Middle Level Bill progresses in Parliament

The Middle Level Bill, which proposes the introduction of a registration system for boats on the Middle Level Navigations, has been before an ‘Opposed Bill Committee’ in Parliament.

The Middle Level is a 120 mile system of drainage channels, 100 miles of which are navigable and most of which lie below mean sea level, in East Anglia, linking the rivers Nene and Great Ouse. The Middle Level Commissioners is the fourth largest Navigation Authority by waterway length in the country, but is not currently able to charge pleasure craft for using its waters.

The Opposed Bill Committee met on 15th to 17th January, in an historic room in the Palace of Westminster, overlooking the Thames. The Middle Level Commissioners put forward their case, that a registration system would both produce revenue to introduce and improve facilities for boaters, and ensure higher standards of safety and improved environmental protection. The Commissioners specifically committed to applying their best endeavours to “achieve at least IWA’s published minimum standards for the provision of facilities”.

The Commissioners indicated that their target annual average registration fee to stay on the Middle Level would be £300 – £400 p.a. They also confirmed that they were planning on entering into reciprocal arrangements with other navigation authorities (meaning the current EA/CRT ‘gold licence’ arrangement would extend to the Middle Level) and the Bill provides that a formal Navigation Advisory Committee would be formed to advise the Commissioners on the exercise of their navigation functions.

IWA Eastern Region Chairman, Chris Howes, who moors on the Middle Level, appeared as a Witness in support of the Bill, and there were 5 objectors – known as ‘Petitioners’.

Three of these Petitioners were private individuals, and the others appeared for March Cruising Club and the NBTA (National Bargee Travellers Association). It was notable that the 3 private petitioners and the Cruising Club representative, while stating that they objected in principle to the Bill, seemed more concerned to ensure that should the Bill become Law, it wouldn’t threaten boaters’ existing rights but instead potentially offer benefits.

The Petitioners were heard, and 15 amendments agreed, and added by Counsel to the Committee. The Committee of 4 voted that the Bill with amendments should proceed. It will now go ‘on deposit’ to allow Government departments time to check that it doesn’t conflict with any current policies, before it returns to the Commons for a Third Reading.

If it proceeds through both the Commons and then the Lords, once it receives Royal Assent the MLC will then consult on the new Byelaws to be introduced.

Chris Howes commented “We’re all happy that compromises have been agreed, and that an amended version of the Bill will proceed. IWA looks forward to the Middle Level benefitting from the same protections and opportunities that other waterways enjoy across the rest of the country.”

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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