A HOCKLEY Heath barge owner is being threatened with homelessness after a waterways charity said they will seize his boat.
Darren Cotton moors his boat near Church Lane and claims he has been ‘bullied’ by the Canal and River Trust who say that he is mooring his boat illegitimately and will take his boat out of the water.
The charity said it will also take his licence off him.
The 51-year-old has lived on his barge since 2005 and says he bought the land by auction in June 2015.
It was advertised as having a canal frontage with a covenant for mooring which allowed him to stay in one place instead of moving every two weeks as he had done before.
Mr Cotton began mooring his boat on the land at the end of March 2016.
He is living with a spinal injury and said that he was grateful to have a permanent moorings.
In May 2016 Mr Cotton applied for an end of garden mooring in line with the Canal and River Trust regulations but this was refused by the on the basis that there was no house on the land.
But he says that he has a covenant deed that states mooring has been permitted on the land since 1910.
He says he received multiple ‘threatening’ letters from the Trust, beginning on February 3 last year stating that they will seize the boat.
Mr Cotton claims he has offered to pay the moorings that cost between six and eight hundred pounds on several occasions but has been rebuffed.
According to Mr Cotton he has spent over £20,000 trying to regenerate the land – putting fencing up, purchasing storage containers and maintaining the land.
He says that despite all his efforts, the Canal and River Trust have since decided to take him to court.
Mr Cotton said: “I do feel bullied. As my boat is my home, the Canal and River Trust have caused me nothing but stress for nearly two years.
“My GP has prescribed me antidepressants. I feel like the Trust are forcing me off my land and into selling my boat.
“I will be devastated if I lose it. I have all my savings invested here.
“All I ever wanted was to live quietly on my boat.
“I stand to lose not just my mooring but my home as well.”
He claims that he has tried all he can to comply with the wishes of the Trust even tracking down a previous occupant of the mooring who stayed there from 1984-87 – a boat named ‘Marge the Barge’ – to show the legitimacy of the mooring.
We contacted the Canal and River Trust and they refused to be drawn on individual cases.
They released a statement saying: “We do as much as we reasonably can to help boaters stay on the water, providing guidance and advice to help them meet their licence conditions.
“Taking a boat out of the water is always a last resort.
“Ultimately any decision about someone losing their home is made by a Judge who considers whether the Trust has acted appropriately.
“Fortunately, of the 33,500 boats on the network, last year only a very small fraction – fewer than 20 boats – were taken to court and the boat removed.
“This only happens when a boat owner refuses to follow the rules over a long period of time, during which the Trust has tried to resolve the issue with the customer.”