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Castlefield Boat Wars

David Blake gets to the bottom of the battle in the basin

Written by . Published on October 23rd 2013.

Castlefield Boat Wars

SOME weeks ago we got word from residents of a water-bound confrontation playing out amongst the tranquility of the Castlefield basin.

Castlefield is a superb place to live, work and relax. We're not going to let anti-social behaviour take a hold.

SunkSunkA sinister looking black canal boat had rammed a lesser white and blue craft inhabited illegally by a set of ‘undesirables’ (thought to be homeless) and sank it. Leaving it listlessly submerged in the middle of the Bridgewater Canal. It has since been removed.

According to residents the ‘undesirables’, usually to be found in the underbelly of Castle Street, had been hanging around the Castlefield basin for some time, adopting abandoned canal boats and causing a whole raft (so to speak) of problems for residents, businesses and visitors.

The issues range from noise complaints, dog fouling, aggressive behaviour, out-of-date boat licences, heckling, prolific littering, even more prolific drinking and drug taking.

Rubbish for residents

Rubbish for residents 

Rightly boat owners say adequate bins aren't provided by the CouncilRightly boat owners say adequate bins haven't been provided

One resident even reported that his wife had been followed to work by one of the 'undesirables' while another claims that they witnessed a Police Officer threatened with an axe during the serving of a notice.

It appears this incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

With residents of the basin claiming that both the Council and Bridgewater Canal management company, Peel Group, were either unable or unwilling to do anything about these ‘undesirables’, the owner of this sinister black canal boat took it upon himself to administer vigilante justice, resigning the inhabited white and blue craft to a wet end with a full-blooded ram.

The 'undesirables' simply moved on, mostly unperturbed.

'Undesirable' craft. Now disappeared'Undesirable' craft

Now vanished. Will it come back?Now vanished. Will it come back?

Still, some residents claim that along with the ‘undesirables’, the unnamed owner of the black canal boat, currently moored in the basin half way up the Bridgewater Canal, is hardly a model member of the basin community himself, prone to over-staying, littering, rowdy drunken behaviour and even fighting.

We did attempt to contact the owner of the black canal boat but have as yet proved unsuccessful.

Castlefield resident Stephan Lake, among numerous others, has become increasingly frustrated: “As far as I’m concerned they’re all water gypsies.

“There’s not meant to be any permanent moorings allowed here but these boats just stay for as long as they want. They pile up rubbish around the basin and have all of it shipped away for free by the Council.

“The Council seem powerless to move them and Peel just don’t seem to care. If you had caravans pitch up on grass between Merchants Bridge and The Wharf then the council would be straight onto it. What’s the difference?”


Black canal boatsBlack canal boats

An unnamed resident confirms that the owner of the black canal boat was no stranger to incidents: “I witnessed someone drunk in a group around that black boat jumping across the tables outside The Wharf Pub and then starting a fight with someone outside the pub. I also witnessed him ramming that other boat and sinking it.”

One local who’s particularly keen to distance himself from the confrontations is Malcolm; owner of the black ‘Motley Crue’ boat often found moored outside The Wharf pub: “People assume that because both of our boats are black, we’re both part of the same gang.

“I can assure you that we’re not. In fact I’ve told him to go moor somewhere else because I don’t want to be tarnished with the same brush. He gets himself into trouble and I’m not interested in that. I get on perfectly well with the people around here and regularly talk with a lot of the residents. I’ve got a one year old son; I’m just trying to have a quiet life.”

Motley Crue: Doesn't want to be dragged in to disputes

Motley Crue: Doesn't want to be dragged in to disputes

So had Malcolm witnessed the axe incident?

“I was there”, said Malcolm, “I went over to try and calm the situation down.

“One of the homeless bunch who were living on that boat had started to insult a Police Community Officer, calling him a ‘plastic pig’ and saying that they weren’t able to touch him. When they became abusive some more officers were called in and this is when things got heated.

“This guy had an axe, a hammer and a saw. I’d spoken with this guy a few times so went over to try and calm him down but he was blind drunk. He gave me the axe and the hammer, but he shoved the axe at me and sliced my hand open.

“The police thanked me at the time but the next day I’d been served with a notice. Which I thought was unfair. I’d tried to help.”

