Could give harbour bosses too much power, they say

The RYA have expressed concern over the proposed Marine Navigation Bill published yesterday, which would empower harbour authorities to make ‘General Directions’ for navigational and non-navigational purposes.

Currently harbour authorities normally rely on byelaws, which cover a wider range of activity and are the authorities’ main tool for detailed management of their harbours.

General Directions are orders made by harbour authorities to regulate the movement or navigation of vessels within the harbour.

Authorities may only make General Directions if they have the express power to do so in their constitution and, before acquiring such power, they must justify why such a power is necessary, the RYA say.

Where such powers have been granted to individual harbour authorities, the powers have been made subject to specific limitations and are generally exercisable only in the interests of facilitating navigation rather than for other purposes.

Under the new bill, the RYA claim, all harbour authorities would have the power to make General Directions.

The RYA warn: “This effectively allows them to criminalise otherwise lawful behaviour and in their own terms, without having to first receive approval by the Secretary of State as would need to be done with the introduction of a byelaw and without going through any other moderating process.”

Gus Lewis, RYA Legal manager, explains: “The RYA’s primary concern regarding harbour authorities being granted an unfettered power to make General Directions is that harbour authorities are not currently law-making bodies.

“But such a power would effectively render harbour authorities law-making bodies, without any of the safeguards usually imposed on such bodies.

“Even a Local Authority does not have the power to introduce byelaws without the approval of the Secretary of State, but the bill would grant unelected harbour authorities arguably greater powers to criminalise lawful activity than a democratically elected Local Authority has.

“The power to make General Directions might be exercised to remove the public right of navigation and could be used to exclude public access to any part of a harbour that is currently used by recreational craft and which may be needed or valued by them.”

Consequently the RYA has developed a proposal for independent adjudication of General Directions that offers clear safeguards specifically to address these concerns, which it will present to the Department for Transport.

The proposed procedure will allow contested General Directions to be referred to, and reported on by, an independent person.

The RYA believes that this would ensure that, in a contested case, a harbour authority’s case for the exercise of the power (and any recreational interests’ concerns about it) have to be fully explained and documented and are subject to independent and objective examination.

The authority would, however, retain ultimate discretion and authority to proceed with the proposed directions, having considered the independent report.

“If these powers are to be granted, the modifications proposed by the RYA represent minimum safeguards which we believe will not unduly hinder harbour authorities in their management of their harbours, but represent a sensible and proportionate approach to the issue,” say the RYA.