Saturday, 21 October 2017

Planning to live aboard?

I was interested to read the EDP’s story about the ‘targeting’ of a live aboard at Hoveton, because the Broads Authority have for many years been resistant to what they regard as ‘unauthorised’ residential moorings.

Although there are, without a doubt, some undesirable residential boats on the Broads, that doesn’t mean that people living on boats generally are undesirable. There are some pretty unattractive and potentially unsafe non-residential boats out there too, and the same could be said for caravans and houses as well. Sensibly, a boat which is lived on 365 days a year is more likely to be looked after than one which gets visited once in a blue moon. I think that the real problem is one of ignorant discrimination against people who want to live on their boats, based on the appearance of a small minority and the baying of the liberal elite who don’t like looking at them.

So let’s start by clarifying the planning law about living on boats. The BA have, quite legitimately, created planning policies which allow them to apply conditions to new moorings. So, for example, if someone was to create a new mooring basin, then the BA could impose a planning condition which restricted the use of some or all of the moorings to non-residential use, or 24 hour visitors only, or whatever was considered to be appropriate when judged objectively.

The same is not true for pre-existing moorings. Planners cannot impose a retrospective planning condition on moorings (or anything else), no matter how much they might want to, and no matter how much they say that residential moorings are "unauthorised" in a particular location. If a mooring does not have conditions which restrict its use, then there is nothing to stop someone from living on board if they choose.

The reason for this is that planning is about the use of land, not the use of boats. A mooring is a mooring, and what goes on aboard a boat is not relevant to planning, unless the moorings have explicit conditions restricting their use.

Care must, however, be taken to ensure that the land surrounding the mooring does not get strewn with residential 'paraphernalia', as that might well constitute a material change of use. Stick your TV aerial, bike and washing line on the roof of your boat if you like - but if you start cluttering the adjacent land with sheds and what have you, then you may be materially changing the appearance of the land and you can expect a visit. With planning, it’s all a question of degree.

This has been tested several times in the appeal court. The BA lost an enforcement case in 1999 when they attempted to prevent 2 boats in Hoveton from being used for residential purposes. The Inspector found that if he couldn't see the difference between 2 boats - one used residentially and one not - then there was no material change of use of the land and therefore no breach of planning control.

The findings of the Inspector could not be more clear, and probably explain why the BA have not taken any further formal enforcement action against people living on boats - though they continue to refer to any residential mooring as “unauthorised”. This is a bit naughty, in my view, because people tend to believe what they’re told by public Authorities, and end up either leaving the Broads or else having to live ‘under the radar’.

Disappointingly, the 1999 case is now summarily dismissed by the BA as an "old decision", even though another appeal inspector came to exactly the same conclusion in 2010 on the Driffield Canal in Yorkshire. But, in any event, the age of the decision isn’t remotely relevant. The key is deciding whether living on a boat all of the time is a materially different use of the land, compared to living on the boat some of the time. Planning inspectors - and objective common sense - say that it is not. The use of the land (the mud under the water and the land immediately adjacent) is the mooring of a boat.

The BA, in association with other local planning authorities, recently commissioned a report on the objectively assessed need for houseboat accommodation (as well as caravans and traveller sites) in the Broads. This concluded that there is a need for 63 residential moorings - although the BA’s own research from rangers estimates that there are as many as 100 households already residing on boats. The emerging Broads Local Plan has allocated 25 moorings for residential use, but this figure is well short of the objectively assessed need of 63 and the BA’s estimate of 100 - which is itself only an approximation of existing residential use, with no consideration of future demand. And allocating residential moorings doesn’t mean that they will become available - it just means that the policy permits it, if the landowners choose to apply for consent.

So, although I have no detailed knowledge of the planning conditions in respect of the particular mooring described in the EDP, it is certainly not the case that living on a boat needs to be expressly authorised by the Broads Authority - or anybody else. If a mooring has no planning conditions restricting its use, then the occupier can feel free to 'live' on board their vessel in that location for as long as he or she chooses.

Finally, the BA’s statement that it welcomed “residential boats moored where they are authorised to do so” is a bit confusing - because they don’t regard any residential moorings as “authorised”!

Note - this article represents my personal and private views, and not those of the navigation committee. I attest that I am not acting in my capacity as a member of the navigation committee in wiring this blog. 


  1. The Broads Authority seems to have little option but to come off the fence and ensure that facilities required by stakeholders are available.

  2. For the record, I think Houseboat Heather is an asset to the waterways, although I understand that Chris doesn't live on board.