Boat registration charges for the non-tidal Thames are to go up by 4.6% - inflation plus 2%.

But fees for commercial boats will be frozen at 2011 levels for another three years.

The Environment Agency is also introducing changes for boats sold or bought during the year.

It says the increases are measures to help finance all the rivers it administers in the light of reduced Government funding. And it warns “in worst cases” rivers could be closed to navigation if funding does not keep pace with costs.

And with a clear indication of possible changes ahead the agency said in a statement; “We are also engaging the support of local people and communities to jointly operate, maintain and own their navigations and how they are used and developed. “

Following the creation of the Canal and River Trust which took over responsibility for canals earlier this year, a decision will be taken in two years’ time whether or not the Thames and other EA rivers should also be transferred to the new body.

In its latest statement the EA said: “We developed this charging plan to work towards reducing our reliance on public funding as we need to provide a sustainable future for our navigations going forward, regardless of who manages and operates them.”

The registration hike is based on July’s Consumer Price Index, which was 2.6%, plus 2%.  For the first time refunds will be available for boats sold during the year. Similarly licences for new boats registered during the year will not to be backdated to January 1st. Direct Debit payments will be available over 10 months.

The EA statement went on “Increased funding from charges is part of a wider package as our waterways teams reduce their operating costs, prioritise funding to protect capital investment, increase income from commercial and external sources and, deliver a sustainable service that meets the needs of our different customers as best we can.”

“Cost inflation and reductions in public funding mean we must increase our income and reduce our costs to best sustain the needs of our waterways.

“Not increasing our charges to help close the gap will mean that our locks, other assets and associated services that boaters need, will deteriorate at an increasing rate, and in the long term potentially require higher restoration costs.

“This is likely to increase the frequency of operating failures for locks, causing greater delays and closures. In the worst cases, this could result in structures and navigations becoming unsafe or unworkable for use and thereby closed until the funding is found. “

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