BOAT dwellers have laid claim to an Oxford riverbank by roping it off and declaring it their own.
A group calling themselves “Friends of Castle Mill Stream” have taken over a 100-yard stretch of land and have said it is now their private property.
But Jericho residents have said it amounts to an “annexation.”
The boating group moored five boats on the banks of Castle Mill Stream, running alongside the Oxford Canal, down a 100-yard stretch opposite St Barnabas Church.
One of the boats
Notices have been posted, which read: “This community organisation is created to make good a poor situation. Approximately 30,000 live aboard their boats in the UK.
“Mooring spaces are mostly limited to those who can afford high impact environmental marinas.
“[We] claim this land given a boundary here as private land by claiming it from an unregistered classification [sic].
“We ask you to take care for yourself and others as the boundary and river can be a hazard. If fishing or visiting please be careful and considerate. The law requires a private property notice. You have just read it.”.
Angela Aristidou, of Rewley Road, said the area was a popular spot for residents to relax.
The 31-year-old, who is a researcher at Cambridge University, said: “This kind of behaviour is selfish. If everyone acted this way there would be no banks for my daughter to throw stones from.
“They are in a central part of Oxford and are used every day by residents. Children play there, people go fishing, couples sit to relax after work.
“Claiming it as private property means only a few can enjoy it.
“The counter-culture argument they seem to be making does not change the fact they have just taken a public asset.”
Another resident, who lives by the site and asked not to be named, said she regularly walks along the towpath.
The woman, who has lived in Jericho for 66 years, said: “There are two elderly narrowboats which have been there for ages, but these [five] new boats have only recently arrived. It looks like they are staking a claim so they can stay moored there. I’ve never seen it happen before and I’ve never heard of their group either.”
Oxford City Council Jericho and Osney ward councillor Susanna Pressel said she had referred the matter to the Unlawfully Moored Boats Enforcement Group (UMBEG) and the Canal & River Trust, after residents complained.
The trust is responsible for the waterway, but boating liaison manager Matthew Symonds told Ms Pressel the land was unregistered.
He said: “I have been advised that the trust should not remove [the roping] at this stage as it may complicate the matter of land ownership. The wording on the signage is of little legal merit and does not indicate that the boaters have rights to the unregistered land.
“Please be assured that the trust is progressing action to address the issue.”
Trust spokeswoman Sarah Rudy said: “We are aware of the actions of some of the boaters moored at Castle Mill Stream and are working with local groups and businesses to resolve the issue.
“We are trying to establish who has responsibility of this small stretch of land and would therefore be required to take action against these boaters.”
The Land Registry describes unregistered land as “a complex area of law.”
Its website says: “All land is owned by someone.
“The true owner of the land may take legal proceedings and in relevant cases may include claims for trespass and even criminal damage. If the true owner is successful, the squatter may be responsible for all legal costs.”
But it is possible to claim unregistered land over a minimum of 12 years “if you have actually done things with the land, such as fenced and occupied it without permission”.
The Oxford Mail visited the site twice, but there was no one present to comment.
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