Middle Level Commissioners Chief Executive Officer David Thomas shares his response to the Cambridgeshire Times newspaper with us following enquiries by local MP Stephen Barclay.
“I was aware that there are a number of boaters who are not happy with the level of charges and I can appreciate if you were getting something for free, introduction of fees is not necessarily going to be welcomed with opened arms. However the position is 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 and match with those of the Environment Agency Anglian Waterways, which have three to four times the density of boats per mile of waterway, 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. On this point though it is clear, that with the introduction of charging, the Middle Level Commissioners do for the first time in recent history have a reason to invest in the watercourses to attract and retain users.
In the knowledge that we were planning for the introduction of charging by pursing a new Act through parliament we started an annual cycle of dredging of the perched waterway forming the Well Creek. Spending on this has cost several hundred thousand. This year we are looking to; spend fifteen thousand on replacement moorings at Salters Lode, will be carrying out minor refurbishments at Marmont Priory Lock, will be servicing the guillotine flood gate on Salters Lode Lock and will be introducing rural mooring spots in remote areas in response to requests from boaters. We are also working closely with Fenland District Council on proposals for improvements through March Town and in Ramsey. Plus are starting work on developing a residential mooring strategy, which will be produced through close liaison with Fenland District Council who are in the process of reviewing their Local Plan so this work is well timed.
I attach a link on licencing which is located on our website which might help. I would also draw your attention to the fact that contrary to the suggestion that the Commissioners currently provide nothing for boaters we are building upon our current position of employing two lock keepers, cut weed and dredge for navigation and have been closely managing water levels for navigation, within a tight range which would not be the case if we were using the system simply for water resource management and flood risk management. We are now building on this through the employment of a dedicated Navigation Officer implementing the works mentioned above and are setting aside 25% of the income from licencing for implementing improvements on the River Nene to Great Ouse link route which will meet the minimum standards recommended by the Inland Waterways Association.