BOAT owners are dropping anchor and staying put as the dispute over the future of Bridgwater’s iconic docks rumbles on.
The Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT), who have leased the docks from Somerset County Council since 1999, insisted the boats should be removed by this Sunday (January 31) after deciding to give up the lease.
But boat owners are determined to resist the move and have delivered a petition with more than 1,500 signatures to the county council, outlining their objections.
Meanwhile negotiations have been continuing between the interested parties – including Bridgwater Town Council – in a bid to find a community-led solution to the future of the docks. As of this week no solution has been found.
Petition organiser and boat owner Tim Gilbert said: “We oppose this request on the grounds that the request is premature while discussions are ongoing to try to secure a successful future for the docks, which includes retention of the boats and moorings.
“We are significantly concerned that instructing boat owners to find other moorings while Coronavirus persists potentially causes risk to health, especially as movements to other areas is restricted and options to move locally are non-existent.”
The petition reads: “Bridgwater Docks is a unique environment and the boating community brings life and purpose to the docks which is hugely valued by everyone within the town.
“If this listed site is abandoned and left to decay will eventually become unsafe and an eyesore in the area and for the community.
“We, the undersigned, therefore feel strongly that the boats must remain in Bridgwater Docks and ask that Somerset County Council instruct Canal and Rivers Trust to rescind their notice to boat owners to move their boats until all other avenues have been exhausted.”
A spokesperson for Somerset County Council said: “We have met with the Canals and Rivers Trust and encouraged them to extend their current lease, which would allow more time for the moorings to be vacated while, hopefully, the Covid situation improves.
“We will continue to work with the Canals and Rivers Trust to review options at this difficult time.”
A spokesperson for the CRT said: “We are focussing our resources and efforts on managing the nearby Bridgwater and Taunton Canal and our other canals around the country, and took the difficult decision to hand back the docks to the council to look after.
“We were due to hand the docks back to the council last July, but have extended the lease on a rolling basis due to the restrictions surrounding Coronavirus.
“The docks are due to be handed back to the council on March 1, 2021. In line with the terms of the lease, the council have said that they want the docks handed back empty of boats.
“Given the pandemic, and that people live on some of the boats, the Trust is now seeking an urgent meeting with Somerset County Council to discuss the impact of current Coronavirus restrictions and the termination of the lease.”