very large increases in terms of reputational damage to the Authority and boats leaving the Broads. The Chief Executive felt, however, that although some owners of large boats would pay a higher toll, the spotlight should shine on the large number of small boats who would benefit from the proposals, and did not feel it likely that very many boats would move away as a result of the proposal.
  • Members of the TRG felt that even a toll increase of £100 was less than the cost of filling its fuel tank and therefore unlikely to have a material effect on boat owners.
  • One member offered an alternative scheme which had been prepared by the NSBA, which supported the principle of different charges for different vessel classes, but retained a fixed element for private vessels so as to avoid the extreme results generated by the proposals.
  • I supported this approach, pointing out that the 'ultimate' objective of the TRG could still be achieved by gradually reducing the fixed charge over say 3 years - effectively phasing in the changes. There didn't seem to be much appetite for this idea, however, and it wasn't pursued.
  • A comparison with charges on other inland waterways - which revealed that the Broads was much more expensive for small boats than on EA waterways, but that larger boats enjoyed a much cheaper toll on the Broads. The new proposals would bring smaller boat tolls into line with EA charges, whilst larger boats would continue to have an advantage compared to other waterways.
A proposal to ask the TRG to re-consider the tolls for private craft was lost, and the committee went on to accept recommendation 2 of the TRG in its entirety.

Already we'd been over an hour on this subject, so it was time to move on to the next recommendation, for a flexible charging structure which scrapped the hire boat multiplier (and various discount arrangements) in favour of a system of independent costs per sq.m for different classes of vessel. The idea was that the fixed link between private and hire boat tolls made it very difficult to make desirable changes in the tolls for one fleet without having unintended consequences for the other. There was concern about the continuing decline in hire fleet numbers, and an acceptance that the multiplier was never about 'use' but about the hire industry paying higher tolls in exchange for the provision of additional visitor moorings - many years ago. There was particular concern about the sensitivity of the Authority's finances to a continued decline in hire boat numbers, bearing in mind the contribution of each hire boat. The BHBF has indicated that there will be a further reduction of about 20 boats next year, and the committee were told that one operator intended to mothball some of its fleet for part of the season, making them available for just 10 weeks of the year. There was unanimous support for the recommendation to introduce this flexible charging structure.

After a well-earned break, we turned to the subsidiary matters, which included charges for wherries (a low flat rate was proposed, which seemed non-controversial for these 'iconic' vessels), early payment discounts for hire boat operators (withdrawn as no longer justified) and continued encouragement for electric propulsion. In respect of the latter, the recommendation included a proposal that diesel/electric hybrids and boats with a diesel generator to charge batteries should pay the same toll as any other conventionally-powered motor cruiser.

It was suggested that an electric boat with a backup generator - which could cruise for a day on pure electric power and only required the generator to recharge batteries when a shore based hookup-up was not available - should be considered to be an electric boat for tolls purposes. This amendment was agreed.

The trial of paperless toll plaques is to continue for another year - it seems to be a success so far, and there is no evidence that non-compliance has increased, but the Authority wants to continue the trial for a further year to be certain that there will be no issues.

The next thing was tolls in adjacent waters, and the proposal was that tolls for vessels moored in adjacent waters should continue to be the same as for boats in the navigation area. The idea is that if you're moored in a private marina, you have access to the navigation and so you should pay the appropriate toll. Which is non-controversial, unless your boat is a static vessel incapable of using the navigation - such as a houseboat. I'm afraid that I had a bit of a set to with the Chief Executive on this subject, because I believe that the Authority is on another one of its persecution missions where it sticks to its guns regardless of common sense or cost.

The Authority is currently pursuing a prosecution over a £550 toll on a houseboat, which has cost some extraordinary sum in the tens of thousands so far. Judges have found variously in favour and against the Authority, with a common theme that the charge seems unfair based on the fact that the owner cannot use the navigation. It's now set for the High Court, and who knows how much that will cost. I asked (for the umpteenth time) that the navigation committee should be permitted to discuss setting a different level of toll for a static vessel moored in adjacent waters, and the Chief Executive simply would not permit it. He felt that it would be 'wise' for the Authority not to change its position and to continue the battle through the Courts to the bitter end - regardless of the cost. I feel that the current charge is unreasonable and morally indefensible, and I said so. I simply do not understand why we can't even debate this and must continue to waste tollpayers' money instead of considering the possibility that we might be wrong. It was finally agreed that this would be discussed at 'some point' - but not until after the Authority had spent thousands more in Court.

