A growing mutiny of boaters against the Broads Authority (BA) has seen police and government ministers called in, in an attempt to resolve the row.

Critics have accused chief executive John Packman of overseeing the institution as his 'fiefdom', and say it is increasingly run against the interests of those who use the waterways for boating.

Eastern Daily Press: Boaters at RanworthBoaters at Ranworth (Image: Denise Bradley/Newsquest)

A new campaign group has been set up calling for its reform and demanding that Mr Packman and chairman Bill Dickson step down.

The turmoil has even reached the waterways themselves, with BA information boards at various riverside spots, including at Ranworth and Reedham, recently emblazoned with stickers stating "Packman Must Go".

They have since been removed, with police called in by the Authority to find the perpetrators.

A number of local MPs have become involved in the row and urged the government to intervene.

Eastern Daily Press: Trudy Harrison, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Land UseTrudy Harrison, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Land Use (Image: David Woolfall)

Following a rising number of complaints, Trudy Harrison, a minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recently visited the Authority's Norwich HQ to speak with both sides of the deepening rift.

Neither organisation has commented on the content of the discussions, but both said they were involved in a "collaborative approach to resolving governance issues".

The row is the latest outbreak in a long-running conflict between different factions at the Authority dubbed 'navvies' and 'parkies'.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the Broads

The 'navvies' are those concerned primarily with the interests of boaters, or 'navigation', while the 'parkies', under Mr Packman, are accused of being more focused on fulfilling the Authority's National Park obligations, such as conservation and promoting the area.

The latest row was sparked by a BA decision earlier this year to put up boating tolls by 13pc.

The rise has caused concern not only among private boat owners but also hire companies who own huge fleets of holiday boats.

It angered the navvies, including members of the BA's own navigation committee.

Eastern Daily Press: John PackmanJohn Packman (Image: ©Archant Photographic 2009)

And it led to accusations that the Authority was in danger of "illegally" using toll money, which should be ring-fenced for navigational purposes - such as dredging the rivers and maintaining mooring sites - to fund other projects, including a visitor centre at Ranworth.

MPs Jerome Mayhew and Duncan Baker became involved at this point, warning the BA it was "at risk" of breaching its statutory obligations to ring-fence navigation money.

The BA has strongly denied this is the case and says it has carefully allocated funding to ensure it is fulfilling all its responsibilities without breaking its governing rules.

Following that row, the Broads Reform Action Group (BRAG) was set up by navvies, to campaign against Mr Packman. It says it already has around 900 members.

A spokesman for the group said: “The committee has noted with increasing alarm the autocratic and non-democratic manner in which the Broads Authority is run by the chairman and the chief executive.

“We feel that we have no option but to demand that the chairman and the chief executive of the Broads Authority resign forthwith.”

Eastern Daily Press: Yare House, the Broads Authority officeYare House, the Broads Authority office (Image: Archant)

The group was not invited to the recent meeting with Ms Harrison, but representatives from the Broads Society - a longer-running group set up to protect and promote the waterways - did attend.

The Society has also called for Mr Packman to step down and for the BA to be reformed.

Paul Rice, its chairman, said: “We have campaigned for years for change in the way the Authority is run. The minister seems to have realised that something needs to be done.” 

Mr Rice accused Mr Packman of running the authority like his own “fiefdom”, and reiterated calls for the Authority to be split up.

Eastern Daily Press: Paul RicePaul Rice (Image: Archant)

He, and the society’s legal adviser, Paul Savage, criticised the lack of a proper complaints procedure for when there is an issue with the BA. 

Mr Savage added: “Ms Harrison told us there was ‘an unusually high level' of complaints against the authority. 

“She came to listen to what people thought were the problems and we tried to provide her with more details. 

“We have said ‘the reason why you get so many complaints is because there is no one to complain to’.”

Mr Rice described the minister’s intervention as an “investigation”, although Defra and the BA have declined to use the term.

READ MORE: Daughter's heartbreak at replacement of marshman's home by 'Bond villain's lair'

A Broads Authority spokesman said the minister met with members, staff and other groups to “discuss local issues”.

“On her departure back to Westminster, the minister left us with every impression that she believed the authority to be well run under sound leadership,” he added.

“Defra has advised that the suggestion ‘an investigation has been launched’ (as claimed by some individuals), is incorrect and it is routine for the minister to meet a range of interested parties.  

“The minister is committed to supporting the BA and encouraging a collaborative approach to resolve any outstanding governance matters.  

“The chairman and chief executive of the authority remain committed to serving the best interests of the Broads and those that enjoy the area.”

He added that the Authority had asked police to investigate who was putting anti-Packman stickers on riverside mooring signs.

"Authority mooring signs contain vitally important safety information to assist emergency blue light services. Defacing these signs is irresponsible," he added.

READ MORE: The Broads boat owners fined hundreds of pounds for non-payment of tolls

A Defra spokesman said: "Minister Harrison visited the Broads to meet the members Defra has appointed to the Broads Authority and other local stakeholders.

"The minister is committed to supporting the effective operation of the authority as an important part of England’s National Park family."

Eastern Daily Press: North Norfolk MP Duncan BakerNorth Norfolk MP Duncan Baker (Image: Archant)

Duncan Baker said: "All the Norfolk Conservatives that represent areas in the Broads continue to field significant correspondence about the running of the Authority.

"It hit a high because of the increase of toll charges to 13pc. This has raised concerns about the local engagement.

"We are heartened that Defra has taken the first steps to talk to the Broads Authority about where those concerns come from.

"We want the Authority to ensure that they can have a relationship that works collaboratively with the boating community. I don't know [what the talks will lead to] but we will continue to work with Defra."




One of the accusations against the Broads Authority is that it is "undemocratic".

Certainly, none of its members are voted into place.

While in some ways it resembles a local council, its leader and its members are all appointed.

Some of its members are serving councillors who are nominated by the local councils that cover the area of the Broads: North Norfolk, South Norfolk, Great Yarmouth, Broadland and Norwich.

Eastern Daily Press: Ranworth Staithe mooringRanworth Staithe mooring (Image: Denise Bradley/Newsquest)

Others - including the chairman - are appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

They are made up of people with local boating, landowning or farming interests.

Critics say this structure makes it unresponsive to public pressure.

Another fundamental issue at the heart of the BA, which critics say makes it dysfunctional, are the sometimes competing responsibilities it is obliged to fulfil.

It has the same duties as other National Parks, such as ensuring conservation, but does not have the same official status - because the interests of navigation have to be considered, something which is not an issue for other parks.

Under the BA's complex structure, which must balance the interests of navigation and conservation, some income - such as toll money - is ring-fenced, restricting how it can be used.

The underlying tension between the focus on National Park responsibilities and navigational ones is what has created the ongoing rift between the two factions which have become known as the parkies and the navvies.