Question to Council from Sam Dent

PSPO – Draft Guidance to local housing authorities on the periodic review of housing needs
My name is Sam Dent; I am a lifelong boater and an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. I have been living on boats since 1990across the waterways of the country, both with and without permanent moorings. Currently I am fortunate enough to have one of the very few residential moorings in Oxford, in Hinksey Park Ward.

What I have found almost unique to Oxford since I moved here in 2012 is the extreme tension between boaters and other communities in the city. Given the inflammatory and prejudicial language used about boaters by both elected council members and council staff, some of which has been referred to during Councillors’ questions, this is unsurprising but deeply saddening. I have suffered, and seen my friends and neighbours suffer, direct and indirect discrimination. One of the multiple-contributors to the so-called evidence backing up this proposal recently referred to boaters in my hearing as living on the fringes of society. Another individual named in the scrutiny committee documentation has boasted of making more than 60 complaints about boaters in a single season.

I am part of the PSPnO campaign as I believe both that PSPOs are poor legislation and specifically that this proposed PSPO breaches Oxford City Council’s Statutory Duty of Care, the Equalities Act of 2010 and articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Given my privileged mooring position the proposed PSPO is less likely to impact on me than many of my friends, however I live on a boat because I enjoy boating, so I do regularly moor and run my stove as required within the boundaries of the proposed PSPO.

I feel that the proposed PSPO is believed by some sections of the Council to be required due to a fundamental misunderstanding of both the needs and the makeup of the boating community. Councils and their elected officials have a duty to protect the interest of all groups within the community –whether they be settled, unsettled, or travellers. In passing a PSPO, Oxford City Council would be acting in direct opposition to a minority group’s interests and well-being.

In this context, I would like to ask if the Council is aware that the Department of Communities and Local Government ruled in April 2009 that “bargee travellers” are covered by the Housing Act 2004, s 225, if the council has received a copy of the March 2016 Draft Guidance to local housing authorities on the periodic review of housing needs from that department which makes specific reference to those with a preference to house boat dwelling, and what is the Council doing to assess, look after and protect the interest of us as a recognised minority group?

Written Response from Councillor Sinclair
The Council is aware of its statutory housing duties and supports a number of people currently living on boats. A PSPO is used to prevent persistent and detrimental activities in a specified area, without a reasonable excuse.

Summary of the verbal response given by Councillor Sinclair at the meeting
Thank you for coming along and giving your statement. We understand and completely accept that your boat is your home with all the rights that go with that. I am concerned that these incidents are only now coming to light. Please report all of these. The Public Involvement Board is an officer group which has met to decide on the way forward with consultation. You will be given the opportunity to fully contribute. This is an opportunity to talk to boat dwellers as specific group to find ways of reducing the kind of behaviours that make life difficult for everyone.