The GMP seemed unaware, or unwilling to discuss this incident. Malcolm informed us that the axe wielder was now in prison.


Well expiredWell expired

So what has been done by the Bridgewater Canal management company, Peel Holdings, in response to the problems surrounding the unlicensed craft, illegal inhabitants and over-staying in the basin?

Mike Webb, Bridgewater Canal Manager at Peel Group told us in late September, “The company have issued a number of statutory notices to overstaying boats and are currently dealing with these.

“Where notices were issued some of the craft moved but have now returned, this may result in us having to recommence the proceedings and legal advice is to be sought. We are also currently looking at ways to prevent this occurring in the future including signage and charges for overstaying.”

Carol Middleton, Chair of the Castlefield Forum, is unimpressed by Peel’s response: “As a voluntary Forum whose members work hard to make Castlefield a great place to live, work and visit, we are very disappointed that Peel have been so slow to react to these issues."

Similarly, Mr Lake is far from satisfied by Peel’s series of empty promises: “We’ve heard it all before. In short, very little has been done.”

“After the first set of notices nothing else has happened. These people aren’t going to be dissuaded so easily. They need to be issuing notices and fining straight away. They’ll get the message and stop coming back and causing problems for us.”

“We’ve been promised signage regarding no returns and length of stay for over a year now. How hard is it to put some signs up?”

Promised signs nowhere to be seenPromised signs nowhere to be seen

Still no signs, nice trees thoughStill no signs, nice trees though

We spoke with Councillor Joan Davies, a Castlefield resident herself, about the problems: “As currently designed Castlefield Basin is intended to play host to short-stay boaters. The boats enhance the atmosphere and views, and visitors enjoy their brief mooring in an unrivalled city-centre location.

“The basin does not, however, have the facilities to host long-stay boaters. In recent months there have been a number of complaints about anti-social behaviour and a number of penalties have been issued.

“Discussions are on-going between Manchester City Council, GMP and Peel Group to ensure that the rules for waterway use are complied with and that all the facilities which need to be in place for short-stay boaters are available.

“Castlefield is a superb place to live, work and relax. We're not going to let anti-social behaviour take a hold."

Recently, we spoke with Peel again to see if there had been any advancement since our last discussions in late September: "We have been in contact with Manchester City Council with regards to this issue and we will be investigating further.

"No-one on the canal should be without a licence; we take this matter very seriously and can remove boats who are in breach. New signage has been ordered and will be installed in the very near future.”

Some progress.

Not conducive to the basinNot conducive to the basin

For the time being at least, things have quietened down in the basin according to residents. The troublesome white and blue craft and occupying ‘undesirables’ have since scarpered. Whether they stay away is yet to be seen.

Castlefield has been dragged from the industrial ashes to become a fantastic place to live, work and play. In terms of historical interest, heritage and charm this is arguably the finest example Manchester has to offer in terms of urban regeneration dun’ good.

The idea that a few delinquents could jeopardize what has taken a significant wedge of investment, time and toil to turn the area from a no-go into a let-go seems ridiculous.

Especially if you consider that all it would really take is a part-time warden patrolling the basin from time-to-time checking licencing, over-stays and making sure that nobody is being an all round scallywag.

Peel. It’s fingers out time. And get those bloody signs up.

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38 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Kevin PeelOctober 23rd 2013.

My colleague Joan who covers the Castlefield area has spent some considerable time dealing with issues around the canal. Some residents don't seem to realise that the council has no power or ownership here. We're constantly battling with Peel Holdings (no relation) to get action - whether it's more bins, emptying the bins we've got or dealing with problems with boats. Unfortunately they don't seem to be particularly interested but we'll keep trying. The hard work of the Castlefield Forum is much appreciated.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Aaron CornishOctober 23rd 2013.

Indeed it is! They do a great job of keeping the place clean, tidy and very attractive. Such a sham Peel seem uninterested in keeping their end of the bargain. Too busy trying to come up with new ways to avoid tax I expect - www.independent.co.uk/…/the-biggest-company-youve-never-heard-of-lifting-the-lid-on-peel-group--the-property-firm-owned-by-reclusive-tax-exile-john-whittaker-8890201.html…

AnonymousOctober 24th 2013.

Surely you also cover Castlefield???

