Legal fund launched to save boaters from being evicted

A bird's eye view of the planned theatre (left) and civic complex (right)

AN ONLINE fundraiser has been set up to help the residents of the Barden Boatyard, as they face a legal battle to prevent eviction from their moorings.

Residents of the site on the River Medway, also known as the ‘Venice of Tonbridge’ have been locked in a long-running dispute with the owner of the of the moorings and surrounding land, since October 2016.

It is believed the landowner, a ‘Mr Mockford’, wants to use the area for residential developments.

The 14 people living on 10 boats have been summoned to a hearing at Hastings County Court on March 13, after being accused by Mr Mockford of trespassing. They are currently unable to afford legal representation.

An online fundraising page has been established by Dr Toby Butler, a former chairman of Tonbridge Round Table who brought up a young family at the Boatyard between 2003-10.

The target is £5,000 and as of last night (Tuesday) they had raised nearly £700 from more than 30 donations.

On the page, he wrote: “Practically there are no other boatyards in Tonbridge and residential moorings are almost impossible to find. The residents will be made homeless.

“Tonbridge will lose the historic boatyard, its picturesque narrow boats and the low-income and environmentally friendly and flexible housing that they provide.”

He added that the fund will contribute to the legal costs of the people living on the houseboats who are being evicted in the forthcoming legal proceedings. Any remaining funds will be donated to the Tonbridge Calling community festival.

One of the boaters, Helen Kirk said: “It’s amazing. I’m astounded by how much the boats are loved.”

The co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Jonathan Bartley said: “I am very concerned to hear about the plight of the boat owners at the Barden Road Boatyard and wish them all the best in their court case. At a time when it is increasingly difficult to find affordable housing, boat ownership is a sustainable and cost effective option to conventional housing.

“The preservation of residential moorings is essential for residents to be able to have a secure future in the communities they call home. In addition the boatyard provides habitat to a wide range of wildlife species and is a colourful addition to the river scene.”

What is the dispute?

Boaters claim that on October 8, a group of ‘intimidating men’ changed the lock on the gates to the yard, effectively locking them in, before presenting them with an updated tenancy contract.

The new contract would end their access to electricity, water, their on-land toilet and washing facilities, as well as their shed storage and garden areas, which were covered under their previous agreement.

The members of the ‘Venice of Tonbridge’ were then told they must sign or face eviction within two weeks.

Since then, the boaters have twice been told they must leave.

The case will be heard at Hastings County Court on March 13.

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