The Broads Authority has pledged to do all it can to help people who live on boats on Norfolk’s waterways and the businesses which rely on water-based tourism, as well as unravelling how the current restrictions and rules apply to boats.
Like all the other public authorities, it is working hard to react to the coronavirus crisis, but it has some unique challenges to overcome, said chief executive John Packman.
“Coronavirus has made us all take stock of what is truly important and I am in awe of all the exceptional NHS staff, emergency services and all those dedicating their time to help those in most need,” he said.
“The work of the Broads Authority is nowhere near as critical, however we have prioritised some important aspects of our work as there are potentially some huge impacts and very real threats for the Broads.
“Firstly, we have taken steps to ensure the safety of boaters that are still on the water. Everyone must follow government instructions to stay at home, however, some people have no choice but to be on their boat as it is their only home. Our rangers are still out there, keeping those that are on the water safe.”
The “live-aboard” community includes vulnerable people who may need help so the authority has compiled a list of businesses that are still able to offer vital services here.
Mr Packham added that the main priorities at the moment were: keeping people on the water safe, supporting the tourism economy, and protecting the Broads and waterways.
“The hire boat industry faces a huge threat and we have grave concerns for it, along with the wider tourism economy which is so vital for the area supporting over 7,000 jobs,” he said.
“Hire boat companies have lost their main income stream. This has impacts for the Broads as a whole and the Broads Authority is fighting as best it can to continue maintaining the Broads so the area is in a good place when all of this has passed. Our staff are still out there dredging and maintaining moorings and will continue to do so until the government advises otherwise.”
But he warned people to stay away from the area, saying: “Whilst we all long to seek refuge and relaxation in the Broads and enjoy our unique National Park again, now is not the time. There are much more pressing issues facing many people and I would like to thank everyone for their understanding and patience during this difficult time.”
To try to help hire boat companies, the authority has alerted them to a clause in its legislation specifically designed for boatyards, stating that where hire boats are not being used – and are effectively in storage – they are not subject to a toll.
“In doing so we could have created a potential funding gap for ourselves and I have written to the Secretary of State for the Environment (along with the CEOs of British Marine and the Canals and Rivers Trust who face similar issues) raising this very point and asking for urgent financial support,” he said.
The same rule does not apply to private boaters with vessels on the water, which has led to a few calls for discounts or a “toll holiday”. The authority has said it will be sympathetic to individual circumstances such as extreme financial hardship.
“Boaters have also asked about Boat Safety Certificates (the equivalent of a vehicle MoT) that have lapsed. We are awaiting clarification from the Boat Safety Scheme but again we will be mindful of the circumstances we all find ourselves in and take a sensible approach,” said Mr Packham.