Houseboat residents face hefty rent hike
Port of London Authority seeks to substantially raise fees
With the annual boat race upon us once again and tales of errant 4x4's still fresh in our memories, it is apt time to spare a thought for for local residents for whom the Thames is much more than a visitor's attraction, it's their home. And it is this water based community that is currently facing financial ruin due to Port of London Authority plans to raise the fees it charges licensees (companies who operate residential moorings) by more than 600% which in turn will mean higher mooring fees for houseboat owners.
The Port of London, a public trust established in 1908 to ‘administer, preserve and improve the Port of London’, is financed from revenue from the river with no outside support. Finance for capital works comes from internally generated funds supplemented by commercial loans and leasing.
Houseboat owner, Clive Wren, who has lived on the river in Hammersmith for over 20 years explains "The PLA owns the Thames river bed, but does not own the river works - access brows, pontoons, piles, services etc - which belong to the licensee. Nor does it own the residential boats moored to the river works. The PLA is trying to increase river works licence charges, which are more akin to ground rent, rather than "mooring fees", albeit, as a consequence, residential boat owners renting a mooring will end up having to pay higher mooring fees."
He continued "Unlike leaseholders and occupiers of some rented property, residential boat owners and licensees have no right to buy the freehold of the land they occupy. Instead, they are subjected to periodic proposals for substantial increases in charges which, in the absence of any justification, appear arbitrary and unreasonable. Only the licensee can challenge the increases, which, if not agreed, will be decided at arbitration. Boat residents paying mooring fees to the licensee have no right to appeal at all."
A licensee in Hammersmith, whose moorings are currently assessed at £5,000, would have to pay more than £38,000 if the plans go ahead. The extra costs would be passed on to the houseboat owners whose mooring fees would more than double.
Mr Wren said "The costs of going to arbitration are daunting to licensees such as small businesses or individuals. The PLA's charges are not supposed to include any element of monopoly value attributable to its ownership of comparable land. Yet, the comparables provided at arbitration are invariably examples of what someone else on the river has been "persuaded" to pay. The PLA is committed to consulting the Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA) and the Ancient Moorings Organisation (AMO) on a formula for calculating river works licence charges., An earlier proposal was withdrawn last February however, the PLA continues to propose swinging increases in charges and to threaten those who object with arbitration."
A fellow river resident who currently resides on the Chiswick stretch of the Thames and who was involved with trying to save the adventurous Range Rover couple believes that the rent hike will price out a number of long term houseboat dwellers. He said "A lot of people will have to leave their homes if fees are increased this dramatically which will be crushing for this close knit community."
The PLA remain unrepentant claiming that the current fees charged to mooring operators are "extremely modest" for a London business. A spokesperson for the PLA stated that if the rise is distributed amongst the residents by the operator "I don't see how it could have a drastic effect on the houseboat owners."
March 29, 2006