After that bit of controversy, we were asked to consider Mutford Lock. The costs of operating Mutford Lock have been rising, and the use has been declining - so the proposal was that the cost of a passage should rise from £13 to £30 (£45 return). It was unclear to me - and to most other members - how this could do anything other than reduce the number of vessels using the lock still further, until we reached a point where the lock would be closed though lack of use.

Mutford Lock is the southern gateway to the Broads, but the cost of entry is typically around £100 by the time you add the short visit toll to the lock passage fee. Putting that up by another £20 or more would do nothing to achieve the goal of encouraging more visitors through the lock on to the southern Broads - which by coincidence had been featured in the EDP on the day of the meeting :-)

Fortunately, common sense prevailed on this one and we reached agreement that, whilst our aspiration would be for revenue to cover operational costs if possible, it would be better to do this by increasing usage rather than doubling the cost. The clear message from the committee was that Mutford Lock is an important asset, it is a gateway to the southern broads and that the Authority might have to continue to subsidise it for the wider benefit.

Finally, we agreed that the structure for short visit tolls should remain the same, but that this would probably result in a small reduction in tolls income because most short visit tolls were for small vessels.

In closing the debate and thanking the tolls review group for their work, one member pointed out that most stakeholders seem to be concerned with value for money - and that it was difficult to justify rising tolls whilst visitor moorings are being lost. It was agreed that there should be a renewed focus on this issue.

So, having spent 2.5 hours on tolls, it was time to whistle through the remainder of the agenda at breakneck speed before tea time.

Next up was the preferred options for the Broads Local Plan. This is the Local Plan required to be prepared to support the Broads Authority's role as a planning authority, which is currently going through a consultation period. It's an extensive document (over 200 pages) and covers a huge amount of ground. There wasn't time to do the report justice in the meeting, but I would urge all stakeholders to read the full document and feed their thoughts back into the process, because it will dictate how planning policy is formulated over the coming years.

There was then the chance to have a look at the detail of BESL's proposals for pile removal and erosion protection at Upton Dyke. The planning application had already been approved, but this was an opportunity to consider the methodology - which included driving the existing piles into the river bed to a sufficient depth that they would not be a hazard to navigation. It was confirmed that no existing moorings would be lost as a result of this project. One issue of concern was the use of coir matting to hold the newly graded bank together, which has proved a hazard to navigation in the past if knocked and can get caught in propellers. Members were particularly concerned that BESL's responsibility for the flood alleviation project will end in 5 years time, and there is no clear indication as to who will take on responsibility for the maintenance and monitoring of the flood protection works after that time.

In closing, it's important to remember that the Navigation Committee is a consultative body and all its decisions are merely recommendations to the full Authority. The Broads Authority can make whatever decisions it wishes, but would not usually go against the advice of the navigation committee without good reason. It will be interesting to listen to the debate on Friday!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Navigation committee representation to be diluted

The Broads Authority will this week be invited to agree changes to the way that members are appointed to the Navigation Committee, to ensure that commercial interests are no longer entitled to a voice.

The Chief Executive's proposals attempt to formalise last year's re-interpretation of the Broads Act, when the requirement to consult organisations representing commercial interests on the Broads - which is written into the Broads Act - was effectively deleted.

It seems to me that Parliament was very clear in its wishes when it drafted the composition of the Navigation Committee in the 1988 Act:
(a) two shall be appointed after consultation with such bodies appearing to the Authority to represent the owners of pleasure craft available for hire or reward as it considers appropriate; 
(b) one shall be appointed after consultation with such bodies appearing to it to represent nationally the owners of private pleasure craft as it considers appropriate; 
(c) one shall be appointed after consultation with such bodies appearing to it to represent the owners of private pleasure craft which use any part of the Broads as it considers appropriate; 
(d) two shall be appointed after consultation with such bodies appearing to it to represent persons who are likely to be required to pay ship, passenger or goods dues imposed by it as it considers appropriate; 
(e) one shall be appointed after consultation with such bodies appearing to it to represent other users of the navigation area as it considers appropriate; and 
(f) one shall be appointed after consultation with the Great Yarmouth Port Authority. 
The contentious one is (d). The Chief Executive says that this wording can be interpreted to mean 'any toll payer' and provides an extensive legal argument to defend this view. In fact, last year's report ran to 17 pages of spirited defence against strong objections from several prominent commercial organisations including the British Marine Federation, the Broads Hire Boat Federation and Hoseasons.

