Who should pay for the Broads?

A sailing boat and a holiday cruisers on the River Bure at Horning on a fine early October day.
Picture: James Bass

A sailing boat and a holiday cruisers on the River Bure at Horning on a fine early October day. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

A river tolls recommendation by the Broads Authority's navigation committee would 'use the 'starter homes' of the private fleet to subsidise gin palaces', it has been claimed.

The influential committee has backed the joint proposals of the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association (NSBA) and Broads Hire Boat Federation (BHBF) which would see small and average size sailing and motor boats - excepting the very smallest - paying percentage increases of up to 10pc in their tolls for 2014 while the very largest would actually benefit from a decrease.

The two groups claim their proposals, based on an average 2.8pc rise, would 'right the wrong' of last year's tolls settlement which was widely criticised for placing a disproportionate burden on the hire boat fleet and owners of larger craft.

However, Loddon pensioner Heather Tew, 65, who would face a large tolls rise for her 12sq m Yeoman, described the recommendation as 'absolutely bonkers'.

A member of the Hardley Hundred club, she attended Thursday's navigation committee meeting and questioned how thoroughly the NSBA had consulted its membership.

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She said she was amazed the committee was supporting a proposal that would 'use the 'starter homes' of the private fleet to subsidise gin palaces'.

She said: 'I would not object so much to paying a 10pc rise if it were to support the hire boat industry. It is unfair that hire boat firms currently face a 2.65 multiplier on tolls and we need them to support the local economy like they do in Loddon.'

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However, she insisted there was no case to treat large private boats in the same way and predicted a ground swell of protest by small boat owners ahead of the Broads Authority meeting on November 22 when a decision will be taken.

Adrian Lincoln, 54, a teacher from Salhouse, who sails a small Broads cruiser with his wife and son, joined the volley of protest against the recommendation.

He said: 'I don't have a problem with hire boats as they are the lifeblood of the Broads and keep it going, but the owners of the big gin palaces can afford a price hike more than hard-pressed families with smaller boats.'

Mr Lincoln, a committee member of the East Anglian Cruising Club, applauded the recommendation's attempt to encourage new boaters but said the tolls rise exemption for boats of less than 5sq m would not be enought to achieve that aim as many starter sailing and motor boats were slightly bigger than that if they had been bought for family use.

'Our boat was built in 1931. If you price some of the low budget sailing and motor boats off the water you will be losing part of the Broads heritage,' he said.

Broads Authority chairman Stephen Johnson said BA members would not be in an enviable position striving to arrive at an equitable decision.

He said: 'I have heard it said that in reaching this year's tolls settlement the BA acted like Robin Hood. We have to be careful that this time we are not accused of behaving like the Sheriff of Nottingham.'

He described the situation as 'economically very complicated' and acknowledged the need to strike a balance that would both support the hire boat industry and encourage more small boaters.

'We need to encourage more small boats. That is how new young people get into it,' he said.

Richard Card, chairman of the NSBA, said they had consulted on their tolls structure proposals at a meeting of club officials in March.

He said last year's tolls settlement had been an 'aberration' and suggested people should look at what their rise would be over two years.

He said: 'Any percentage rise at the bottom end is very small in terms of pounds and pence and it would be wrong to describe all large private boats as gin palaces. Many our ex-hire boats owned by not particularly well off people.'

BHBF secretary Tony Howes said he was delighted there appeared to be a consensus that a viable hire boat industry was essential to keep the infrastructure going for all users.

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