MP rebuked by waterways’ boss over criticism of new charges for using the waterways of the Fens

Middle Level Commissioners gave a short sharp rebuke to MP Steve Barclay for his criticism of new fees for using local waterways.

“I can appreciate if you were getting something for free, introduction of fees is not necessarily going to be welcomed with open arms,” Middle Level chief executive David Thomas told him.

Mr Barclay had complained that it is “not surprising that the waterways of the Fens are not as calm as they should be.

“I have been contacted by many boat owners on the Middle Level who are furious at the scale of the increase in price Middle Level Commissioners have set for their boat licences.”

The MP says the price “appears totally disproportionate to the services the boaters currently receive.

“I am investigating with all the bodies concerned as to why given the current economic climate, the boaters are not being engaged more constructively.

“I urge Middle Level Commission to apply a more proportionate approach.”

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But Mr Thomas pointed out that for decades the cost of running the navigation has been borne by home owning and agricultural ratepayers.

“The charges that have now been set are considered fair,” he said.

And they matched those of the Environment Agency Anglian Waterways, which have three to four times the density of boats per mile of waterway and hence have a significantly higher potential for income.

“For this reason, it will remain the position that unless boat numbers within the Middle Level increase many fold the best we can hope for is to is reduce the subsidising required for navigation,” said Mr Thomas.

Charges would give Middle Level for the first time in recent history reason to invest in the watercourses to attract and keep users.

He cited several hundred thousand spent on the annual cycle of dredging the perched waterway forming the Well Creek.

And this year he said Middle Level had spent £15,000 on replacement mooring at Salters Lodge.

The commissioners would also be introducing rural mooring spots in remote areas and were working with Fenland Council for improvements through March and in Ramsey.

Mr Thomas said that contrary to the suggestion that the commissioners supply nothing for boaters, they employ two lock keepers, cut weed and dredge for navigation.

If they were simply using the system for water resource and flood risk management this expense would not be needed.

Colin Ovenden, acting commodore for the Middle Level Watermans’ Club, told Mr Barclay: “Our members are always saying how bad this waterway is and this year is worse with some areas virtually unusable.”