There's no doubt that it's possible to construct an argument that the wording of the Act could be interpreted to mean 'any toll payer', if you try hard enough. But my question is a simple one. Why would you? The clear intention of the Act was to ensure fair representation for private, hire, commercial and 'other' boat owners. What else could it possibly mean? If the intention of category (d) was to appoint any toll payers - then surely Parliament would simply have said so?

In any event, the members appointed under this category have, to the best of my knowledge, always been representative of commercial boating interests of one kind or another - so why the huge effort to change this now?

In February 2015, navigation committee members were invited to comment on the proposed appointment of 4 new members, all of whom were seated in the room as observers. Despite the undoubted qualities of the new members, this presented a preposterous and embarrassing situation for all concerned, and rendered any debate of the process utterly impossible without the risk of insulting the proposed new members. As a result, there are no navigation committee members appointed after consultation with bodies representing commercial interests (other than hire boats) and BA members are being invited to formalise this on Friday for posterity.

The immediate past Chairman of the navigation committee, David Broad, has already written to members to express his concerns in the strongest possible terms. He reminds them that the composition of the navigation committee has to be in accordance with the BA's legally binding agreement with the RYA and the BMF, and says that statements in the report to members are "misleading and factually incorrect".

Let us hope that our Members will resist this latest attempt to re-interpret legislation and will ensure that the interests of all stakeholders will be properly represented in the future.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Navigation Committee report 8th September 2016

Last week, the navigation committee met for an action packed agenda at Yare House.

There's usually a long delay of several weeks before minutes are published and things have often moved on by that time. So, I thought I would produce a summary of what happened whilst it was still fresh in my brain.

My intention is to be accurate and to present a balanced narrative rather than just my own opinions. It's not an exhaustive report, but I have tried to cover the substantive items. Here are the key points from the meeting.

Broads Plan Review

This is a big project which comes around every 5 years and sets the strategic direction of the Broads (the whole Broads, not just the BA). Officers have done a good job in dividing this up into digestible "bite size chunks" and this week we were asked to consider the revised navigation and recreation sections, which were largely non-controversial. You can read the draft here, as it puts lots of things into context. For example, although the engineering team manage to pull 50,000 cu.m out of the system every year, there is still an estimated backlog of over one million cubic metres to be removed!

Waterways Specification Update at Instead Shoals (River Ant)

The river depth at Instead Shoals was first discussed by navigation committee in June 2015, again in December and once more this week. There seems to be a clear determination to reduce the waterways specification depth at this location from 1.8m to 1.5m below Mean Low Water (MLW) on the basis that the agreed specification requires dredging the 'natural hard bed' of the river and that this would be capital, rather than maintenance, dredging. Capital dredging requires landowner consent as well as lots of licensing and compliance requirements, which officers say would be difficult and expensive, for little benefit.

Although the report was well argued, there are notable differences between the December 2015 and September 2016 reports. For example, in December, water levels were said to be above the MLW of 0.26mOD 90% of the time. But the new report increased this to 95%, reinforcing their view that low water levels rarely fall to MLW levels. This suggests to me that the 'mean' low water level is not actually the mean, and we therefore don't know the true extent of the issue.  Last year, officers also said that the Irstead Shoals area was the location where "boat users have expressed most concern" whereas the new report says that the "level of complaints has been low".

The thing which most concerned me in this report was the presentation of costs, which seemed to be over-inflated to support the recommendation. For example, river engineer & environmental officer costs were included at £245 per day, which is far more than the wage cost. When the Authority wants to demonstrate how affordable something is, it will often omit staff costs on the basis that the wages have to be paid anyway. The in-house solicitor's salary is not usually included when presenting the costs of legal action, for example. But this time they've included the full charge-out cost to push the figures up. So some consistency is needed, here.

