Norwich boaters sail into stormy waters over River Wensum fence dispute

A dispute has broken out between boaters and a landowner about a floating community moored in Norwich.

Seven boats are based on the River Wensum, off ABC Wharf, King Street – a site significant to the river's history for more than 500 years. But a fence has been erected in recent weeks on the riverside, which boaters say has made it difficult for people to walk to their vessels via ABC Wharf. They want it to be taken down and their place on the river secured.

The boaters say they have contracts with a tenant at ABC Wharf to moor off the land, an agreement they have been advised allows them to stay. But ABC Wharf landowner John Thursby said this was not the case and he wants a more formal agreement with all the boaters. He said he had been advised by his solicitor to regulate the waterway off his land and would be happy to provide facilities if this were agreed.

Both sides accept electricity has been cut off for 11 months – though they disagree about why it has not been restored.

Mr Thursby said: 'I would be quite happy if they came to me and said, 'look here Mr Thursby, we want to stay, we want to sign a licence'. They would have to pay something I suppose. That's not in essence what it's about. It's about the legalities of the licence.

'I need to know they have insurance, their boats conform to the safety scheme and they treat the yard and tenants with more respect than they have done over the years.'

The Broads Authority said boaters needed a toll licence to use or keep their vessels on the river, plus third party insurance and a valid boat safety certificate. But landowner permission was needed for boats to moor. The boaters say they have this through their landlord, but Mr Thursby says an agreement needs to be in place with him.

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University of East Anglia (UEA) philosophy lecturer Ben Walker, who has been mooring there for five years, said all necessary licences and insurance details were in order.

Mr Walker said: 'It's been difficult for about a year and it's been getting worse. We certainly don't have a detrimental impact here – there's no mess, no noise. My girlfriend and I have talked about leaving as it's stressing us out.'

The boaters say they play a vital role in looking after the river and have saved people and dogs. A petition with 573 signatures has been collected to support their case.

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