Sunday 24 May 2015

Broads Authority Guilty of "Illegal Charges"

News has reached the BNP offices of a houseboat owner's historic victory over our Blessed Authority.

For 4 years, retired school teacher Alan Fish has been fighting a David & Goliath style battle against the forces of darkness, determined that people living on static house boats in private marinas should not have to pay navigation tolls.

The Broads Act 2009 gave the BA the right to register boats (for safety reasons) and to charge tolls in "adjacent waters" - leaving it up to the Authority to decide what tolls were appropriate in each case. "Adjacent waters" are waters attached to, but not part of, the main navigation area.

The BA decided that tolls in adjacent waters should be exactly the same as tolls in the navigation area - on the basis that all boats would be using the navigation area at some point - conveniently forgetting that static houseboats could do no such thing.

Mr Fish, owner of Dutch barge Oddjob moored at a secret location in the southern Broads, refused to pay the toll demanded on the basis that the BA didn't - and couldn't - provide him with any services at all. As he puts it, "I was happy to pay a registration fee, but I thought it was quite wrong to have to pay the same toll in a privately-maintained marina as a houseboat moored in the navigation area, which the BA pays to maintain."

When asked whether this was right or fair, the Authority said that it didn't matter whether or not it was fair - the Act gave them the right to charge it, so they did. In Dr John Pikeman's own words "From the Authority’s point of view it would be more consistent and beneficial if all unpowered craft paid a toll."

"It would make it easier to administer and bring in a little more money, lovely jubbly",  he continued, rubbing his hands together.

Meanwhile, Mr Fish has been quietly assembling new evidence and, last week, presented his appeal at Ipswich Crown Court. After the Blessed Authority's barrister was unable to explain to the Court exactly what the charge was for, the Judge upheld the appeal - ruling that the toll was an "unjustified tax" and an "illegal charge".

The BA must now presumably refund not only Mr Fish but also the many other houseboat owners who have been reluctantly handing over their hard-earned cash in exchange for nothing whatsoever for the past 3 years - unless it finds a way to appeal the decision.

Before it thinks about an appeal, the BA must surely take a careful look at how its Officers have been allowed to pursue such a manifestly unjust policy for so long without referring it back to the Members, and ask how much public money has been spent on this (and similar) prosecutions. Accustomed only to telling Members what they should authorise, the Authority's Officers are now faced with the very real possibility of having to ask the Members for guidance, a situation for which there is no known precedent.