Unauthorised moorings in the borough

We are aware of an increase in boats moored without permission along the River Thames.

Please note that the river has a complex range of landowners:

  • Private landowners
  • The Environment Agency (EA)
  • Network Rail
  • Elmbridge Borough Council (only in a minority of cases)

What are the legal implications?

The law allows:

  • Within the Public Right of Navigation, boat owners can stop on private land for a reasonable period of time, if they have the landowners’ necessary consent. The Environmental agency’s policy defines 24H as a reasonable time. Elmbridge Borough Council follows this policy.
  • Boat owners can stay on privately-owned land for a longer period than 24 hours if they have the landowner’s consent to do so.
  • Only the landowners that the boats are moored on can take action against an authorised mooring.
  • Existing byelaws on Elmbridge-owned land are only effective on council-owned land. They do not extend to illegal mooring on private land.

What can Elmbridge Borough Council do in case of illegal moorings?

Environment Agency update on River Thames enforcement activity in Elmbridge BC

  • We remain committed to ensure there is a level playing field for all river users. This includes maintaining rights of passage along the navigation and compliance with our terms and conditions for moorings on our land.
  • Our priorities will always be flexible, depending on resource availability, as we have the whole length of the River Thames to oversee.
  • We were recently successful in Staines Magistrates court in enforcing our Harbour Master powers to move when directed by our notices.
  • Our resources for Navigation enforcement has reduced since February 2021 but we are actively recruiting to bolster the team. This has meant our original aims from our published enforcement plan will be reduced but we will still carry out tough enforcement activity.
  • We will be re-tendering our moorings enforcement contract in due course. This follows the identification of a procedural problems in our first procurement process.
  • We have a project to remove wrecks in the area and will be actively removing those vessels which are sunk or have been abandoned.

What does the Environment Agency do to prevent and deal with illegal moorings?

  • Undertakes regular patrols and boat registration checks in partnership with Surrey Police and Elmbridge Borough Council, including boat safety certification and insurance.
  • Will seek to enforce and prosecute boat owners who failed to provide the above documentation.
  • Will seek to take action against any incidents of pollution in the river that are reported to them. Any dumping of waste into the river can be reported to the EA on their hotline 0800 807060 to investigate. 
  • Will seek to take action against owners of any vessel that has sunk and not been removed.

What steps can be taken in case of illegal mooring?

  • Anyone who suspects a boat is moored to land without consent, should first contact the owner of that land to ensure that they are aware and can take appropriate action to resolve the matter.
  • The landowners can consider applying to the courts for a possession order, or other powers under their jurisdiction, to compel boat owners to move their vessel.
  • Report ASB (anti-social behaviour) associated with moorings.
  • The Pollution Team investigate complaints of noise (NB: the noise from generators, regular parties and loud music etc must be significantly intrusive and harmful to health. They have no powers to move boats on.) Report a noise problem

The sanctions for repeated trespass offences are increasingly stringent. A possession order is the most effective method for dealing with this issue and is the Environment Agency’s recommended approach.

How to report any non-urgent matter relating to the river

To report any other non urgent matter relating to the river please contact or telephone 03708 506 506 during office hours.

Partnership working to find a long term solution

A stakeholder consultation on the current issues was carried out over the summer 2019. Elmbridge councillors considered the feedback on 18 September. The full report can be accessed through the link below: 

Spelthorne Council has similarly considered the same issue at the meeting of its Cabinet on 6 November 2019. The full report can be accessed through the links below.

Steps taken following the stakeholder consultation

  • Members from both councils agreed that officers will work with members and neighbouring boroughs, Surrey County Council, Surrey Police and the Environment Agency to consider a consistent way forward, with a report back to the respective Cabinets with any recommendations in due course.
  • The Environment Agency (EA) has considered their options to help manage boats mooring on land it owns along the non-tidal River Thames. Land it owns includes the following sites within the Elmbridge boundaries: Molesey (Hurst Park Wharf), Sunbury (towpath) and Walton (Gridley Miskins and towpath, and Desborough Island).    
  • After a successful tender process, District Enforcement (DE) had initially awarded the EA moorings contract. 
  • The Environment Agency’s contract for mooring management contractor, District Enforcement, will be brought to an end  from 30 September 2021. This decision has been taken following a review that subsequently identified issues with the EA’s internal procurement processes, rather than as a result of any fault by District Enforcement.
  • District Enforcement will cease operations under the contract on 31 August 2021, with the following four weeks being spent removing their signage from our sites.
  • The EA expect to look into options to retender for this work in the future but in the meantime moorings will be managed by the Environment Agency’s Waterways staff. 
  • This does not affect Elmbridge’s agreement with District Enforcement who will continue to enforce unauthorised mooring on Elmbridge owned land at Cigarette Island, Albany Reach and Ditton Reach.

Why doesn’t Elmbridge assume ownership and responsibility for the Riverbank?

Whilst on the face of it, the transfer of any of the ownership and management of the riverbank may seem a simple and effective solution this has a number of challenges. Taking on additional areas of the river bank could potentially be very costly and complex in terms of liability, maintenance and insurance. In addition to this there would need to be expertise resource allocated to managing of the public riverside land and the council do not have the knowledge or expertise to support this route. 

