This is an extraordinary device whereby one QUANGO*, the PLA, can ask another QUANGO, the Marine Management Organisation, to change any Act of Parliament without going through Parliament (see our legal view).
The Act that the PLA propose to change is the Port of London Act 1968, which defines their organisation. They provide details of their proposals here.
Below are OPLAC's detailed concerns about these changes:
(a) Section 39 Recovery and enforcement of charges. Subsection (1) (d) is a new clause which relates to enforcement of River Works Licence charges & contains the phrase “…consideration for a works licence agreed or assessed.” Fees have always been merely “agreed” before, albeit often under threat of arbitration. Also Sections 66 (Licensing of Works) & 67 (Consideration for licence) now mention “… agreed or otherwise determined …”
(b) Also in Section 39 subsection (1) (d): greater powers of enforcement of charges, including rights to seize, detain & remove river works (eg mooring piles), & remove boats to storage or another mooring.
(c) More charges for licence holders: for considering, granting & monitoring. Only 1 fee (for considering) is payable at present (Section 66 Licensing of works, new subsection (3A). This may mean a one off lump sum is to be charged on grant of a licence as well as an annual fee.
(d) The PLA will have greatly increased control over boats in the river. A new category of licence, Mooring Licences, is added for boats in the river Thames for longer than 7 days. A cutoff data is yet to be specified, after which date houseboats may be liable for 2 licences, River Works & Mooring (New section 74B, Unauthorised mooring).
(e) Loss of riparian rights: it is a common law principle that the riparian freeholder has the right to moor up to 2 barge widths from his land. The new Mooring Licence would override that principle with its proposed 'no licence, no mooring' and no 'unauthorised' mooring proposals. As the PLA is currently registering title to the riverbed, the houseboat owner could also face a charge of 'trespass' on the river bed, even by using an access gangplank over the river
(f) Houseboats moored in an enclave may have now to pay 2 mooring fees (at present the landowner pays a River Works Licence and the boats pay mooring fees to the landowner) – (Section 74B Unauthorised mooring).
(g) The PLA will have the right to seize and sell boats for unlicensed works/moorings licensing regimes (new Section 74B, Enforcement of works and moorings licensing regime).
(h) The right to remove private moorings (ie mooring chains placed in the Thames before 29/09/1857). This affects 3 enclaves, which will now have to apply for River Works Licences or face removal of the mooring chains (additions to Section 63 subsections (1) & (1A), Removal of private moorings). This would appear to be confiscation of private property.
(i) Adverse possession timescale increased from the current 12 years to 30 years. New section 175B Adverse possession claims in relation to Thames, subsection (1) brings actions brought by the PLA into line with actions brought by the Crown in relation to land in its ownership. Crown land uniquely has a 30-year rule for adverse possession. The HRO does not make the 30-year timescale explicit.
* There is some debate as to whether the PLA are a true 'QUANGO' as they raise their revenues independently of the Government and are only nominally accountable to the Secretary of State for Transport.