All boat users could be charged under sweeping changes proposed for 100 miles of the Old River Nene

Middle Level Watermans club. West End, March. Picture: Steve Williams.

Middle Level Watermans club. West End, March. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Boat owners may have to pay to use the Old River Nene and get fined if they overstay mooring time limits under plans to bring Fen waterways into line with the rest of the country.

Middle Level Drainage. Whittlesey internal drainage board. Tebbitts Bridge station. Picture: Steve W

Middle Level Drainage. Whittlesey internal drainage board. Tebbitts Bridge station. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

The idea would generate money to improve the local waterways in a bid to boost tourism while taking away the current tag that the area is a “cheapskate’s” haven for boat users who don’t want to pay waterway licence fees.

Middle Level Commissioners, MLC, who are responsible for over-seeing 100 miles of navigable waterways in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough city and Norfolk, are looking at obtaining a Private Act of Parliament, costing from £30,000 to £60,000 - to replace the current laws they are working to - some of which date back 263 years.

Boat enthusiast and former Chatteris town councillor Chris Howes said on all other waters in the UK he pays a licence on his 45ft boat of £20 a week.

He said: “The proposals are potentially so exciting, and so beneficial to Fenland, it’s hugely important that they come to fruition.

Middle Level new offices on Whittlesey Road March

Middle Level new offices on Whittlesey Road March - Credit: Archant


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“The apparently abandoned boats, currently rotting away on the Old Nene through March will either need to be fixed up, or got rid of.

“It has often struck me as wrong that Middle Level waters are best known as a refuge for ‘cheapskates’ who want to avoid the requirements and financial commitments that the rest of the country’s boat owners have to adhere to.

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“If we want Fenland to aspire to be a tourist destination in the same way that Holland is, generating income to invest in our currently largely inaccessible waterways is a necessary first stage.”

Iain Smith, chief executive of MLC said around 1,500 vessels use the locks every year and around 100 boats are “hiding” unlicensed on the waterways.

Iain Smith fom The Middle Level Commissioners

Iain Smith fom The Middle Level Commissioners - Credit: Archant

Modernising the waterway laws was first looked at about 10 years ago, he said, but never came to fruition.

“It is important ot update semabling us to have better control of the waterways we oversee,” he said and addd it was the largest stretchh of ewater in teh ocuntry which boaters did not have to pay to use.

Under the suggested new law MLC would:

• Charge vessels to use the waterways.

West End March, Old River Nene

West End March, Old River Nene - Credit: Archant

• Fine people staying longer than allowed at moorings.

• Check boats using the waterways have valid insurance.

• Remove sunken, stranded and abandoned vessels and recover the costs of doing so where the owner fails to act.

• Temporarily close sections of waterways so works can be carried out or for events eg closing Well Creek when conditions are suitable for ice stating.

West End March, Old River Nene

West End March, Old River Nene - Credit: Archant

• Enter into arrangements with other navigation authorities for things like the mutual recognition of registrations and licences.

Waterway navigation laws currently being used are the Nene Navigation Act 1753, the Wisbech Canal Act 1794 and the Middle level Acts 1810-74.

Anybody wishing to place their views in the Navigation Consultation Response is asked to write to the clerk at Middle Level in 85 Whittlesey Road, March or email admin@middlelevel.gov.uk by June 30.

If all goes to plan the new laws could come into force by the end of 2017.

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