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Housing crisis: now it’s chaos on the canals

Big increase in ‘continuous cruisers’ seeking affordable living space on waterways

17 February, 2017 — By Tevye Markson

Kevin Kibby, a computer software tester who has been a continuous cruiser for eight years

LIFE on Islington’s canals is becoming increasingly congested due to a massive increase in people seeking more affordable living spaces, boaters have warned.

The capital’s housing crisis has led to a staggering 173 per cent increase in “continuous cruisers” in central London, which is putting enormous pressure on waterways. The Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross and Angel are among the most overcrowded areas.

“Over the last three years it has got far worse, the amount of space there is,” said Kevin ­Kibby, a computer software tester in his sixties who has been a continuous cruiser for eight years.

“People are buying wide-beam boats as floating flats. Wherever you put one of those, space for two narrow boats is taken. They are not true narrow-boaters.”

Continuous cruisers are boat owners without permanent mooring sites. To comply with Canal River Trust rules, they cannot stay in one spot for more than 14 days and must travel at least 20 miles in a year.

A new survey by the Trust shows boat numbers have gone up by 57 per cent over the past five years in the capital. The survey of 1,323 people living on boats in London found that half cited financial reasons for living on a boat.

More than 10,000 Londoners now live on boats. The 100 miles of canals that run through the capital are lined with vessels, from narrow-boats to converted lifeboats – almost all homes for those who can’t or don’t want to pay to live on land.

One popular Facebook group, London aBoaters, receives daily requests for information from people curious about buying or renting boats.

Ian Shacklock, chairman of the Friends of Regent’s Canal, said: “People are living on boats for the wrong reasons. It is a hard life, especially in winter. It is not suitable for people with children.

“The canal is already at capacity, particularly near tube stations such as Angel.”

Sally Howdle, a midwife, has been a continuous cruiser for 18 months.

“Before, I was paying £500 a month for a room,” she said. “When things were broken the landlord wouldn’t fix it. I spent £12,000 on my boat, and pay £50 a month for the licence. It makes living in London affordable.”

Continuous cruising is not easy, however, she added. Ms Howdle works full-time, does extra shifts and feels like she “should be rich”, but said she is always spending money on repairing the boat.

Some continuous cruisers last less than a year before giving up their boat, others thrive, while many simply cannot afford to live elsewhere.

The Canal and River Trust, which looks after almost 100 miles of waterways across Greater London – this includes the Grand Union Canal and Regent’s Canal – has previously expressed concern that the “increasing number is a cause for concern as there is growing pressure on the system”.

Increased regulations and rises in licence fees are likely to follow.

A spokeswoman for the Trust said it would be “disingenuous” to deny high rents were a factor but added that people move onto the canal “for a variety of reasons”.

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