I was also concerned that the construction team cost of £54k assumed mobilisation and site preparation, rather than the marginal cost of digging deeper when equipment was already on site. I requested details of the likely cost of going deeper as part of a routine dredging operation in that location, rather than a one-off visit and a figure of about £30,000 was given.

There was a lively debate over the need for a depth greater than 1.5m, with one member suggesting that it was only modern extreme racing yachts which draw more than 4ft, that they were not fit for purpose on the Broads and their owners should just accept that they can't sail to Barton. Another member pointed out that in fact many of these racing yachts with deep drafts were built over 100 years ago and all (including the new ones) were most certainly designed for racing on the Broads!

One member was concerned about the possible impact on fish spawning grounds if the natural gravel bed was removed, suggesting that mitigation measures could be required to replace lost habitat. However the corollary to this was that digging gravel would only reveal more gravel below, so the impact was likely to be marginal.

Two useful suggestions were a) that the trees in the area should be cut back as a matter of urgency, as they restricted the manoeuvrability of sailing boats which could be forced into shallower areas to avoid hitting overhanging branches; and b) that the engineering team could consider a less expensive deeper 'V' channel in the centre of the river at this location, rather than the wider trapezoid shape, as a compromise.

It was also agreed to provide water depth information boards as a priority.

Hardley Flood and The River Chet

This was another issue which had occupied the minds of members considerably, back in April. Norfolk County Council had proposed to extinguish a section of the Wherryman's Way trail along the River Chet at Hardley Flood, because of the deterioration of the river bank and the collapse of a bridge. They took the view that, as highways authority, they were only responsible for the surface of the path rather than the land supporting it.

Because this land does not form part of the flood defence (which is further back, behind Hardley Flood), the Environment Agency are not responsible for it either and it was unclear whether the land owner would have the resources (or willingness) to fund repairs.

Last time, Members felt that the Authority needed to take a lead in facilitating a solution for this problem, whilst acknowledging that it didn't have the ultimate responsibility for maintaining the bank. There was some officer resistance to getting involved, due to the possible cost of repairing the whole bank which was put at as much as £3million if we wanted to do the job properly. But members were mindful of the Authority's second purpose of promoting the enjoyment of the Broads by the public, and didn't want to see such an important footpath lost.

This time, officers came back with some better news - the Broads Local Access Forum had guided the County Council to work with other public bodies (including the BA) to come up with a partnership project to protect the route. The BA & County Council are also looking at a jointly funded tree & scrub clearance project as a first stage in protecting and restoring the bank. In the mean time, the County have agreed to place a Traffic Regulation Order on the route rather than extinguish it permanently. And further good news was that the likely cost of repairing the flood bank is nowhere near the initial estimate.

There was also a presentation on the removal of navigation posts along the Chet, which had been installed as part of the BESL flood bank works. These posts were generally seen to be unattractive and a potential hazard to navigation now that the bank was properly established, so members agreed to have them removed at a cost of £60k, with the Environment Agency hopefully making a contribution towards this.

Waste Collection & Disposal in the Broads 'National Park'

I had mixed feelings about this agenda item. The fact that officers have recognised this to be a pressing issue requiring resolution, is marred by frustration that we've had to endure fly tipping and all the bad PR that goes with it throughout 2016.

To be clear, the problem was not originally of the BA's making but is, rather, an unfortunate effect of changes to waste classification regulations, which defined waste from hire boats as commercial, whereas waste from private boats continued to be classed as domestic. The upshot was that some local authorities decided to remove bins from riverside mooring locations on the pretext that most of the rubbish probably came from hire boats.

Throughout 2015, the navigation committee was pressing for a stakeholder workshop (scheduled for last November) but the workshop didn't happen, and - in December - officers said that they didn't think it was necessary, and that continued monitoring was the answer.

The navigation committee was not happy with this and made clear their unanimous view that leaving the issue for another season was simply not an option.

Unfortunately, this view was completely misreported to the full Authority in January (navigation committee minutes were still not available 6 weeks after the meeting) and I was unable to persuade members of what had actually been agreed. The minutes were released two days later, confirming the committee's view that urgent action was needed but by then the full Authority had been led to believe that the committee supported the officer view of continued monitoring during 2016, with an internal workshop at some stage.

Since then, as we all know, we have been faced with the inevitable problems caused by a lack of waste disposal locations and - following an internal workshop in July - it seems that the Authority have finally recognised this and have some plan up their sleeve to deal with it.

