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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Floating homes

Another guest blog entry by Peter Underwood today.

Living on board a boat seems to be becoming officially sanctioned with the Government encouraging councils to give planning permission for residential moorings as a way of solving the housing crisis and British Waterways going for official residential berths in their marinas and hiking the prices as a result.

I suppose I should welcome it as a liveaboard boater but, in a way, I quite like it that the official system finds us a bit difficult to deal with.

I do not have the concern of many that it will mean miles of canals, especially around London lined with boats that never move – they are there already and I find even the scruffiest an interesting part of the canal scene. Often they house some real characters who are well worth getting to know.

Living on board a boat out on the system means being pretty self sufficient.

Quite frankly I don’t see it becoming that much of a problem, especially on the narrow canals because there are not that many people who are able to confine their lives to a steel box just 7ft wide, 7ft tall and 50-70ft long.

A wide beam boat may be about the same area as a studio apartment but even that is very restricted, especially for anyone with children. There will be more liveaboards around London but that is simply a reflection of the ludicrous property market in the capital.

The fact is that in order to live on a boat you have to be willing to shed many of the things everyone else takes for granted. Even wall space for family photos or knick-knacks is strictly limited and most boats are not over-endowed with wardrobe space for a full collection of clothes and shoes.

Unless you are constantly running a generator power is also limited and large flat-screen HD TVs and all the gubbins will soon drain a battery bank. On many bloats running a washing machine means running the engine and a tumble dryer is only really possible with shore-power or a large integral generator.

Many urban canals – where we have to assume the biggest demand will come for residential moorings from those who want to work in the cities – are not exactly the most desirable places and I cannot see a great upsurge in demand for residential moorings along much of the BCN, or through the back end of Blackburn, Leicester or similar urban areas.

Houseboats, currently limited to the lower end of the Grand Union and parts of the London river system, may be a different proposition and I can see some entrepreneurial genius wanting to set up floating mobile home parks in the Home Counties but like marinas, they would have little impact on the waterways themselves, especially as these are floating homes that would never move.

I do see a steady growth in living on board narrowboats as more people use that as a way of taking retirement and limiting their living costs – but that will only happen if they have confidence in the future of our waterways and that is fairly limited while we go through the trauma of transition to some sort of charity.

Finally there may be an initial surge as more novices are encouraged to move onto the water but I suspect many will be moving ashore again fairly quickly as reality bites.

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