Argy-bargey: rowers claim canal boat moorings will block River Lea

The stretch of river where Hackney Boating Families want to set up a moorings. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval

The stretch of river where Hackney Boating Families want to set up moorings. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval

Boat-owners and rowers jostling for space on the River Lea are at loggerheads over a permanent moorings bid that has sent ripples of discontent along the waterway.

Hackney Boating Families, a group of boat owners, applied to Hackney Council for permission to set up a “community moorings” on a stretch of river by Daubeney Fields.

But their plan has been met with opposition by the Lea Valley Park Authority and the Lea Rowing Club, based just a short distance upriver.

Both organisations say that, at 18.6 metres wide, the river is too narrow for the proposed moorings to work.

The boating families want to establish seven residential moorings with infrastructure, including bollards, waste facilities, and pedestals with electrical, water and lighting services.

A spokesman for Hackney Boating Families said the group was formed because of the “now constant” threat of eviction from the Canal and River Trust, and the “gentrification of the waterways”.

However Bridget Snaith of Lea Rowing Club hit out over the moorings application, claiming the “floating houses” would block the river, preventing them from training and from providing rowing courses for the community.

Snaith told the Hackney Citizen: “There has been a huge growth in the number of canal boats and it has started to create a number of problems for the rowing club. If the moorings go ahead they will block the river terminally. It’s on our 2,000 metre stretch.

“We are a top-notch grassroots rowing programme. Canal boats are so romanticised – if this was a football pitch there is no way you would put caravans on it.”

Responding to the objections, the Hackney Boating Families spokesman said: “We thoroughly respect the rights of Lea Rowing Club to access the navigation, and we appreciate that the rowers have proud history of competing at regattas such as Henley and Cambridge.

“But I can understand that if you spent £700 per season to come down to Hackney to row at the weekend, you wouldn’t want the local low-income families getting in the way.”

“We are left with no choice but to pursue the creation of legally recognised moorings. Otherwise we could have to sell up, remove our children from their school places and become a burden to Hackney Council housing.”

Stephen Wilkinson, Head of Planning and Strategic Partnerships at Lee Valley Park Authority, said they objected to the moorings as it was “likely to result in conflict” with recreational users of the busy waterway.

“This narrow stretch is heavily used by canoeists and rowers as well as other recreational boaters, who are able to moor on the opposite bank at this point, further reducing the available water space.”

A spokesman for Hackney Council confirmed that the application by Hackney Boating Families had received 91 objections and 14 letters of support.

Update Monday 12 October: Lea Rowing Club captain and trustee Richard Ellis has clarified that the club’s fees range from from £25 for coxes to £420 per year (not per season). The club subsidises junior, over 75s, unwaged and student memberships.