Fewer boats would have been damaged by a sudden drop in the River Avon if moorings elsewhere had been available, a Bath houseboat resident has said.

Boater Avril McGovern is convinced her friends’ homes would not have sunk when a sluice gate suddenly opened if safe moorings had been available in Saltford. 

She is still waiting to find out what condition her boat is in but said many others cannot be saved after the “disaster” in Twerton last week. 

The site has some of the River Avon’s few safe moorings locally after Bath and North East Somerset Council temporarily removed the moorings at Mead Lane in Saltford to assess the condition of the riverbank. 

It has not been moving boaters on from the site during the lockdown but may do so after a crunch meeting next month. 

Ms McGovern, who has lived on her boat for 18 months, said: “My boat needs to be taken out to make sure it’s OK. It sat down flat on the riverbed when the water level dropped. 

“My friends weren’t so lucky – three have completely lost their homes. It’s having a devastating impact on them.”

Some forty seven boats were affected after a software fault in a sluice gate caused the water level to drop by 1.8 metres. 

James Stuart-Wigley had only had time to fling his laptop and two dogs to safety before his boat sank. He said it “looked like something out of a disaster movie” after it was refloated. 

Boaters are being supported by the Environment Agency, B&NES Council, the Canal and Rivers Trust and homelessness charity Julian House. 

“Mead Lane is the only other 14-day mooring,” added Ms McGovern, who works as a teacher.

“I’m 100 per cent convinced fewer boats would’ve been affected if it had been available.” 

She claimed council cabinet members had ignored scientific evidence and removed the moorings to “appease the wealthy residents” of Mead Lane. 

The decision in January followed months of tensions between residents and boaters, with accusations of prejudice, threats and intimidation from both sides. 

Ward councillor Duncan Hounsell said at the time the moorings had been a “failed experiment” that was put in place without services for boaters or controls on how long they stayed. 

“The council realised in January it could have put people at risk of homelessness,” added Ms McGovern. “They need to put in better provision for boaters. I don’t feel like I’m a priority for the council. 

“They aren’t moving us on because of the Covid legislation. We need that site [Mead Lane]. There’s nowhere else for us to go.” 

Cabinet members will consider the results of a structural survey of the riverbank when they meet on October 8th. Ms McGovern said she hopes they take the incident at Twerton into account when they make their decision. 

She challenged council leader Dine Romero on the issue when she appeared on BBC Radio Bristol yesterday (September 23rd). 

Cllr Romero responded: “In January we took the decision to temporarily close the Mead Lane moorings because we needed to make sure it was safe and suitable. 

“We haven’t reopened the moorings but we’re complying with government guidance that action shouldn’t be taken to move any boat on during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“The decision was taken so we could undertake this survey. If people were moored there and the bank collapsed, who would be liable then? 

“We haven’t reopened the moorings but we’ve extended our emergency duties. We aren’t moving people on from where they’re currently moored.” 

The council said in a press release no action would be taken to move boats on from Mead Lane until a decision about the moorings is made by the cabinet on October 8th. 

Members will consider the results of a survey that considered “the suitability of this land for moorings following concerns raised by the community relating to the extensive repairs/construction of the Mead Lane highway and river bank during 2005”. LDRS, Stephen Sumner