Tuesday, 03 August 2021

Festival river mayhem fears

FANS of the Henley Festival could be prevented from mooring on the Thames this year

FANS of the Henley Festival could be prevented from mooring on the Thames this year if the booms are removed from the river.

The booms, which mark out the Henley Royal Regatta course, are usually kept in place for the festival, which takes place during the following week.

This allows boat owners to moor and get close enough to hear the musical performances on the festival’s “floating” stage and enjoy the atmosphere.

However, a meeting is to be held between the regatta and the Environment Agency, which is responsible for the river, to discuss removing the booms immediately after this year’s regatta due to safety concerns.

Last year, a man was fined for speeding in a boat that had been moored to a boom in the early hours of the Sunday of the 2014 festival.

Daniel Grist, the regatta’s chief executive, told the Henley Standard: “The suggestion to remove the booms was made after the 2015 festival in response to safety concerns.

“No decision has yet been made and the regatta is scheduled to have a meeting with representatives from the Environment Agency shortly to discuss the matter in detail.”

Nick McKie-Smith, waterways manager for the Environment Agency, said: “Henley Royal Regatta installs the piles and booms on a temporary basis and we expect them to be removed within a reasonable period of time to open the full width of the river to navigation once more.

“As the equipment is the regatta’s property, they are perfectly entitled to remove it as soon as the regatta has ended if they choose to. It is entirely up to them.

“We’ve got an excellent working relationship with Henley Royal Regatta and have another of our regular meetings with them soon to discuss their arrangements for this year’s event.”

Festival chief executive Charlotte Geeves confirmed she was aware of the meeting and understood that the safety issue had been raised by the agency.

She said the festival would meet with the two organisations after the meeting and added: “No decision has been made at this moment in time.”

She said that people who paid the festival a fee to moor on the river bank at the event would not be affected.

The issue was raised by Councillor Will Hamilton at a meeting of the town council’s town and community committee last week.

Cllr Hamilton, who owns a slipper launch, said that if the booms were removed there would be a “scrum” of boats on the river.

He said: “As a boat owner, I very much hope the booms stay because they define the river and it allows people to moor safely.

“It would be a great shame if they were removed. They act as a river centrepiece to allow so many people in Henley to enjoy a fantastic performance.

“I think that boats at the festival are an integral part of the evening.”

Jonathan Hobbs, managing director of boat hire firm Hobbs of Henley, said that if there were no booms to moor at boat owners could be inclined to drop anchor, making it difficult for others to navigate the river.

He said: “At night that’s difficult to navigate given the volume of boats that are attracted to the festival.

“The regatta has no obligation and nor does the festival because the people who come to moor aren’t contributing to either event.

“But they are licence payers so they have got every right to use the river, or enjoy the river, so this is a tricky scenario.”

Geoff Probert, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, who owns several boats, said there would be “chaos” on the river without the booms.

He said: “I fully understand why the regatta might want them removed given the weight of some of the large craft that moor. You get large cruiser-type boats mooring up three abreast.

“I’m more concerned about the fact that you won’t be able to get down the river. The booms give you a very distinct place to line up to and last year, at Lionel Richie, the Environment Agency wasn’t able to keep a clear gap downstream because of the sheer number of boats. You could almost walk across the river.

“The booms provide good separation and a good safety measure.”

Lucie Henwood, of Hambleden boat builders Henwood & Dean, said: “To a certain extent I understand why they have come to this point because of these large, almost town-like boats that come in and moor up to the booms.

“I am cautious and concerned about what the ramifications might be. It could be mayhem.

“As someone who attends [the festival], the boats are all part of the spectacle and something that we all love to see but I’ve noticed over the years it’s just getting busier and busier. I do see both sides of the argument.”

In March Malcolm Howell was ordered to pay more than £4,500 after the speeding incident.

His actions created a wash that causing moored boats to lift, rock and violently roll from side to side, Oxford Magistrates’ Court heard.

The contents of boat cabins were sent crashing to the floor, waking sleeping occupants, and some vessels were ripped from their moorings. The damage ran into thousands of pounds.

One boater called the incident “terrifying” and another said Howell’s antics were “one of the most irresponsible skippering manoeuvres I have ever seen”.

Witnesses described how the incident started when 29-year-old Howell demanded that festival security officers should order him a water taxi to take him to his boat as it was moored to a boom in the middle of the river and could not be boarded from the bank.

On being told that the water taxi service was no longer running, he became verbally abusive, swearing at the officers and members of the public.

Howell, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to failing to navigate his boat at a safe speed and with due care and caution. He was fined £400 and ordered to pay costs of £3,515, compensation of £612 and a victim surcharge of £40.

More News:

POLL: Have your say