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Tackling unauthorised moorings in Elmbridge

Tackling unauthorised moorings in Elmbridge

A partnership approach

  • In April 2022, Elmbridge Borough Council had their planning enforcement orders upheld by the Planning Inspectorate on four boat moorings at Cherry Orchard Gardens, Molesey.
  • In January 2022 a boater was fined for illegal moorings in Elmbridge. The owner of two boats has was fined £800 and ordered to pay costs of almost £21,000 for obstructing a busy part of the River Thames. The owner was found to have broken safety byelaws when mooring the barges, he rented out as accommodation at one of the busiest sections of the river, at Molesey Lock in Surrey.
  • In October 2021, the owner of a pair of 25-metre houseboats obstructing a busy part of the River Thames at Hurst Park was convicted of breaking river laws.  
  • In August 2021 the owner of a house boat was given a criminal conviction and £5,000 costs after failing to remove boat from public moorings following warnings.

These are some of the most recent partnership successes we have had with unauthorised moorings on the River Thames in Elmbridge. They are great to have. Working with our partners at the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, Network Rail, as well as with private landlords, we have been able to show those mooring illegally in Elmbridge that action can and will be taken to remove them.

What these recent successes don’t show is the amount of resource needed to try to manage this incredibly complex situation.

The complexity stems from land ownership, Elmbridge Borough Council doesn’t own much of the land in question. The Environment Agency has ownership, Network Rail has ownership and then there are private landlords. There is a web of rights and legality to work through before any action can be taken.

What action can be taken in a case of illegal mooring?

While we are constrained by an absence of powers to move or evict boats which are not moored on council-owned land, we work closely with Surrey Police, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service and the Environment Agency who can and who are taking action against a number of unauthorised moored boats.

If a boat is moored illegally, the landowner(s) can apply to the courts for a possession order, or other powers under their jurisdiction, to compel boat owners to move their vessel. This can be a lengthy process.

  • Reporting anti-social behaviour associated with illegal moorings can lead, in certain cases, to a ‘possession order’ if the noise from generators, regular parties or loud music is significantly intrusive and harmful to health. At Elmbridge, the Pollution Team can investigate these issues and while they have no powers to move boats on, sanctions for repeated trespass offences are increasingly stringent and can lead to a possession order.

Partnership working to find a long-term solution

A long-term solution is needed to the issue of illegal moorings. In 2019, Elmbridge Borough Council led a stakeholder consultation to seek a long-term solution to manage the ongoing issues of illegal moorings, very aware of the unreasonable and persistent nature of mooring without consent which can having a detrimental effect on those living in the locality.

One of the outcomes of the consultation was that the Environment Agency appointed an enforcement team to patrol the River Thames, which did happen and in May 2022, the Environment Agency confirmed that all mooring compliance and enforcement activities on Environment Agency owned land and moorings would be undertaken by Environment Agency teams. All Environment Agency remote sites will be monitored by the local teams via routine foot and boat patrols.

What else can be done?

Aware of the impact unauthorised moorings has on local communities, we have reviewed the option of taking on the ownership and management of the riverbank in Elmbridge. The reality is that with ever decreasing budgets, coupled with ever increasing demand on services, we are not in a position to take on the costs and liabilities associated with full riverbank ownership.

What now?

The successful cases highlighted above show our painstaking work is paying off. We can only to this in partnership with our colleagues at the Environment Agency, Surrey Police, local Councillors, MPs and residents.

We continue to find our way through the landowner and legal complexities of this situation and do all we can to support our residents living along the River Thames in Elmbridge.

Further information on the work to tackle unauthorised moorings.


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