Hartford Marina residents preparing for fresh court battle over river licence

Hartford Marina redsidents, (l-r) secretary of Hartford Marina Community Association Sue Rodwell-Smi

Hartford Marina redsidents, (l-r) secretary of Hartford Marina Community Association Sue Rodwell-Smith, and Glen Parker. - Credit: Archant

Residents living at Hartford Marina are bracing themselves for a fresh court battle with the Environment Agency.

Christopher Gibbs and Glen Parker have been involved in a long-running dispute with the Environment Agency over their refusal to buy river licences for their static homes.

The agency had insisted that all tenants at the marina pay £400 for a navigation licence, even those whose homes cannot be taken on the water. The two men and 60 other tenants live in static caravans that are secured to a landing stage.

A year ago, Mr Parker and Mr Gibbs received letters threatening them with legal action if they didn’t buy a licence and in January this year they were prosecuted and fined £2,000 each.

Mr Parker, 56, described it as a bitter blow, but said he and Mr Gibbs were determined to fight on, although others on the site paid up.

The Hartford Marina Community Association set up a “fighting fund” and helped the two men launch an appeal.

Back in April, magistrates at Peterborough quashed the convictions after ruling the homes were “not vessels” and did not require a river licence.

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But, in a new development, the Environment Agency has announced that it plans to take the case to appeal at the Administrative Court, potentially adding thousands of pounds to the legal bill of association members.

Sue Rodwell Smith, secretary of the association, said residents were disappointed but “determined to fight on”.

She said: “It is clearly an unequal and unfair ‘David versus Goliath’ battle, with the home owners who have already dug deep into their pockets to fight the Environment Agency, now having to find thousands of pounds in additional legal fees.

“If they lose, they will have to pay the agency’s legal costs which could amount to £30,000. The peace of their idyllic riverside retirement has been shattered by fears of criminal prosecution.”

The association’s fighting fund is still open for anyone wishing to donate. Contact Ms Rodwell Smith via e-mail at secretary@hartfordmarinaca.org

A spokesman for the Enviornment Agency said: “In January 2015 the Environment Agency successfully prosecuted two individuals for failing to register their vessels which were moored on the River Great Ouse, Hartford Marina.

“In April the two defendants appealed this decision and the crown court decided that their structures did not fall within the definition of vessel for the purposes of registration.

“At present, this decision applies only to the case concerning these two vessels at Hartford Marina and is not a precedent which other courts must follow.

“However, the case could be referred to in other similar cases. This is why the Environment Agency has appealed the decision to the Administrative Court. We would like a ruling from a higher court which will provide greater clarity on the law.”