Marina homes are not 'vessels'

Published: Friday, 22 April 2016

IN A blow to the Environment Agency a judge has ruled that engine-less homes moored at Hartford Marina in Huntingdon are not vessels and are therefore exempt from the Agency's £430 annual river tax.

The residents of waterside homes at a the marina on the River Great Ouse, many of them pensioners, were determined to fight demands that they pay an unlawful £430 annual river tax imposed by the Environment Agency, that had threatened they face heavy fines and a criminal record if they did not pay.

Took residents to court

The Agency took the residents to court but the Crown Court in Peterborough found that that the 'floating houses' were homes on water rather than vessels capable of navigation, but the 'we know best' Environmental Agency would not accept, this spending even more money on an appeal.

This week the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division sitting in London affirmed the correctness of the judgement of the Crown Court in Peterborough that it had been 'right to find' that the 'floating houses' at Hartford were 'homes on water' rather than vessels capable of navigation. In concurring judgments Mr Justice Teare and Mr Justice Holroyd both found themselves 'unable to accept' that the homes at Hartford could be vessels. Mr Justice Holroyd added that to his mind, 'a vessel must be navigable' and that these floating houses are most emphatically not that.

The Environment Agency does not have a right of appeal against this decision but has to request permission to do so. Given the strength of the judgment, which is likely to feature in the official Law Reports, and the fact it affirms decisions of the higher Courts of respectable antiquity, it is thought unlikely it will obtain such permission.

Enormous cost

The action, that has been at enormous cost to the public purse has been a waste of precious navigation funds which should really only go towards maintaining the navigable river, yet is typical of the Agency, for it has done the same before, spending ridiculous amounts of public money to pursue people that it has taken a dislike to—and that is all it is—people who have dared to stand up to it.

It really was an unequal and unfair ‘David v Goliath' battle, with the home owners in this case having to find thousands of pounds in legal fees and their retirement shattered by fears of criminal prosecution and what could only be seen as potential theft of their limited retirement funds, brought about by nothing more than total arrogance on the part of the agency.

Six years

Unbelievably the Environment Agency has been attempting to re-classify the private adjacent waters as part of the main river for six years, though this was rejected as unlawful by the Secretary of State in 2010, it all together at enormous cost running into many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Despite the government ruling, the Agency contemptuously prosecuted two berth holders, with the result that many others, fearful of the protracted bullying, just paid up.

But in the end, common sense and fairness prevailed in the form of British justice, notwithstanding the Environmental Agency's stupid attempt to thwart it.