THE Canal & River Trust has announced that boat licence fees will need to rise above the baseline inflation rate for each of the next five years.
It will also introduce a surcharge for boats that continuously cruise and an increase for wide beam boats to reflect the greater utility they receive.
The above-inflation increases for all boat licence holders, and the new surcharges, will take effect from April 2024. Details will be announced in November using the latest inflation forecasts.
Changes to future boat licence pricing have been announced following a consultation with boaters. Alongside growth in income from other commercial and fundraising activity, the changes will help support the long-term future of the trust’s 2000-mile network in England and Wales.
Chief executive Richard Parry said: “Our canals are facing some daunting challenges and, if we don’t act now, the future could look bleak. The Government recently announced significant cuts to public funding for the canals over the years ahead, whilst high inflation rates and the ageing infrastructure has seen the cost of caring for canals rise.
“We’re re-doubling our efforts to grow volunteering further and to increase funds raised across all our activities so we can deliver the investment that the network needs. The boat licence fee represents around 11% of income, going towards vital maintenance and repairs.”
He added: “Whilst the scale of the investment required is in no way to be borne by boaters alone, the increases from boat licences will make an important contribution.”
Alongside the changes to boat licensing, the trust continues to grow income from its property and non-property endowment, and from other commercial sources such as hosting utilities and water transfer, which together contribute over 40% of its income.
The trust is also targeting towpath users and other supporters, with fundraising income projected to grow by 10% each year. Other commercial waterways income, including from anglers, paddlesports and moorings, is also set to increase.
Boat use has changed with rising numbers of people choosing to continuously cruise, and to choose wider boats. The trust believes that reflecting the utility people get from their use of the waterways network, and the cost of supporting different boat use, is the fairest way to decide licence pricing – as reflected in the responses from the recent boater consultation.
From April 1, 2024, there will be a reduction in the discounts for prompt payment and for paying online as this has become the standard method used by the vast majority of boaters. The electric boat, historic boat and charity boat discounts will be retained.
Richard added: “I recognise that these changes to licence pricing will not be popular with everyone, but the income we receive from boat licences is more critical than ever. We must raise the resources needed to keep the network alive for future generations, averting a return to the decline of the mid-20th century when canals fell into disrepair in the face of insufficient funding.”
The consultation report can be found, alongside an equality impact assessment, under national consultations on the trust website at www.canalrivertrust.org