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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Protesters fight to save boatyard
Boats on the Oxford Canal (pic courtesy of freefoto.com)
The yard has repaired boats on the Oxford Canal for about 160 years
Protesters have barricaded themselves into an historic boatyard that was the inspiration for a popular novel, in the hope of saving it from developers.

The Oxford Canal's 160-year-old Jericho Boatyard inspired Phillip Pullman's book, His Dark Materials.

British Waterways is waiting on the result of a planning appeal to sell the site to turn it into luxury flats.

The protesters moved in and have continued to run the yard since Friday, after the manager handed in his keys.

One of the group, Matt Morton, 33, of Oxford, told the BBC News website the group locked themselves in after manager Steven Goodlad, who had battled to save the site, closed up for the final time.

We have reclaimed the site for the boating community
Matt Morton

"We're keeping the site for as long as it takes, until we have a legal document saying the boatyard will be able to continue repairing and maintaining boats," said Mr Morton, who lived on a canal boat for eight months in 2003.

"We have reclaimed the site for the boating community."

Mr Morton said between five and 50 boat owners, local residents and boat workers - including welders, painters and fitters - were at the site on a 24-hour basis.

He said they were exercising squatters' rights so they could not be evicted without a magistrate's order.

We are aware that a number of people have been down on site and we are talking with them... but have not taken any action...
British Waterways spokesman

"We're keeping a constant vigil to make sure there are no evictions," he continued.

A spokesman for British Waterways, which is responsible for the UK's canals and navigable rivers, told the BBC News website he did not believe protesters were maintaining a round-the-clock presence.

"We are aware that a number of people have been down on site and we are talking with them," he said.

"They have been making their feelings known in a peaceful manner. We will be monitoring the situation, but have not taken any action against them."

Luxury flats

The spokesman said residents were given 28 days notice to relocate their boats on 1 July 2005 and that British Waterways had offered them help in finding alternative moorings.

Planning permission for luxury flats and some affordable housing to replace the boatyard has already been refused by Oxford City Council but British Waterways said developer Bellway Homes was still interested in buying it.

Mr Morton said that without the boatyard, about 150 houseboat families, some of them with children, would be left without facilities for repairs and basic services, such as water supplies and offloading sewage.

"We desperately need to keep these tradespeople in one place. If they get dispersed then we'll never be able to get it back on another site," he said.

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05 Dec 04 |  Somerset
Two new canals may boost tourism
30 Jul 04 |  Berkshire

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