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More boats on canals and rivers than in 18th century as thousands opt for life afloat.


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Quoted in full because it is behind a paywall / registration requirement.

 

 

 

Rising house prices and restrictions on overseas travel are leading to a surge in popularity for houseboats

 

Little more than six months ago, Paul and Anthony Smith-Storey were still living in a three-bedroom semi-detached house near St Helens in Merseyside. But now the couple – and their dog, Dexter – have traded it all in for a life afloat in a two-metre-wide narrowboat on Peak Forest Canal in Derbyshire.

“We took the equity out of the house, bought the boat and thought we’d enjoy it while we were still alive,” said Anthony, 48, an NHS sonographer. They are not the only ones.

 

Annie Mellor and Hayden Crocker on their narrowboat on Regent’s Canal in London.

 

 

Record numbers are spending time on Britain’s rivers and canals, according to the Canal and River Trust. Such is their popularity that the charity, which manages 2,000 miles of waterways across England and Wales, says: “There are more boats on our canals now than at the height of the industrial revolution.”

In March, there were 35,130 people with boat licences for rivers and canals – compared with 34,435 last year and 32,490 in 2012. Trust surveys put the proportion of “liveaboard” at around 25% (a rise from 15% in 2011) nationally, and it believes the majority of boats in London are permanent homes. The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) said there are about 80,000 powered boats across the waterways of England, Scotland and Wales.

Meanwhile, boat builders and sellers are reporting record demand. Jamie Greaves, who has been working in the industry for over 20 years and has owned Aintree Boats in Liverpool for over a decade, puts the surge in interest down to the pandemic.

 

“People don’t want to travel abroad at the minute, they don’t feel safe, they’d rather have a boat holiday in England.” Others, he said, are making the most of rising house prices to sell up, buy a boat and put some money into savings. The last year has been so busy that they have been turning down work.

Chris Hill, managing director of the New and Used Boat Co, which has offices across the country, said they had record sales in January and February – with business up by 50% on last year.

He said customers – who tend to be aged 45 to 60 but 25% of whom are younger – have told him: “Savings in the bank are not earning much money, you can’t really travel abroad, we’ve always wanted a boat, so we’re just sort of saying ‘sod it, we’re just going to do that’.”

The value of new and used boats has gone up, but he said the average for a used canal boat is about £45,000 to £50,000 and about £140,000 for a new fully-fitted wide-beamed boat.

Alison Smedley, campaigns and public affairs manager at the IWA, said there had been a “steady rise over many years” rather than a sudden surge, but that TV shows such as the BBC’s Canal Boat Diaries have highlighted the appeal of waterways.

 

Matthew Symonds, national boating manager at the Canal & River Trust, said: “During the industrial revolution the canals were private and were used for transporting freight, so the numbers of boats were far fewer and also just for working purposes really. But now we have many more people using the waterways for leisure, but also people using them to live on as well.”

In London, the housing crisis has played a role in people choosing to live on boats, he said, and for some it is not a lifestyle choice or passion but “one of the few choices they have”.

Andrew Carpenter, boat manager and lead trainer at the Pirate Castle, a community boat charity in Camden, warned that while it’s positive that more people are enjoying the canals, the recent increase in boats has put pressure on canalside services such as drinking water and pump-out toilet facilities.

 

Permanent moorings can be expensive and difficult to find, but many people continuously cruise – which means they have to move at least once every 14 days.

Annie Mellor, 28, and Hayden Crocker, 32, who both work for tech start-ups, have lived on the River Lee and Regent’s Canal since buying a narrowboat in September, inspired by their lockdown walks along towpaths.

“It’s financially quite attractive,” said Crocker, “and it’s a way to live a non-cookie cutter life without huge resources.”

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It's great more people are using the waterways. I can see an issue with high housing costs pushing people onto the water though - should it be seen as a solution if the waterways become crowded for the wrong reasons?  

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50 minutes ago, Alan de Enfield said:

Quoted in full because it is behind a paywall / registration requirement.

 

The same report is on the Guardian/Observer web site. Free to all, because of their (highly successful) funding model.

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10 minutes ago, Beo said:

What is a ‘non cookie cutter life’?

 

 

What is the cookie-cutter life?

Growing up as kids, we’re told that when we grow up, we have to get a great education along with a reputable job to stick out until we’re 60 / 65 / 70. In between all that, you have to find your routine, find a person to get married to before you’re 30 and have three kids before you hit 35, live in a big house with a pool and live the rest of your life until you’re on your death bed looking back and thinking…what was that? 

Unfortunately, I think we are all guilty of buying into this type of living. This ‘cookie-cutter lifestyle’ set upon us at a young age takes away our individuality; we’re all cut into the same shape.

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3 hours ago, robtheplod said:

It's great more people are using the waterways. I can see an issue with high housing costs pushing people onto the water though - should it be seen as a solution if the waterways become crowded for the wrong reasons?  

Housing costs have always been one reason for boat living. When I moved on, at least six other residents were there post divorce with partners getting the house.