Kevin PeelOctober 28th 2013.

Hi Anon. In order to keep the workload to a reasonable level, Joan and I split responsibility across the city centre, with each of us taking more of a lead on different neighbourhoods. We both represent everyone, but this way each of us can focus a bit more on specific areas and be more proactive in our work, rather than just responding to issues as they arise. It's something quite a lot of councillors do in their wards. Hope that answers your question.

AnonymousOctober 23rd 2013.

Do any of the residents have to pay fees to Peel? Maybe deduct a proportion for services not rendered.

JoanOctober 23rd 2013.

Peel Holdings owes the canal and towpaths, but not, as far as I'm aware, the land on which any of the apartments are built. They should be managing their waterway and ensuring that the boats' occupants are observing the rules. The rules aren't draconian, just basics like disposing of your rubbish properly. Peel Holdings could also paint or clean Merchants' Bridge, which it owns, but, to widespread amazement, Peel Holdings pleads poverty.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 24th 2013.

Peel do own the land under the arches at the end of the canal (in front of Deansgate Quay), and do very little to monitor or manage these areas either - which are frequently littered with the same undesirables, and others

Jon GrievesOctober 24th 2013.

Honestly you guys make it sound like gang warfare! All is peaceful down here and with all the new apartments filling nicely Castlefield remains one of the safest and nicest places to live & work in Manchester. Myself and my business never has any issues with the boat community and they add that colour to our little corner of the city.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 25th 2013.

well said john :) we will be popping in for a roast this week. the best roast in Manchester? and on our doorstep? perfect! (yours, girl on black boat ranting below!)

Jon GrievesOctober 24th 2013.

By the way I am from Choice Bar & Restaurant!

1 Response: Reply To This...
georgeJanuary 10th 2015.

hi jon i was a regular in choice loved the food any news on a new venture cheers hope your well

Karl WheatOctober 24th 2013.

Agree with the above from Jon.

AnonymousOctober 24th 2013.

Drugs? In Castlefield? Nah, you're kidding.

AnonymousOctober 24th 2013.

While this article raises some interesting points, it lacks some of the context. 'Overstaying' in certain urban catchment areas is a growing concern for several parts of the waterways: London and Bath/Bristol being two examples. It's not specific to Manchester. Perhaps it's a consequence of over-inflated house prices converging with a recession economy? While enforcement requires Council and Peel Holdings to cooperate, it is legally difficult to enforce 'the towing' of overstayers when their boat is their only home. The Canal and River Trust come up against this problem elsewhere, even when there is clear signage denoting how many days mooring is permitted. A Peel employee regularly patrols Castlefield and does serve notices (to move) periodically. To obtain a Bridgewater Canal licence one must have a mooring. These are like hen's teeth, and so this is part of the problem. (The expired licences in the pictures are actually not for the Bridgewater Canal but Canal and River Trust water - such as the adjacent Rochdale Canal - which is another complication.) There used to be permanent moorings in Castlefield by Potato Wharf, which disappeared when the wharf was redeveloped to make two large apartment blocks. Despite the presence of new moorings and electrical points there, the moorings are unavailable, as I understand it, because the apartment building work has not been finished. There are many boaters who wish to visit Manchester for a few days, and part of the need to limit overstaying is to ensure that there are ample visitor moorings for these canal users. These are all factors in the situation described in Castlefield. That said, it seems a shame to lay all the anti-social behaviour in Castlefield at boaters' doors. David Blake states that the issues range from: noise complaints, dog fouling, aggressive behaviour, out-of-date boat licences, heckling, prolific littering, even more prolific drinking and drug taking. Having moored regularly in Castlefield over the past decade, I'd say the majority of noise comes from the bars and pubs as does the display of prolific drinking; there are many locals who walk their dogs in this beautiful space; and others from the city who like to sit on a bench or park up their car, to smoke a joint there too; and that litter is not limited to Castlefield or canals, although canals attract a lot of it. I'm not apologising for bad behaviour by some fellow-boaters. But we don't ban urban apartments because a few residents act inconsiderately. Usually, because apartment dwellers own or have a rental contract, one has to negotiate or encourage better practice. This should be the approach here, rather than simply trying to evict people. As is clear from Malcolm's comments in the article, boaters are part of the solution. Boats and boaters are a very legitimate part of Castlefield, not simply as passing colour, but as part of the urban waterscape.

