The row over huge hikes in toll fees on the Norfolk Broads has escalated after a group of boat hire firms lodged an official complaint with the government.

The Broads Hire Boat Federation (BHBF) has appealed to the Department for Transport saying the rises introduced by the Broads Authority (BA) are threatening to put boat yards and other firms out of business.

The federation is complaining about this year's 13pc increase in tolls, saying the "decision - and the consultation process leading to it - were unlawful and unreasonable".

The increase, implemented in April, added more than £200 to the cost for large hire boats, creating a significant extra expense in a year when many yards suffered a fall in bookings.

But the authority has dismissed the claims, insisting all rules have been followed and the rise was needed to protect services and maintain the waterways.

Eastern Daily Press: Broads Authority offices at Yare HouseBroads Authority offices at Yare House (Image: George Thompson, LDR)

The objection from the BHBF comes only days after the BA voted to introduce another toll increase for next year, of 8.5pc, and has again focused attention on an ongoing rift about how the waterways should be run.

This rift has been characterised as a split between two groups - the 'navvies' and 'parkies': the navvies are those primarily concerned with maintaining navigation and promoting the interests of boaters. The parkies - closely associated with John Packman, chief executive of the authority - are said to be more focused on fulfilling its national park obligations.

READ MORE: Mutiny on the Broads: Police and ministers called over deepening row with boaters



BHBF's challenge against the 2023 fees has been lodged as a 'notice of objection' with the Department for Transport (DfT). 

The right to object to navigation charges is enshrined in law as part of the Harbours Act 1964. It can be lodged on a range of grounds, including that the fees are too high.  

Anyone with a “substantial interest” can comment within 42 days. 

After that period the secretary of state will either make a decision or hold an inquiry if one is needed, which could see the charge cut.

Eastern Daily Press: james knight, a BHBF member james knight, a BHBF member (Image: Archant)



James Knight, a member of the BHBF and director of hire firm Norfolk Broads Direct, wrote an open letter to the authority, outlining the decision to lodge the objection.

He called for this year’s increase to be scrapped to help protect boat firms and said the authority should cut its costs instead.

He wrote: “Earlier this year, the Broads Authority chose to impose swingeing tolls increases of 13pc across the board, without proper consultation, and in breach of the Broads Acts.  

“This increase has been formally challenged with the DfT by the BHBF, supported by a legal opinion from a barrister. 

“In 2023, hire boat businesses such as our own experienced a year-on-year decline of 20-25pc in bookings, to which many businesses responded by dropping prices by up to 40pc in a last-minute attempt to stimulate sales.  

“This fall in demand has coincided with increasing costs, the largest of which in both percentage and monetary terms are the Broads Authority tolls.”

Eastern Daily Press: The Broads Authority has approved another increase in tolls for next year (Image: Mike Page)The Broads Authority has approved another increase in tolls for next year (Image: Mike Page) (Image: Mike Page)

The 13pc rise meant a toll for the largest hire boat cost £1,840.32 this year. Next year it will increase to £1996.80



Mr Knight, who is a former member of the authority, argues that all organisations have to make difficult decisions, and the BA should make cuts rather than put extra strain on hire boat firms. 

He suggests cuts should come from the authority’s planning department, which costs £500,000 a year to run but only brings in £100,000 in fees.  

Instead, applications could be determined by local councils with input from a cut-down planning team.

Mr Knight also accuses the BA of using tolls to support its national park activities - a key charge of the navvies against the parkies.

Toll fees should only be used for navigation purposes and spending them in other areas would be unlawful.

He wrote: "Far from being required to maintain navigation service levels, the additional increases proposed are to a large degree being used to maintain 'national park' service levels.

"This is an unlawful use of navigation income, and the January 2023 decision to provide additional subsidy to national park functions must be reversed."

He added: “Some operators (including ourselves) are selling holiday cruisers rather than refurbishing them - because, if costs increase, then savings must be made.  

“The effect of these actions will be felt across the supply chain”. 

Eastern Daily Press: Boats moored up on the River Bure near HorningBoats moored up on the River Bure near Horning (Image: James Bass (Image: Archant Norfolk © 2016))



A spokesman for the BA refuted Mr Knight's allegations that toll fees were being used unlawfully.

He said: “The 13pc tolls increase last year was necessary in light of increased pressures on budgets and above inflation costs, in order to maintain our navigation responsibilities.   

“The authority followed the statutory process in consulting the navigation committee.  

“The consultation process and apportionment of costs are not ‘unlawful’ and decisions are made in line with the requirements of the Broads Act.

“The authority does not use tolls income to support ‘national park’ activities.  

“Some costs are shared between navigation and national park, for example, rangers, and the allocation between these two areas is done so fairly based on evidence.” 

He added that an “evidence-based review” of the allocation of the budgets took place ahead of the toll setting last year and that the authority’s planning team are “regularly applauded” through surveys. 

“Planning is not funded from tolls income,” he said. 

 “Whilst planning generates some income from applications the government is clear that it does not expect fees to cover the full costs of a planning service.”