Sooner or later, either house prices & rents have to crash or cheap caravan and boat living will have to seen as a viable alternative, and catered for. After all,  the canals were built as a commercial proposition, so it's just swapping trade for housing. No reason they should be more or less exclusively for leisure, with a tiny proportion of liveaboards.

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21 minutes ago, Arthur Marshall said:

 

Sooner or later, either house prices & rents have to crash or cheap caravan and boat living will have to seen as a viable alternative, and catered for.

People have been saying that house price rises are unsustainable for years, but it still continues. And it happens because, at the end of the day, there are still enough buyers who can, somehow, afford to pay the prices to sustain the net number of properties coming onto the market.

I can't see officialdom concluding that just because that happens, boat and caravan living will have to be regularised - they are just too small a part of the overall picture, and cause enough problems of their own in other ways, to be seen as a significant part of a solution.

 

If you really want canals to be part of a housing solution, then the most effective route would be to fill them all in and build tower blocks on the urban ones and Barrett estates in the suburbs. Far more housing units than could ever be accommodated afloat.  But the money would all end up in the hands of developers, and the very people you are trying to help would be squeezed out! Be careful what you wish for!

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1 hour ago, Arthur Marshall said:

No reason they should be more or less exclusively for leisure, with a tiny proportion of liveaboards.

 

25% & growing quickly (C&RT's figures) is hardly a tiny percentage.

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55 minutes ago, David Mack said:

People have been saying that house price rises are unsustainable for years, but it still continues. And it happens because, at the end of the day, there are still enough buyers who can, somehow, afford to pay the prices to sustain the net number of properties coming onto the market.

I can't see officialdom concluding that just because that happens, boat and caravan living will have to be regularised - they are just too small a part of the overall picture, and cause enough problems of their own in other ways, to be seen as a significant part of a solution.

 

If you really want canals to be part of a housing solution, then the most effective route would be to fill them all in and build tower blocks on the urban ones and Barrett estates in the suburbs. Far more housing units than could ever be accommodated afloat.  But the money would all end up in the hands of developers, and the very people you are trying to help would be squeezed out! Be careful what you wish for!

I don't wish for it, I just can't see an alternative to US style trailer parks and the equivalent on the canals. No-one is going to build housing for cheap or even "affordable" rent when they can make a fortune knocking up fancy jerrybuilt stuff all over the green belt. And there are more people about...

Example: my daughter is a single parent, disabled,  two teenage kids. Her landlord sold the house where she had a flat, and to get a new one (damp and crappy) cost over £1000 in fees and advance rent. Where are most people going to get that? Not everyone has a parent who can dig it up. Shovel them all onto the street and their kids in care and it would cost a bit more than banging up a few council houses But that's politics, so should be elsewhere.

And the alternative is whatever is cheap and keeps the rain off.

6 minutes ago, Alan de Enfield said:

 

25% & growing quickly (C&RT's figures) is hardly a tiny percentage.

I didn't realise it was that high.

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2 minutes ago, Arthur Marshall said:

I don't wish for it, I just can't see an alternative to US style trailer parks and the equivalent on the canals. No-one is going to build housing for cheap or even "affordable" rent when they can make a fortune knocking up fancy jerrybuilt stuff all over the green belt. And there are more people about...

Example: my daughter is a single parent, disabled,  two teenage kids. Her landlord sold the house where she had a flat, and to get a new one (damp and crappy) cost over £1000 in fees and advance rent. Where are most people going to get that? Not everyone has a parent who can dig it up. Shovel them all onto the street and their kids in care and it would cost a bit more than banging up a few council houses But that's politics, so should be elsewhere.

And the alternative is whatever is cheap and keeps the rain off.

I didn't realise it was that high.

 

Just going by what it says in the article at the top of this thread :

 

 

Trust surveys put the proportion of “liveaboard” at around 25% (a rise from 15% in 2011) nationally, and it believes the majority of boats in London are permanent homes. 

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2 hours ago, Arthur Marshall said:

I don't wish for it, I just can't see an alternative to US style trailer parks and the equivalent on the canals. No-one is going to build housing for cheap or even "affordable" rent when they can make a fortune knocking up fancy jerrybuilt stuff all over the green belt. And there are more people about...

Example: my daughter is a single parent, disabled,  two teenage kids. Her landlord sold the house where she had a flat, and to get a new one (damp and crappy) cost over £1000 in fees and advance rent. Where are most people going to get that? Not everyone has a parent who can dig it up. Shovel them all onto the street and their kids in care and it would cost a bit more than banging up a few council houses But that's politics, so should be elsewhere.

And the alternative is whatever is cheap and keeps the rain off.

I didn't realise it was that high.

We have had the answer to affordable homes before Arthur.

Council houses!

For political reasons we now have very few.

It is surely a good financial and social investment for a local authority to build their own houses.As has been seen on many reported private housing developements,builders are most reluctant to include "affordable" houses,when there are large profits to be made from throwing up "quality" houses made from reconstituted rubble and stone and orange box quality timber!

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3 hours ago, Mad Harold said:

We have had the answer to affordable homes before Arthur.

Council houses!

For political reasons we now have very few.