The Council is currently facing a decrease in government grant and will have to make some difficult decisions in the coming years to balance the budget and taking on a new area of responsibility with unlimited liabilities (both financially and legally) is something we cannot support. 

Current information on unauthorised moorings

Desborough Island 

The Environment Agency is the owner of the riverbank along the Desborough Cut. It is aware that a number of vessels are now moored here without its consent and will take appropriate action against the owners when it can, given continuing restrictions on its operational activities due to coronavirus, and other priorities.

Confluence of Rivers Mole and Ember 
The Environment Agency is currently working to remove sunken vessels which are obstructing navigation. There are also a small number of vessels moored to land it owns without their consent, and these will be subject to enforcement action if they remain once the sunken vessels have been removed.

Cigarette Island/Albany Reach/Ditton Reach (updated 18 June 2021)

There are currently a group of boats moored without consent on the edge of Cigarette Island (opposite Hampton Court Palace), and a further larger “floating home” moored alongside Cigarette Island, round the corner closer to Hampton Court Station.

Our mooring enforcement contractor, District Enforcement, have visited the site but are unable to action at this time as these are not named/registered boats. The Environment Agency are similarly inspecting the ‘boats’ to investigate if there are any other registrations offences.

In the meantime, the council has started possession proceedings to recover possession of the land. The owners will be issued with a formal notice to advise that the occupants are trespassing on council-owned land and to give them 10-14 days to leave before legal action is taken and to check if there are any welfare issues that the council needs to be aware of.

At the same time District Enforcement will maintain a regular presence and reinforce the message that these boats are trespassing and mooring without consent.

Hurst Park

Update 12 October 2021: The owner of a pair of 25-metre houseboats obstructing a busy part of the River Thames in Surrey has been convicted of breaking river laws.                                                                                                                        

All vessels currently moored at this location are overstaying and are subject to enforcement action by the Environment Agency. 

Following complaints received by members of the public, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service undertook fire safety inspections of 4 vessels moored on the Thames within Elmbridge Borough Council. 

As a result of these inspections, conducted under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, enforcement and prohibition notices were served on the owner of all 4 vessels. The enforcement notice set out nine actions which the owner would need to undertake in order to comply with the requirements of the Fire Safety Order and a 16-week period to achieve this compliance. 

The owner subsequently appealed the notice to Guildford Magistrates Court which was dismissed by District Judge Wattam on Thursday 28 November 2019. The later appeal to the Crown Court was also dismissed after a two-day hearing in November 2020. A further application for a judicial review appeal was also dismissed, enforcement action is ongoing by SFRS.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service are currently working with partner agencies and the owner of the vessels to achieve a satisfactory and safe solution. See Surrey County Council news.

Cherry Orchard Gardens  

The council is aware of the issues at this stretch of the Thames in Molesey and is working with partners to secure a long-term solution to this area:    

On 8 August 2019 the Planning Compliance Team issued 9  Enforcement Notices in relation to the moorings located north west of Cherry Orchard Gardens and adjacent to the towpath. The subsequent appeals against the Notices were invalidated by The Planning Inspectorate on 13 January 2020. As a result, the Notices came into effect on that day. The Notices require the use of the land for the permanent mooring of a boat(s) to cease, and any structures, fencing or enclosures, which have been erected in association with the use of the Land for the permanent mooring of a boat(s), to be removed. The period for compliance is one calendar month, i.e. by 13 February 2020. 

Despite further challenges by those served with the Enforcement Notices, the Planning Inspector reconfirmed on 21 May 2020 that the appeals they had received were invalid and have been turned away. Subsequently, a number of applications seeking retrospective planning permission for the use of the land as a permanent mooring have been submitted. On the 18 December 2020, all the planning applications were refused. The applicants do have a right of appeal against the refusal to grant planning permission, the receipt of valid appeals may well dictate when further action is considered likely to be taken.     

The Environment Agency has also served relevant byelaw warning notices regarding the removal of vegetation, shrubs and trees and potential offences under the Thames Navigation Licensing & General Byelaws 1993. 

Surrey County Council are aware of the fences across the public highway and will investigate.  However, they prioritise all reports carefully and deal with immediate and significant safety issues first. Currently, due to high numbers of reports, they are only able to deal with priority 1 and 2 issues. Priority 3, 4 and 5 issues will still be recorded and if resources allow, staff or volunteers will investigate. Please see their Maintenance and Enforcement Priority Statement which sets out their priorities 1-5. See also Surrey County Council - report a problem on a right of way.    

The Environment Agency recently withdrew an application for first registration of riverbank (including towpath) in this location. It continues to assert that it already owns the land in question and is actively working to resolve the issue of land registration. Meanwhile it is  keeping all options under regular review in relation to the moored boats. The Environment Agency’s aim is for boats to be moored to its land in accordance with any applicable terms and conditions which may need to apply to prevent overstaying, or to be moored with its knowledge and consent e.g. during strong stream conditions. It routinely takes enforcement action against vessels moored where its consent is required but not given to ensure overstaying boats are moved by their owners/masters.

Walton Towpath (near Xcel Leisure Complex)

House boat owner given criminal conviction and £5,000 costs after failing to remove boat from public moorings following warnings.

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