Part of the policy is to try to encourage visitors and residents to "minimise the creation of waste and recycle as much material as possible" - which is of course a laudable aim, but visitors don't tend to buy large quantities of white and brown goods with lots of packaging when on holiday, most of their waste is food packaging, bottles and cans. So basically the policy is to encourage people to eat and drink less on holiday, which strikes me as unrealistic.

The report also proposes applying pressure via MPs to change the regulations. I agree that the regs are completely counter-intuitive (why does your domestic waste become commercial just because you are on holiday?) but it would take a nationwide campaign to achieve this and it would no doubt be opposed by all the district and county authorities whose collection and disposal costs would rise as a result.

The most promising proposal was to work in partnership with the district and parish councils to resolve the situation. The Chief Executive seemed reluctant to go into any detail over what was being considered - presumably because of commercial sensitivity - but under those circumstances, the proper thing is to go into closed session and inform members of progress. Otherwise, members will be completely in the dark until a decision has been made, with which they may or may not agree. A more cynical mind than mine might think that this was deliberate.

Hoveton Great Broad - planning application for variation of conditions

This is is a bit of a sad one and forms part of the most dreadful missed opportunity in a generation for the Broads.

Hoveton Great Broad - a huge expanse of water second only in size to Hickling - was open to navigation until the late 19th century when it was closed by the owners - illegally, according to expert legal opinion. But once a right of navigation has been established, it cannot easily be extinguished - and many (including me) believe that the right to navigate remains, prevented only by the landowners refusing to allow access.

This would be bad enough by itself, but - in 2014 - Natural England obtained almost £5m of grant funding to dredge the broad (which had become silted up and turbid through lack of management or usage) - but without any measurable public benefit. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the Authority to step in and open negotiations for a restoration of navigation rights and public access, as consideration for the huge lump of public cash. But, sadly, members were not even alerted to the scheme until it was fully developed and planning consent was sought for blocking the entrances and pumping mud from the broad on to the ever receding Wroxham Island, to help bolster and re-establish it.

This latter part of the project was probably the only piece of tangible public benefit provided by this publicly funded scheme, and now Natural England have applied to remove this part of the project - on the basis that they no longer need to remove as much mud as originally thought in order to achieve 'lake restoration' and were unable to achieve grant funding for this part of the scheme. Members appeared to be united in their disapproval of this change, but were powerless to challenge it. In fact, the changes are theoretically of benefit to navigation in the short term (albeit marginal) because there will be no mud pipe laid across the river. But it seems that the opportunity to gain some betterment from a project which provides public funding for a private property has been lost.

But here's where it gets interesting. It turns out - according to one member - that Natural England already knew that they couldn't get funding for the Wroxham Island improvements as early as January 2015 because the island was outside the designated site - and yet they continued to promote the improvements as a material consideration in favour of the scheme as late as June 2015. The NSBA are investigating, so keep an eye on the papers!

In other news, members welcomed the master plan project for the enhancement of Hickling Broad, the tolls working group will be reporting a new proposed structure for tolls in October, and there is a new strategy for the River Wensum to deliver a vision for the river corridor within the City boundary and Whitlingham Country Park.

The next navigation committee meeting is on 15th December 2016.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Accountability deficit fuelling distrust of Broads Authority

The system of governance at the Broads Authority has occupied stakeholders' minds for many years. Representations to MPs culminated in a meeting with 5 of them at Westminster in 2013 but - despite agreeing that the Authority's governance was failing and not fit for purpose - they didn't think it realistic to expect Parliament to devote more time to the Broads, having already spent considerable resources on approving the 2009 Broads Act.

The fundamental issue, in my view, is the absence of any system of accountability - democratic or otherwise. In theory the Authority should be accountable to its stakeholders (both toll payers and the general public as taxpayers). But there is no proper scrutiny of the Authority's decision making processes, and the recent drive to get rid of certain Members demonstrates the extreme measures which will be taken to preserve 'collective responsibility' whenever a Member cites concerns about public interest or prudent use of resources.

