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King’s Cross boater: We’re winning the battle against pollution on canal

Man who runs solar-powered bookshop on canal barge says dirty air problem is being addressed

24 March, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Jon Privett: ‘It’s hard to find a boat without solar panels’

A VETERAN boater has stepped into the long-running row over pollution on canals, saying: “Boaters find solutions to problems while others look for scapegoats.”

Jon Privett, the man behind Word on the Water, a solar-powered bookshop barge permanently moored at Regent’s Canal, just off York Way, King’s Cross, has said that the issue of dirty air is being addressed by those living on the canals.

Jon, 52, spoke up for boating folk who he feels are too often misrepresented in the press. “One of the reasons London is still a world-leading city is that people look for solutions rather than scapegoats,” he told the Tribune. “Most boaters choose this life because they seek a more natural, eco-friendly lifestyle.

“And mostly people are happy we’re here because it makes the canal safer and more accessible.”

Residents in Angel and King’s Cross have often clashed with boaters, criticising them for polluting the air by running diesel engines to generate electricity and burning wood to keep warm in winter.

But Jon, who replaced his antique wood-burning stove with a smokeless coal burner four months ago, said an increasing number of boaters use this type of fuel now.

“We’re selling smokeless coal to offset our £60-a-week fuel bill, and more and more boaters are addressing the wood-burning issue,” he added.

“And it’s hard to find a boat without solar panels these days. Outside interference is often misguided. Boaters get the blame from politicians and people who are not looking for solutions.

“What would be interesting is to have a network of charging points for electricity-powered boats. People do want to address the problem with diesel engines.”

Jon lives on the book barge with daughter Megan, 14, and their dog Star. He launched the barge bookshop in 2011 and runs it alongside Word on the Street, a book stall at Archway market on Saturdays.

“Technology is making living on boats more accessible,” he added. “You can use solar power, have a computer with broadband access. It’s very different to what it used to be.”

A recent study by the Canal and River Trust found that there has been 173 per cent increase in “continuous cruisers” in central London in the past five years. But Jon said overcrowding was not such a problem. “There are thousands of miles of canal that could be brought back into use to deal with that issue,” he added.

In Noel Road, Angel, a quiet zone agreement was brokered between boaters and residents, limiting engine and generator noise. And as part of its clean-air strategy, Islington Council has secured £50,000 in government funding, which will be matched by the trust, to install electrical charging points on towpaths in Angel and King’s Cross.


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