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Environment Agency Triumphs in Riverboat Registration Test Case

In a test case decision that will have costly implications for riverboat owners and excite interest amongst property professionals, the High Court has ruled that vessels kept in more than 30 private marinas that skirt the River Thames must be registered with the Environment Agency (EA).

The EA had launched prosecutions against 19 owners of boats that were kept in two marinas that were wholly on private land and accessed by artificial inlets. They were said to be obliged to register their vessels – and to pay appropriate charges – by operation of the Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010. The owners were, however, cleared by a magistrate on the basis that the Order did not apply to the marinas because they were not part of the River Thames.

In upholding the EA’s challenge to that decision, the Court found that, on a true interpretation of the Thames Conservancy Act 1932, the marinas did form part of the river. They were fed by water from the Thames and they sat comfortably within the statutory definition of the river as including ‘locks, cuts and works’.

That definition accorded with the purpose of the Act to promote and protect public rights of navigation on the river and struck the right balance between the reach of the Act and private property rights. The marinas were commercial ventures and it was only right that those who moored their boats within them should make some financial contribution to the EA’s task in conserving the river. Registration would also mean that the owners would be subject to standards designed to reduce pollution and noise. The matter was sent back to the magistrate for final determination in the light of the Court’s ruling on the law.

in News