Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Camboaters Response to Conservancy Fee Increase Consultation

Camboaters would like to express our views as a community group in response to the letter sent by the Cam Conservancy regarding registration fees. Roughly 50 interested persons, all of whom boaters on the Cam, met on Monday 10th January to discuss the implications of the letter and we came to a consensus which is outlined below.

Firstly, the letter does not amount to a full public consultation. Only three weeks were given for boaters to respond, and a sizeable proportion of those at the meeting had not received the letter at all. No mention of it was made on the Yahoo Boaters usergroup (which is well used and certainly known to the Cam Conservancy), clearly showing that not all avenues of communication with boaters were exploited. Furthermore, some boaters were concerned that the Conservancy had obtained their addresses from the Environment Agency, and wish to enquire as to the powers the Conservancy has to obtain private information from other organisations without consent.

More crucially, not enough information was provided in the letter; it left boaters confused as to why they were being asked to pay more. For example, very few boaters were aware that the reciprocal arrangement between the Cam Conservancy and the EA meant that only 33% reached the Conservancy. The letter did not detail which capital projects the Conservancy wishes to invest in, or fully detail the financial position of the Conservancy. No detailed figures regarding spending were included, only vague statements. Although some detail has subsequently been obtained by some of the community, the Conservancy has completely failed to formally disseminate all the information required by those affected to make an informed choice.

Many boaters also felt that the Conservancy had been exceedingly cavalier in their attitude towards the homes of some members of the community. The Conservancy should bear in mind that while council taxes and other land-based fees have only increased with inflation, boaters’ licence fees have increased 24% in recent years.

In addition, the boaters present at the meeting were unaware that the Conservancy had considered raising their income from other stakeholder and user groups. Instead, the Conservancy was felt to be victimising the owners of powered craft, expecting them to take the majority of the burden. The Conservancy earned itself a great deal of ill-feeling because of this failure to fully communicate.

Currently, we do not feel well informed enough to make comments on the letter. We need the Cam Conservancy’s finances to be made more readily available on the website, so that we can better understand the reasons why the Conservancy feels that it needs to increase revenue. If the money was going to be used to carry out vital dredging for example, boaters might be more amenable.

Many see the Cam Conservancy as an inefficient organisation, and would need to see full accounts in order to be convinced otherwise. For example, the Cam Conservancy appears not to have the economy of scale which the EA or the Middle Levels benefits from. Both the Environment Agency and Middle Level are able to employ only one member of staff (including administrative and office personnel) for every four miles of waterway that they administer; in comparison, the Conservancy appears over-staffed, and many boaters were surprised to hear that the Conservancy wished to employ a further member of staff, tempered to an extent by the Conservancy’s apparent willingness to consider using volunteers.

One way in which the Cam Conservancy could make additional revenue would be to make the Conservancy Licence plus one month on EA waters cheaper than purchasing an EA licence. Many would consider this as an option, especially if it were possible to have non reusable day tickets to use throughout the year. This would increase the Cam Conservancy’s revenue without the boaters having to pay more.

In conclusion, boaters need full disclosure of the Cam Conservancy’s financial status and its plans for future spending before they feel able to comment on the proposals. If it can be shown that more money is in fact needed, and that the Cam Conservancy is being run as efficiently as possible, Camboaters would like to see all river users being asked to pay more simultaneously, and all avenues of potential income investigated. When such additional consultations are drawn up, boaters would like to see them as well as have other user groups see any powered boat proposals. In effect, the consultation needs to be postponed in order for all the relevant information to be provided and to allow enough time for comment. Our proposal to lower the price of the Conservancy licence to make it more attractive to those who use the EA waters could be included in this.

We look forward to hearing from you, and would appreciate a prompt response given the short amount of time available before the decision-making meeting on the 16th February.

Regards, Camboaters

CC:

Julian Huppert MP
Environment Agency Anglian Region
Abbey Ward Councillors - Caroline Hart, Adam Pogonowski, Margaret Wright
Market Ward Councillors - Tim Bick, Mike Dixon, Colin Rosenstiel
Cambridge News

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