Because I had taken a robust stance in favour of fair play and openness, few were surprised when I was ejected from the Authority - despite the absence of any specific allegations or evidence of wrongdoing. What is less widely known is that a code of conduct complaint was made against me at the same time - and that this was dismissed by the monitoring officer, who said that I had a right to free speech and I had not breached the code in any way. But obviously that kind of outcome wouldn't have suited the 'executive', so urgent steps were taken to remove me before I could be found innocent.

Just 4 months later, Cllr Lana Hempsall found herself in a similar situation for disagreeing with a planning officer on the need for a small Parish Council to apply for planning consent to use a phone box as an information kiosk. Make no mistake, the officer was wrong - according to both the law and common sense. But, so ingrained is the Authority's belief that it must never back down on anything, that it was considered more expedient to remove the Member who was standing up for the public interest than for the officer simply to correct their advice.

Anybody can see that this is an abuse of due process, natural justice and the law. Members have a prima facie duty to act at all times in the public interest. Cllr Hempsall would have breached one of the fundamental principles of public life had she gone along with the demands of the Chief Executive and the Chairman of the Planning Committee that she pass on incorrect advice to the Parish Clerk. Because she placed the public interest ahead of her own, she was removed from the planning committee without notice on the basis of "inappropriate conduct".

Of course, neither Member was guilty of inappropriate conduct, at least not as defined in the Members' Code. But, whenever a Member looks as though they might be going off-message, the Chair & Vice Chairman of the Authority have become fond of invoking an unwritten principle that Members should, at all times, act as 'ambassadors' for the Authority. Members have been censured under this 'rule' for disagreeing with officer opinions and delegated decisions (i.e. decisions not made by the Members), and for any implied criticism of the Authority, even when made privately.

Right now, the Authority keeps dossiers on certain Members, including records of their social media activity and their history of speaking or voting against officer recommendations. The communications policy is used to prevent Members from speaking publicly without agreeing a script, and unconstitutional, un-minuted, disciplinary meetings are held to silence troublesome Members. The net effect is that Members are not bound simply by the code of conduct, but by the whim of senior Members who can impose their own personal opinion of "appropriate conduct" on others, with impunity.

Surely these most recent events must tell our legislators - both national and local - that all is not well at Yare House. Members must not be removed simply because they publicly disagree with an officer, or highlight shortcomings in the Authority's governance and management. On the contrary, that is why Members are appointed - to challenge, to scrutinise, to advise - and they must feel empowered to do so. Until the "Executive" accept this fundamental truth, the Authority will continue to face justified criticism and distrust from its stakeholders.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Restructuring of Navigation Charges (Tolls)

Seven Broads Authority Members have formed a group which has been given the task of reviewing the current structure of the navigation charges (tolls) paid by boat owners using the Broads. This group has developed a structure by way of a new set of Guiding Principles to enable decisions on tolls to be made.

In these “Revised Draft Guiding Principles”, dated June 2016, the following is the first point:

Revised Draft Guiding Principles

1.   Navigation charges should generate sufficient income to maintain the
navigation area for the purposes of navigation to such standard as appears
to the Authority to be reasonably required and to take such steps to improve and develop the navigation area as the Authority thinks fit (Section 10 of the Broads Act 1988). [‘STATUTORY RESPONSIBILITY’]

However, nothing can be found in Section 10 of the Broads Act 1988 which says that the statutory responsibilities have to be paid for by toll charges only.  The relevant wording in Section 10 of the Act states:

10 Functions of Authority and others in relation to the navigation area.

(1) The Authority shall—

(a) maintain the navigation area for the purposes of navigation to such standard as appears to it to be reasonably required; and

(b) take such steps to improve and develop it as it thinks fit.

These seem to be the statutory requirements to which the Report is referring.

It appears that the wording in the Revised Draft Guiding Principles is written in a way which would lead the Committee to believe that the Broads Act states that navigation maintenance and improvements etc can only be paid for by toll charges.  This interpretation cannot be found anywhere in the section of the Act quoted.

Navigation income may only be spent on the navigation, not that the total spent on navigation be equal only to what the tolls produce.  The authority must spend whatever money it needs to maintain the navigation. 

Is the wording in the Guiding Principles deliberately misleading, rather than conveying the reality that tolls income can only be used for navigation purposes?  A distinct difference!

Using this premise, if any particular maintenance or improvements are required, the authority will be able to state that navigation charges will have to be increased to pay for this work or the threat of stopping dredging in other areas will be made, as there is no money available.