Boat plans should not be detrimental to schooling

Click HERE to read my latest column in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald and Wiltshire Times.

Michelle Donelan Column 25 Aug 2016

For a landlocked county, it surprises some just how great a part water plays in Wiltshire’s community life. Our rivers and canals are vitally important to the county’s rich environment and are used to remove flood waters and provide water supplies for the public, agricultural and industrial use. They are popular for fishing, recreation and for holiday makers, vital to the local economy and are, of course, places to live for many people who enjoy the freedom to travel and lifestyle that living on the canal can provide.

Recently many local people living on the canals (boaters) who have children in Wiltshire schools have raised concerns that they are being forced to regularly move their boats long distances making it virtually impossible for their children to attend school.

Under the Canal and River Trust’s strict rules, boaters are required to move their canal boats 20 miles every two weeks but bars them from ‘shuttling’ back and forth between two locations – this has a huge impact on boaters with young children.

It is important that the canals are kept clear from boats being abandoned or waiting on the banks indefinitely simply to avoid marina fees and I do absolutely sympathise with the Canal and River’s Trust’s legitimate concerns but it is unacceptable for boaters to be discriminated against simply for trying to give their children a good education in a local school.

In recent days I have written to the Chief Executive of the Canal & River Trust in support of local boater’s rights to send their children to local schools and offering a compromise to solve the problem.

My proposal, following consultation with around 750 boaters and their families, through the National Bargee Travellers Association and a long meeting with the Kennet and Avon Boaters Action Group, encourages the Canal and River Trust to adopt more sensitive approach to boater families with children attending school.

Families with children in a local school, or who are home educating their children and who are part of a local home education network will only be required to relocate during school holidays and will be allowed to remain moored close to their children’s school during term time. It is important that all our children, no matter what their background or where they live get a fair shot at a good education.

I believe that the compromise I have developed in partnership with the boaters is a sensible solution and hope that is will be acceptable to the Canal and River’s Trust. I am encouraged that they have agreed to look closely at the proposals and will keep local boaters updated with the progress of these talks.

I hold surgeries every Friday as well as regular meetings throughout the constituency. To book an appointment please call 01249 704465 or email michelle.donelan.mp@parliament.uk