AnonymousOctober 25th 2013.

Well done anonymous. I personally feel very threatened by this article. I am currently residing at Castlelfield as a continuous cruiser. My partner and I have been touring the British waterways for the past year and have never overstayed our welcome anywhere, let alone caused any upset. An undesirable boat owner on a black boat MAY have caused some mischief and it sounds horrendous, but to implicate me into this situation by using a photograph of my boat with the caption ‘Black boats’ is seriously irresponsible and has placed my partner and I , and our boat at risk. I hope I don’t return to my boat tonight after work to find that our home has been vandalised, or worse. Thank you David Blake for allowing this article to make me feel vulnerable in my home and term me and all other boaters ‘gypsys’. This is wholly unacceptable and actually a form of racism.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 25th 2013.

A bit much David. Are boating gypsys a race of people though?

CitizenOctober 25th 2013.

The 'gypsy' comment is a quote from a resident.

AnonymousOctober 25th 2013.

There's no such thing as gypsys. I love lucky heather though.

Graeme Wright shared this on Facebook on October 27th 2013.
Canal BlokeOctober 29th 2013.

The rubbish is from boaters I have seen on many occasions boaters stuffing large bags of household waste into litter bins leaving them overflowing and if the bins are full they use the arch near Deansgate, us residents have a waste removal company who comes twice a week, the boat people have nothing to put their rubbish into I think that is the problem. Ask any boater on here where they dispose of their rubbish.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 7th 2013.

There are large bins (including recycling) for boater use at the end of the Staffordshire Arm, across from the entrance to the Y Club. If boaters are not using these, perhaps a conversation would be preferable to eviction?

AnonymousNovember 7th 2013.

A conversation will work for those short stay visitors that have perhaps never visited before but not for the likes of Malcolm. He knows where the bins are and doesn't use them. He moors in front of the Wharf because it's next to a bin. Long term stayers in the basin (like Malcolm) are part of the solution when the pay RENT to Peel and COUNCIL TAX. I do!...They enjoy the street lighting, have their rubbish taken away and are probably happy to call the police if there's an axe wielding drunken idiot next door. Malcolm has a job as a bike courier in town. He lives city center rent and tax free then moans because the owner doesn't want him there. If he was doing this in an apartment it'd be called squatting and he'd be evicted.

AlexNovember 15th 2013.

To call people 'gypsies' as a term of abuse is racist - the last widespread racism in this country? To be challenged for what it is, not repeated in articles please! As for boaters continually cruising, returning to an area after a period of time, etc - it's legal and personally I'd prefer to encourage people to get to know an area & land-lubbing residents and care for it, rather than always being moved on by intolerance. That is not a justification for anti-social behaviour, but to conflate the two is criminal. Even if boaters were 'overstaying', it's hardly the crime of the century! Perhaps more permanent moorings are needed, like the ones that were done away with for more flats!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Calum McGNovember 18th 2013.

Alex, which were done away with?

AlexNovember 20th 2013.

at Potato Wharf (as mentioned in a comment above)

AnonymousNovember 15th 2013.

Are gypsies a race of people though?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AlexNovember 20th 2013.

several actually, and the law says you discriminate against travelling people (defined by lifestyle not by ethnicity, therefore including not just the different ethnicities but also people who've chosen to be travellers - excluding fairground workers)

Canal BlokeNovember 16th 2013.

The area has more than enough space for boaters to moor up, the flats have not took away any mooring space in fact there is more space than ever to moor up, at one point this area was a port and you would of been arrested for mooring up so the "Flats" are not the reason for any lack of mooring space. Gypsies are not a race of people and i see the boaters as a community however your not giving a good account of yourselves by treating the place like a rubbish tip, why not get together as a community and do a clean up of the area shake off that gypsy title.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 16th 2013.

Racism, bigotry, whatever word you use it's still prejudice towards people for being different.

AnonymousNovember 20th 2013.

Actually the development of flats on Potato Wharf has removed the only long-term moorings in Castlefield. The boats which were there have an arrangement with Peel to stay in the Staffordshire Arm (tuning fork), and the current bout of overstaying has increased since those long-term moorers became more visible.