It is surely a good financial and social investment for a local authority to build their own houses.As has been seen on many reported private housing developements,builders are most reluctant to include "affordable" houses,when there are large profits to be made from throwing up "quality" houses made from reconstituted rubble and stone and orange box quality timber!

Of course. But they aren't going to happen. Councils are too strapped to do the initial investment, and for many years theyy were  banned from doing so. Currently, I believe the right to buy is being extended to housing associations,  and again they are not allowed to reinvest in new properties - this was certainly government policy a year or two back. The entire housing crisis is political, and deliberate. It's obviously, like so many other things, what the country wants, as it keeps voting for these policies. Especially in areas with huge housing problems.

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The ticky tacky houses that Little Boxes decried were 750 square ft. A typical live aboard narrowboat is little more than half that. I am sometimes surprised that folk accept life on a boat in a space that would be unacceptable if it was called a house. And with no garden!

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8 hours ago, Mike Todd said:

The ticky tacky houses that Little Boxes decried were 750 square ft. A typical live aboard narrowboat is little more than half that. I am sometimes surprised that folk accept life on a boat in a space that would be unacceptable if it was called a house. And with no garden!

I suppose it doesn't feel so cramped, because of all the space outside. And there's quite a big garden, which  luckily  you don't even have to weed or mow!

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The gap between homelessness and a boat is, with luck, bridgeable. The gap between homelessness and safe, affordable permanent housing might as well be the Grand Canyon. It would be interesting to know how many people living on boats traded up from a situation of being homeless compared with those who 'downsized' from having a home, rented, shared or owned. Being homeless means having very few possessions - even clothes and more than 1 pair of shoes -  and getting any sort of meaningful work where you can save money and put it in a bank to get out of the situation is hardly realistic.

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22 hours ago, Alan de Enfield said:

 

 

What is the cookie-cutter life?

Growing up as kids, we’re told that when we grow up, we have to get a great education along with a reputable job to stick out until we’re 60 / 65 / 70. In between all that, you have to find your routine, find a person to get married to before you’re 30 and have three kids before you hit 35, live in a big house with a pool and live the rest of your life until you’re on your death bed looking back and thinking…what was that? 

Unfortunately, I think we are all guilty of buying into this type of living. This ‘cookie-cutter lifestyle’ set upon us at a young age takes away our individuality; we’re all cut into the same shape.

Pinched from the Taylor magazine, naughty Alan.

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Just now, Tracy D'arth said:

Pinched from the Taylor magazine, naughty Alan.

 

Maybe a little bit naughty, but the post is shown as a cut & paste.

It explains it better than I could and saves me typing it all out.

 

 

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23 hours ago, blackrose said:

 

Assuming one agrees with your premise of what constitutes "the wrong reasons". 

 

I know that most people on a canal forum will agree with you, but I for one don't. People have a variety of reasons for wanting to live on boats. For some it's a passion for boats and the waterways, for others it might be purely financial. Many are between those two extremes. However, all those reasons are equally valid so I'm not going to judge which is right and which is wrong.

 

The other thing worth noting is that some people might choose to live on a boat because they can't afford to buy or even rent a house or flat, but then develop a passion for boats and the waterways. Conversely, there are many boaters who love she waterways but who are perfectly happy in their houses and wouldn't dream of living on a boat. Nobody's reason for doing what they do is any better or worse than anyone else's.

I agree with this. We lived aboard for near on 32 years purely by a first class choice. We paid cash for our boats as we got rid of a house we had no use of. The life on a boat is far superior to life in a house. For many years we kept a house in Cornwall for days away and holidays but tired of it and disposed of it in 2007. Purely and only due to health reasons we are buying a house now to live in :( supposedly exchanging contracts tomorrow??? Oh how I wish I could just hand the cash over and own it like I did with all my boats but I have had 3 months so far of paperwork nonsense. Having squinted at the article here I think the couple aged 48 are 100 percent correct in ( Doing it while they are alive) as far too many people imo just let finance rule their lives and are going to cruise ( when we retire ) and never get there. Imo any alternative lifestyle is worth a shot rather than the mundane that peeps usualy opt for. We, especialy the missus will sorely miss the superior boat living life but as we are older we have always been lucky enough to have a choice of buying another house unlike youngsters who have no choice. I reckon many people think that such as us lived on a boat for financial reasons as a second choice when the reality was far different. The sad problem is that unless you own a big house with the latest gadgets you are a failure and how very wrong that general outlook on life is.

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There is more to come 

 

Hi everyone, Lauren from ITV News here.
We're looking to film with any canal boat owners in the Worcestershire area tomorrow (Tuesday 1st June) who have made the move to living on a canal boat in the last year or so? Filming would be for a piece on our evening news programme - so no live interviews, don't worry!
It's off the back of figures from the Canal and River Trust which shows an increase in the number of people opting for a life on the waterways:
Feel free to pop me a message below or drop me an email at lauren.clarke@itn.co.uk
Thanks ?
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On 30/05/2021 at 15:00, Alan de Enfield said:

 

25% & growing quickly (C&RT's figures) is hardly a tiny percentage.

...and of course CRT will continue to publicise and enjoy the coverage this is getting.....and still come back with...."we are not a housing authority " when it suits.

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