Toll rises ‘could drive boaters off Broads’

A leading member of the Broads boating lobby has warned that toll rises being proposed could drive more boat owners off the waterways.

However, Broads Authority chief executive John Packman defended the planned 5pc average rise, saying that in tough economic times the authority was 'doing its best to keep tolls down while maintaining the current level of services to boaters'.

And he stressed that all revenue from tolls would be strictly ring-fenced for dredging, waterways maintenance and patrols.

The toll rises for 2011 that are being recommended to next Friday's meeting of the Broads Authority would favour small boat owners with canoeists being asked to pay just 68p more to use the Broads at �28.08, and owners of sailing dinghies facing a �1.15 (2.5pc) increase to �47.37.

The largest boats, however, would pay about 6pc more next year, making the average for all boats 5pc.

In the tough economic climate, with the authority set to lose 30pc of its National Park Grant over the next four years, an average 5pc tolls rise is expected in ensuing years during that period as well.

Paul Thomas, editor of Anglia Afloat, said many readers had expressed concern about toll rises and said they could lead to some people simply giving up boating.

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He stressed the importance of Dr Packman's pledge that tolls money would be ring-fenced and said it was vital that Broads Authority cuts were at the expense of bureacrats' jobs rather than 'action people' working on the waterways and in tourism.

Garth Cooper, a spokesman for Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association, described it as 'very good news' and 'a positive outcome' that the tolls money was going to be ring-fenced for maintaining waterways and dredging.

He said: 'The authority had originally been planning an average 6pc rise so this represents a good outcome.'

The proposals have received a mixed reaction from the hire boat industry which has been undergoing a revival with a large number of new boats being built.

It is understood that there is a mood of realism among some of the key players with an acceptance that such a rise is inevitable in face of the Broads Authority cuts.

However, Langford Jillings, boss of Alpha Craft in Brundall, highlighted the fact that hire boats had to pay 2.7 times the toll of a private boat and described the rise as 'diabolical'.

He said: 'We are not happy that inflation is running at 2pc and they are proposing a 5pc rise.'

Dr Packman said a rise in the hire fleet by 35 boats had boosted income and helped to keep down charges.

He said: 'Despite the spending review we are still sticking to our planned target of dredging 50,000cu m of sediment from the navigation area, patrolling the waterways and looking after moorings.'

Chairman of the navigation committee Martin Broom said: 'The navigation committee was keen to help owners of small boats by keeping toll increases to a minimum. The authority has a difficult balance to strike in setting navigation charges while maintaining services when government support is reducing.' .