Middle Level
Boating in the East of England waterways
Middle Level Watermens' Club

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26th February 2024

MLC Navigation Advisory Committee Report - April 6, 2022.

Dear Members,

As you should now know I am representing our club having been appointed to the Committee of the Middle Level Commissioners, Navigation Advisory Committee (NAC).

An email was recently circulated to the membership asking if they had any questions for the meeting that was held on the 6th April, 2022.

From the feedback received the following questions (italics) were submitted;

1. There is still some animosity from some of the membership who originally paid their registration fees for the 20/21, who were under the impression that as agreed in the NAC committee meeting of 23 March, 2021, that a request for a further 25% reduction was going to be maid to the Board for the year 22/23.
It became clear that this wasn’t the case when renewal notices were issued at the full registration fee. Could the Committee therefore clarify when the Board refused the request and was it announced publicly? Their complaint still remains that MLC enforcement byelaws were not then enacted.

A) David Thomas, MLC Chief Executive, explained that the Middle Level Act 1874 and sections 11 and 12 of the Middle Level Act 2018 enabled them to introduce the registration charge but due to DEFRA delays enforcement was not enacted until 28th June, 2021. It was for this reason the first 25% discount was agreed for the season 2021/22. At a subsequent NAC meeting it was resolved to ask the MLC Board to consider a further reduction for the year 22/23. However it transpires the request was refused by the Board and it only became apparent when renewal notices were served at the full year registration rate.

2. The Rural Mooring strategy has been generally well received but some members have experienced difficulty, specifically in one case at the Sky Lark mooring where there was insufficient depth to get a rope around the posts and where even the use of a boarding plank proved difficult and dangerous.
I know that Colin Ovenden once mentioned that it was even more difficult for cruisers as opposed to narrowboats to access the moorings due to their mainly higher deck line. Members are still of the view that some form of platform, either floating or fixed would be of great benefit for access and to improve safety.

A) It was suggested that this would be considered for some of the most popular moorings such as The George, Forty Foot and eventually The Golden Lion at Stonea.

Work in progress at the George 40 Foot mooring.

With regard to the George Inn moorings work is already in progress to improve bank access and NAC member, Cllr Steve Corney, has asked if Ramsey Town Council would contribute a sum towards the works would the Commissioners add to it to provide the public moorings at this location. He also advised that he would discuss the matter with Huntingdon District Council to see if they could find some money for this.

3. Is the 25% “Ring Fence” for the Link Route guaranteed for the foreseeable future?

A) There is a commitment to spend 25% of all income on improving facilities on the link route to meet the current minimum recommendations of the IWA which remains in place until these are delivered.

4. Members who have their own private moorings specifically along the March riverside have complained of low water and being aground unable to move. We therefore would ask the Committee to consider the following suggestions;

That some sort of early warning of changes in levels or indeed "real time" information at certain sections of the Middle Level eg Well Creek, either side of Lodes End Lock, could be made available.

This could be from data already recorded for irrigation / drainage reasons so that we might just be able to piggy back onto existing systems i.e Twitter / FaceBook for those who are interested.

It  would also be useful to know in advance the planned dates for the introduction of summer and winter levels plus a simple notification of when the changes have actually taken place. 

A) David Thomas agreed that with the introduction of the new telemetry system it would be possible to create a separate page with water levels for boaters. This would be done for various locations such as Woodwalton, Ramsey and Well Creek and he could look at this information being provided at other key locations.

5. All craft as of April 1, using the MLC system are required to be in possession of a boat safety certificate. How will this be enforced?

A) David Thomas explained that the undertaking given to the House of Lords only required Boat Safety Certificates to be provided 12 months from the Navigation Byelaws coming into force, and that this would be a requirement from 1st June 2022.

Other Topics.

March Town Scheme

There are now a number of concerns regarding the removal of major items from the Town Centre Redevelopment Plans.

Chiefly among those the toilet and pump out facilities and the attractive terracing along the Old River Nene. David Thomas said that his concerns had been conveyed to Fenland District Council and he had contacted Cllr Dee Laws and Cllr Will Sutton about the need to retain the pump out facilities. He was also of the view that if the terrace along the river was not to be included in the proposals, then at the very least the trees along the river should be removed to open up the river to the Town Centre. He had discussed tree removal in the park area along the river and the possibility of the Commissioners assisting with this work. He was aware that this proposal would be unpopular with some of the property owners along the river, but it was important that the redevelopment proposals were a springboard for developing the waterfront in March.

With regard to the collapsed mooring in the ownership of Fenland District Council, the Council proposed to repair the mooring if there was sufficient funding available.

Chris Howes said that it was very important for the NAC to get involved in the discussions about the facilities for boaters in March Town Centre. The facilities needed to be retained and he would involve the Inland Waterways Association if necessary. The position of Fenland District Council Officers was that pump out facilities were available at Foxes Marina; however, the Marina does not have sufficient capacity and the Marina is not on the mains sewer system so it requires tankers to take away the waste. Paula Syred advised that the Marina would be unwilling to take any additional rubbish for disposal because of the cost involved.

The Middle Level Watermen’s Club have decided they would not wish to have the facilities on their premises as they would take up limited mooring space and as the members of the Club were just volunteers they could not run/maintain them.

Facilities Provision

David Thomas advised that the current income from registration of boats was in the region of £115,000 and it was hoped that this figure would increase to £165,000 for the year 2022-23.

£50,000 had been spend on dredging through Upwell Creek, works were needed to the lock gates at Marmont Priory Lock, the estimated costs of these works were £150,000. Additionally, there were the costs of employing the Navigation Officer, potential court costs for enforcement action and costs of boats being removed from the waterways. 
The Navigation Accounts were currently being prepared and these would be available for inspection.

Update on Registration/Charging/Reciprocal arrangements/Anglian Pass

The cost of licensing a boat had increased by 4% for the current year.

The EA had proposed an increase of 4% for year 1, 4% for year 2 and 2% for year 3. Due to the current rate of inflation this may need to be reviewed. There had been no increase to the cost of the Anglian Pass – which was still £25/£50/£75/£100 depending on boat size.

Ramsey Basin
The new moorings were complete, subject to some tidying up at the site. It was proposed that there should be an Opening Ceremony involving the Town Council, but this has been delayed because of the Local Government Purdah period until after the Local Government Elections.
Roger Sexton asked if the MLC Engineers could look at the winding hole at Ramsey and do some costings for works to improve and enlarge it. It was difficult for larger narrow boats to turn around at this location. It was possible to turn using the entrance to the tunnel under the Great Whyte and it was important that no moorings be allowed here, in order to facilitate turning.

We now know from the MLWC Easter cruise visit to the new moorings that a sixty foot boat would be able to swing - see the news item on the club website HERE. The MLC will look to see what can be done.

Report By Mike Daines.

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