Council vows to remove 'mega barges' in Chelsea in win for houseboat owners

Boats on the river along Cheyne Walk and Chelsea Embankment (ES/ALEX LENTATI)
Boats on the river along Cheyne Walk and Chelsea Embankment (ES/ALEX LENTATI)

A London council has vowed to remove “mega barges” in Chelsea amid fears they will squeeze out houseboat owners near Battersea Bridge.

Houseboat residents in Chelsea Reach feared developers would evict them and replace them with “super boats” that could be rented out for huge profits.

A group has battled property developer Andrew Moffat since February 2016 when he bought the Chelsea Yacht and Boat Company (CYBC), which owns moorings between Battersea Bridge and Lots Road.

In the latest win for houseboat residents, Kensington and Chelsea Council decided this week to take enforcement action against three large, luxurious vessels that appeared in the community in Cheyne Walk last year.

Chelsea Riverside councillor Gerard Hargreaves said local residents have been clear about their support for enforcement action.

He told the Standard: “Currently, the next step is for officers to pursue enforcement action for the removal of the three boats from the moorings within a suitable timeframe.”

But the CYBC told the Standard it will appeal the decision “taken by a small group of councillors against the advice of RBKC’s own officers, leader and legal experts”.

The council had previously ruled the new boats breached planning controls, but officers had recommended the council not take action against the vessels as they did not harm the character of the area and that the “houseboats do not stand out as being excessively large”.

Barrister Andrew Prynne KC, who lives on the 46ft houseboat Periwinkle, told councillors at a planning committee meeting on Tuesday if they did not take action they would encourage “unlawful and unrestricted development on the river at this precious site”.

He said: “These new box-shaped apartment boats are much longer, wider and taller than any existing single dwelling houseboats on the moorings and massively larger than most.”

The barrister claimed more apartment boats were waiting to arrive on the moorings.

Residents have complained the “enormous” boats are destroying the Chelsea community and obscure the views of the river.

The vessels, which replaced some smaller boats that were evicted for non-payment of fees, are split into apartments with one being advertised for rent for more than £8,600 per month.

Chelsea Reach Boatowners’ Association (CRBA), who have lived on the river for decades, successfully argued the new boats would disfigure the riverside at a council planning meeting in December. It has remained almost unaltered since the 1930s.

The association said boatowners have faced large increases in maintenance charges and huge premiums for the ten-year mooring licences because CYBC wants to “increase its revenues through the sale of luxury new build boats attached to long-term mooring licences”.

Mr Prynne KC previously said he was asked to pay around £500,000 to renew his licence.

This amount was later reduced to £13,800 after 11 owners took their case through a binding arbitration process known as Expert Determination.

The residents' campaign has been backed by celebrities, including The Good Life actress Felicity Kendal and Madness frontman Suggs.

CYBC has previously said it would appeal the council’s decision if enforcement action was taken.

Charles Collins, planning director at Savills, speaking on behalf of the CYBC, told the council planning meeting on Tuesday: “Serving enforcement notice on grounds that are still unclear even after officers have conducted a thorough investigation since at least June last year would constitute a gross waste of time and resources.”

CYBC told the Standard it has no intention to cause boatowners any distress.

A spokesperson said: “The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council leader, planning team and expert legal advisors have all confirmed that no planning breach has occurred with the three vessels involved in this dispute.

“The three vessels involved not only adhere to the highest safety standards, which is vital on a fast-flowing tidal river, but are the only boats to comply fully with RBKC’s own design guidelines.

“The council leader has confirmed that any enforcement action would leave the council open to challenge at appeal including a cost challenge, putting taxpayer funds at risk.

“We would question why this small group of councillors are proceeding with this dispute against the backdrop of wider financial pressures.”

The spokesperson added that CYBC has a track record of working with boat owners who are behind on their bills and those who engaged with them have seen reductions on outstanding bills and longer-term arrangements to help them.