This article previously appeared in the December 2014 NAPE Newsletter
With no end to the housing crisis in sight and rents increasing year on year, it will come as no surprise to hear that more and more people are seeking alternative ways to find cheap accommodation. One such way which is becoming increasingly popular is living on a house boat. London in particular as well as Bath, Milton Keynes and Hertfordshire have seen a steady rise in demand for residential moorings over the past few years.
Ordinarily boats can be moored temporarily along a river as part of the normal navigational use of the waterway, i.e. in planning terms it would be considered as an incidental use. However the permanent mooring of a boat in one location for residential use would be different in character from a transient mooring use. Therefore it can be said that this character of useage would be materially different from the transient activity of mooring a boat which is in the course of navigating the waterway. As such, long term or permanent moorings may constitute, as a matter of fact and degree, a material change of use of the land. The courts (in Thames Heliport v. Tower Hamlets LBC  JPL 448) have held that the term “land” as used in planning legislation extends to land covered by water.
In some cases existing docks or marinas, where multiple leisure boats are moored, have seen an increase in the use of the boats for residential purposes. In such instances, it is important to view the residential use of boats in the context of the docks or marina as a whole which will ordinarily be considered as the planning unit. Here provided the primary function of the dock or marina remains the mooring of boats not used for residential purposes, then as a matter of fact and degree it is unlikely a material change of use requiring planning permission has taken place.
Living on a house boat does not command Council Tax, though the residents are likely to require many of the same services as those living in bricks and mortar. As the most desirable locations to moor a residential boat are located within populated areas, an increase in complaints about the unauthorised long term/permanent mooring of residential boats is being seen. There is no national planning guidance on the use of house boats, though a few local authorities do have policies within their local plans relating to waterways within their area. This is perhaps an issue which is likely evolve over the coming years and is therefore something of which enforcement officers should be aware.
Ivy Legal Ltd