Proposals to stop canal boats mooring in narrow parts of the River Lea used by rowers have hit a wave of criticism.
The Canal and River Trust (CRT) says its plans, which would see boats barred from parking up in sections of the river less than 60 feet or 18 metres wide, will “improve navigation” for rowers.
CRT mooring ranger Alexander Gudmestad said: “The idea is to ease congestion so that the rowers can use the river with reduced risk. Most of the proposed changes are what we at the Trust deem as navigational improvements on this part of the river.”
He said the Trust had “concluded that the width of navigation needed for boats and rowers to pass each other without risk is 18 metres”.
The areas mentioned in the CRT’s proposal include sections of a stretch of water, between Old Ford Lock in Hackney Wick and Tottenham Hale Lock, used by Lea Rowing Club (LRC).
In an email, seen by the Citizen, to Marcus Trower of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA), LRC’s general manager Stephen Mitchelson states: “The point of rowing is to win races and therefore to go as fast as possible. Slowing down or stopping interferes with training programmes.
“Ideally we would like to be able to continue training without having to stop every few minutes.”
Mitchelson, who lives by the river, says there are more than 350 regularly moored boats on the stretch covered by CRT’s proposals, up from around 30 just five or six years ago. He added: “The number of collisions and near misses is substantially on the rise. I have experienced it first-hand as a rower and a coach.
“Sooner or later there will be a serious accident. Think a large truck hitting a small cyclist but with the added hazard of drowning.”
Mitchelson revealed a 75-year-old club member, who has been rowing most of his life, was taken to hospital recently with broken ribs after colliding with a boat. He is now back on the river.
Dr Ben Bowles, a research assistant at London School of Economics, said: “In light of claims made by LRC, myself and two assistants undertook a pilot study to ascertain if the club’s estimation of boat traffic on the stretch of the River Lea downstream of the club’s location at Springfield was accurate.
“Boats were counted at a location on the proposed stretch over four summer days. When these four days of observation are averaged, there are 20.25 boats per day, or an average of 1.125 boats per hour.
“It is clear that boat traffic is infrequent on this stretch when described using any reasonable measure.”
But Mitchelson said Bowles has “missed the point”, adding: “We are referring to the change in the number of moored boats which has increased from 35 to 350 in the last five or six years, not to moving traffic.
“We hope the mooring proposals will allow rowers and boaters to pass safely past one another. All we are looking for is a shift in mooring at a few pinch points so we can share the river with the barges, as we have done for 150 years, be safe and train effectively.
“We are really keen to have a shared understanding of the issues and have offered to meet Marcus from NBTA a number of times to talk. The offer still stands.”
Commenting on CRT’s proposal, NBTA spokesperson Graham Ryder said: “It goes too far. Parts of the River Lea are not even 60ft and demanding this much is unrealistic. It is a policy which only serves to evict people, and waterways are for everyone.”
Helen Delmar, who lives on her boat and travels up and down the River Lea, said of the plans: “Taking up 60 feet of the canal doesn’t sound like sharing to me, it sounds like rowers getting priority over those living here, be that boaters.
“Let’s dispel this myth that the CRT proposal will be for the benefit of sharing – it is a river grab and would leave beautiful stretches of the river inaccessible to boat dwellers wishing to moor up. It’s completely unacceptable and I won’t stand for it.”
Gudmestad went on to say: “The overall aim of the proposal is to ensure that the river is navigable for boaters and rowers, reducing near misses and improving navigation on some of our busiest stretches.”
Update: this article was amended at 13:43 on Friday 14 July 2017 to include a response from Lea Rowing Club manager Stephen Mitchelson to the pilot study undertaken by Dr Ben Bowles./ 13 July, 2017