Should the Broads Authority freeze its tolls for boat owners?
The Broads Authority (BA) is being asked to 'right the wrong' of this year's tolls increase which has been criticised for placing a disproportionate burden on the hire boat fleet and owners of larger boats.
The Broads Hire Boat Federation (BHBF) and Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association (NSBA), which represents the majority of private toll payers, have worked on joint proposals for a suggested 2014-15 settlement, which they believe will redress the balance.
Ahead of Thursday's meeting of the BA's navigation committee, when their proposals will be considered along with two options put forward by BA officers, the groups have issued a paper - 'Righting the Wrong' - which explains their reasoning.
It argues that this year's 3pc tolls increase was unfair because it was not applied across the board; while smaller craft benefited from a tolls cut in some cases, larger boats were hit disproportionately hard. The structure meant the hire boat industry had been affected particularly badly, with the majority of yards facing a tolls rise above inflation.
The groups' proposals for 2014-15, which they were asked to bring forward by BA chairman Stephen Johnson, are based on a 3pc average increase, but would see smaller boats paying more and larger boats less.
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The hire fleet would be additionally helped by a reduction in the toll multiplier for weekly hire boats from 2.65 to 2.64.
Richard Card, chairman of the NSBA, said their proposals would safeguard a tolls reduction for the very smallest craft (less than 5sq m), a sector the BA wanted to encourage, but would otherwise 'restore the differentials to their relative standing of 2012-13'.
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He said the acceptance of their proposals would be a 'signal by the authority of its preparedness to listen to stakeholders.'
BHBF secretary Tony Howes said it would be 'very disappointing' if the navigation committee did not accept the fairness of the proposed revision of the toll structure.
Mr Johnson said the navigation committee and the authority would look carefully at the proposals and 'reach a view about whether there is a wrong here which needs to be righted'.
However, he said: 'In workshops and reviews over the past eight years, the authority has taken the view that the differential between the smaller and the larger craft should be increased, both to bring the Broads more in line with the relative charges on other waterways and to better reflect the value of different sized craft.'
The BA's alternative proposals are for a flat rate increase and a flat rate increase helping the hire boat industry with a reduction in the weekly hire boats multiplier to 2.58. A recommendation by the navigation committee will go to next month's BA meeting for a final decision.