A crucial hearing over whether or not boats in Thames marinas have to pay a registration fee to the Environment Agency got under way on Tuesday (Dec 13th).

The agency appealed over an earlier ruling by a district judge at Reading that boats which were not on the main river did not need licences.

The succesfull action had been brought by a group of 20 boaters with vessels in Thames and Kennet Marina at Reading and at Penton Hook, Chertsey.

Opening the case for the EA at the all-day hearing David Perry QC argued that areas over which Thames water flowed were classified as the river as far as legislation on registration was concerned.

He said "locks, cuts and works" included marinas and the EA therefore had jurisdiction over them. Boat owners benefited - for example by the agency controlling water levels.

He quoted Parliamentary select committees from the 19th century plus acts from the 1930s, 1950s and this century. Mr Perry said boats had a public right of navigation in marinas just as they had on the river itself.

Summing up he said: "We submit that marinas do form part of the River Thames."

"Adjacent waters"

At one point the judges, Lord Justice Lindblom and Mr Justice Singh, questioned barristers on the exact definition of marinas, docks and harbours.

Appearing for the boat owners Mike Magee said waterways legislation did not cover "adjacent waters" of which marinas were an example and there was no right of navigation within them.

He argued the marinas, both former gravel workings, were private property and therefore did not come under EA jurisdiction for boat registration. And rather than Thames water flowing into them, as the EA had said, the marinas were actually deeper than the river.

Mr Magee said in the past the EA had not levied charges on so-called accommodations like pontoons or charged for houseboats within marinas.

Speaking of the move to charge all boats he said: "The agency was seeking to extend its powers which it was not authorised to do ... then tried alternative routes".

Judgement will be given in the New Year.

See our earlier coverage of the controversy HERE and HERE.

Story dated Dec 7th 2016