Broads boaters discuss tolls boycott
Increasing numbers of Broads boaters are discussing the possibility of withholding their tolls in response to the Broads Authority's decision to spend a bigger proportion of the money on general overheads rather than maintaining and improving navigation.
That is the claim of Garth Cooper, a spokesman for the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association (NSBA), which represents more than 1,000 individual boaters and 50 affiliated clubs.
Speaking out after the authority's budget-setting meeting on Friday which approved the use of an extra �200,000 of toll money to cover overheads, Mr Cooper said the possibility of more direct action - withholding tolls or some kind of legal action - would be discussed by the NSBA committee next month.
He said the authority had stoked anger even further by failing to immediately agree to the suggestion of using national park grant money as transitional funding - �100,000 for the coming financial year - that would have left toll payers facing an extra bill for overheads of only half the �200,000 figure.
Instead, it was agreed to delay any decision on transitional funding until May when the Authority will learn whether it has been successful in obtaining a 900,000 euro grant from the EU to support dredging.
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Mr Cooper accused the Authority of 'fudging the issue' and not acting in an 'open and transparent manner'.
'Frankly, we are disgusted with the whole thing and Broads Authority chief executive John Packman is going to find a lot of irate boaters knocking on his door,' he said.
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The Authority has insisted it is only right boaters pay a fair share of administrative costs in the wake of massive government funding cuts.
However, at a meeting at Brundall Motor Yacht Club last week, NSBA chairman Mark Wells said the Authority had failed to make serious cuts like other local government bodies.
He accused the Authority of proposing to carry on with a National Park agenda no longer fully financed by public funding.
'The National Park model is now looking increasingly outmoded and irrelevant. The Authority now needs to redefine itself as a proper navigation authority and concentrate on those activities which matter to boat users,' he said.
Broads Authority chairman Stephen Johnson said: 'The budget we have agreed for 2011-12 includes provision of �1.3m on maintaining the navigation including dredging 50,000� m of silt from the waterways – the same target as this year. If boat owners were to withhold their tolls it would adversely affect the service that the Broads Authority can provide.'
He said they had been forced to make sweeping changes in the last few months to the way the Authority was structured in the light of the expected loss of �1.1m from National Park Grant between 2010 and 2014.
'We are losing around 30 posts including two of our directors by 2013/14 in order to balance the National Park budget while maintaining front line services,' he said.
'The reduction in DEFRA's support grant means that a greater proportion of our staff effort will be spent on navigation in the future and this makes it inevitable that navigation income will need to contribute more than it has done in the past.'