I have been so wrapped up in this campaign that I haven't let you know about it. To be fair I did only get sucked into it a couple of weeks ago after I found out, quite by accident, some stuff that has been going down that would affect me and other liveaboarders like me.
The long and short of it is that most of us in the area would rather things stayed as they are. The Middle Level Commissioners, who are responsible for drainage and navigation in the Fens (the drainage being the most vital part of the job, of course), are wanting to introduce new charges and get the authority to introduce some pretty intrusive new byelaws giving them power to do pretty much what they like. Because of the way the system was set up in the 17th century any changes now have to be made by a change in the law through an act of Parliament. This is obviously convoluted and inconvenient for the MLC, but they have been working hard to "encourage" people to support their case. This is part of the reason I didn't get to hear about this proposed Bill until very recently. They have their supporters lined up and have not consulted as broadly as they claim they have. The so-called consultation period actually ended around the time of the referendum vote. Who was thinking about a few boaters in the Fens at that time!
I haven't got time to bore you all with details, but the Commissioners have been thwarted in their attempts to get these changes through a few times over the years and have now decided to try and get their way through what is known as a "private bill". Responses in opposition, known as "petitions" have to be written up in a particular form, using some archaic language and presented to the Private Bill Office in the Houses of Parliament in person. I've been working on my petition in most spare minutes in the last couple of weeks in addition to attending meetings and discussing content and tactics with the man who up till recently has been trying to deal with the campaign all by himself (two hours across several phone calls today alone).
That's just a bit of background. Here's where I hope some of you might be willing and able to help. In addition to our personal petitions, we are also submitting a Care2 petition, just to show there is a level of interest and support for the campaign. As of this evening, we have about 450 signatures, but a few more would be helpful. The petition (and more details about the campaign) is here:
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The proposed byelaws worry me most of all. Essentially we'd have to sign up to allowing the MLC to find ways of turning us into criminals with a view to cleansing the system of people they don't care for. They want to leave open the option of being able to introduce any other byelaws as they see fit at any point in the future. Being in breach of any of the byelaws could allow them to revoke any licences they manage to impose, in the way that CRT can at present. Then they steal our homes and all our belongings. Sorry, it sounds dramatic, but that is one route these new laws could take. We just want to avoid it getting to that.
Four of us are off to Parliament on Wednesday, so if you feel able to support our campaign to keep the the Canal & River Trust and their draconian methods of enforcement out of the Middle Level please click and sign. We've seen minutes of meetings suggesting that the Commissioners want to outsource the management of navigation on the Middle Level to CRT and discussions have taken place. The Bill was presented to the Commons today and our window for petitioning is only between today and the 30th, but as I say, we shall be taking the Care2 petition with us on Wednesday, so if you feel you can sign, please could you do it in the next twenty-four hours.