AnonymousNovember 20th 2013.

Contrary to your suggestion above, the rubbish under the arches is not boater rubbish, but largely a consequence of the fact that homeless sleep under the adjacent arch and use the walk-through arch for a toilet and dump. I know because I bagged it all up when I was moored in town, and arranged to get rid of it (by boat). It wasn't cleared by the Council or by those who live in the flats whose car-park opens onto these arches. Not all of the areas problems can be laid at boaters' doors, and 'boaters' are a diverse community. Some care.

Canal BlokeNovember 23rd 2013.

It wasnt a suggestion its fact as i have seen boaters dumping thier rubbish under the arch and overfilling the litter bins, some boaters care for the environment but a hell of a lot don't, homeless folk are a police matter and get moved on by pcso's boater rubbish lingers a bit longer.

Canal BlokeNovember 16th 2013.

Well it is looking cleaner, and the good lads in green at Castlefield estates are doing a grand job on the coal wharf it looks much better.

AnonymousNovember 18th 2013.

Any Boat with a Canal and River Trust (CRT) Licence (old British Waterways) can only stay on the Bridgewater Canal for 7 consecutive days under a reciprocal arrangement with Peel. Any boat with a local Bridgewater licence MUST have an approved mooring, for example at a boating club or in one of the marinas. Therefore a CRT licenced boat should not be in the basin for more than 7 days. Indeed if they are cruising to Leigh or Preston Brook in order to be clear of the Bridgewater Canal within the 7 days allowed, then they would need 1-2 days to do that. Therefore a 5 day stay in Castlefield really should be the max length of stay. The trouble is these long term stayers play the game of switching between CRT waters and Peel waters. CRT waters begin at Dukes 92 lock on the Rochdale Canal. So to stay within the rules after 7days in the basin a boat would only have to move up one lock and back onto CRT waters for 1 day then it could legitimately come back into the basin for another 7 days. This game of switching waters could continue indefinitely under the current arrangement. This is one reason why peel holdings may be reluctant to use the courts to enforce the 7day rule on the CRT licenced boats. As it is so easy to play the game. Also I doubt the arrangements legality has ever been tested in court. The other reason is the cost of enforcement and removal of a craft is costly and time consuming. Peel has the power to remove an unlicensed boat and sell it off to recover their costs but they must serve notice and show they have made every effort to find the owner. Most old boats which are abandoned or used by the trouble causers are of no value, so Peel would not recover the cost of craft removal from the sale of the boat. There is little financial incentive for Peel to use their powers. As we all know Peel is only driven by capital gain, it has no social conscience. A 3 day max stay with no return within 30 days should be enough for any legitimate boater visiting Manchester. A 3 day max stay with no return for 3 days for local Bridgewater boats would be reasonable. But who would enforce the rule. Peel are not going to employ a man to check the boats on a daily basis. I would propose Peel offer a free permanent mooring spot to a boat on the understanding the owner will enforce the rule with a daily walkabout and advise where the boaters' bins are. As a local boater I do not want to see Castlefield turned into a no go area due to a small number of scumbags. Peel you must act to provide a safe basin for the vast majority of descent friendly boaters and the local residents.

1 Response: Reply To This...
David BlakeNovember 18th 2013.

Good info this. But as I say in the article, would a part-time basin warden really be that much of a stretch? They could keep an eye on basin residents 'playing the game'

AnonymousNovember 18th 2013.

Can I suggest you have a look at the terms and conditions for use of the Bridgewater Canal. www.bridgewatercanal.co.uk/…/2014%20Conditions%20of%20licensing.pdf… These conditions also apply to CRT licenced boats using the Bridgewater Canal. Points 1d 1e 1g 1i 1n 1o 1q 1t Licences and live boards and mooring rules Point 2 3 deals with enforcement Point 5 states a non compliant boat can be removed at a 7 day notice. Point 6 deals with the rubbish issue The rules are there in black and white and are clearly written. Peel just need to spend a few quid on enforcing them.

1 Response: Reply To This...
JoanNovember 18th 2013.

The Rochdale canal is part of CRT but the Bridgewater canal, ie the one making up Castlefield Basin, is part of Peel. Each organisation needs to enforce its own area and licencees.

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