A proposed steep hike in fees for people who live on houseboats on Irish canals and waterways could drive some of that community into homelessness, they have claimed.
Waterways Ireland is proposed to introduce new-by laws that would introduce houseboat permits and associated houseboat standards for the first time. It comes in the context of an appreciable increase in the number of people living permanently on boats on Irish waterways.
At present, there is little regulation and the fees are very modest: €278 annually in addition to a €300 service charge for those who live on permanently-moored boats. Waterways Ireland is proposing to increase the annual fees by more than ten-fold for some boats, especially for those moored in, or close to, Dublin.
Waterways Ireland say that the current fee structure is out of date and no longer fit for purpose. Its new fee structure is based on a report which it commissioned from KPMG which recommended new annual permanent mooring prices ranging from €7,865 for a serviced urban mooring to €3,575 for an unserviced rural mooring. KPMG pointed out that these fees, while multiples of the current fees, were more than 40 per cent lower than comparable prices in Scotland. Waterways Ireland has said its proposed fee structure is also considerably lower than that recommended by KPMG.
The matter will be discussed at the Oireachtas Committee on Housing on Thursday afternoon. The Irish Residential Boat Owners Association, in an opening statement, say the increase in permit fees will be from between 400 per cent and 2,000 per cent and will create a “very real threat of driving members of our community into homelessness”.
It also say it will have the effect of pushing boat dwellers out of areas serviced by public transport into more rural areas where cars are the only option.
Most of the houseboats are berthed in, or close to, Dublin in Ringsend, Hazelhatch, Castleknock, Confey, Sallins, and Lowtown. There are also houseboats in Shannon Harbour on the Grand Canal.
However, not all boat users on the canals and Shannon waterways are in agreement on this issue.
The Royal Canal Amenity Group, which will also attend the meeting, has said in its opening submission that the current bye laws did not envisage the substantial increase which would occur in the number of houseboats.
“There are now more than 50 residential boats on the Royal Canal and most of these are without basic services (water, sewage, power). Should Waterways Ireland have a foley in providing housing facilities or in acting as landlords by allowing people to moor on their water assets?” its statement has said.
In its submission Waterways Ireland says the byelaws have been in place since the 1980s and are no longer fit for purpose, on environmental, health and safety grounds.
In terms of houseboats it acknowledges it is starting from what is a “brownfield, unregulated environment”.
It said the proposed changes will confer the right to
reside aboard a boat for the period of the permit at established residential mooring locations.
It also says that priority will be given to those who are currently moored in these locations.
Waterways Ireland will argue that the proposed pricing for persist is “considerably lower than that in the KPMG report. Mindful of the purpose of the review, fees are proposed across Urban, Suburban, and Rural locations to offer permits representative of location, facilities, and affordability – a total of five categories,” it has stated.
“Our vision is to manage a canal network of residential houseboat communities, avoiding over- concentration across the canals which would have a detrimental effect on recreational boat usage.
“This would be aligned with an investment programme to secure additional property for increased mooring locations, along with enhanced safety, security, and service facilities which will be integrated into the Sustainable on Water Living (residential mooring) programme in future years.”