‘It’s insanity’: Three of Ely’s riverside businesses could be set to sink if Environment Agency can find buyer for £195,000 mooring plots

04th August 2017

The future of three riverside businesses in Ely – including one that has been in the city for over 40 years – has been thrown into the air after the Environment Agency put the land they are moored on up for sale.

The Hotel Water Nimf, boat hire firm Bridge Boatyard and boat restoration service the Boat Yard all operate on the same stretch of the River Ouse, but could be forced to fold if the Environment Agency find a buyer for the land valued at £195,000.

The Bridge Boatyard – Cambridgeshire’s only remaining boat hire company on the river – has been moored there since 1972, but owner Chris Wenn says the sale of the land would spell the end for the family-run business.

“We’ve been here for over 40 years but this could mean we’d have to stop hiring out boats,” he said.

“It would mean the end of a 44-year-old family business and the loss of six or seven jobs.

“We’ve got 20 hire boats and they could all go too. We’ve spoken to Lucy Frazer, who says she’ll speak to the Environment Agency and also our local councillors but they’re not sure what they can do.

“We’ve been having a really good year and have been really busy over the last few years, especially with all the television coverage boating is getting at the moment, but just as things looked like they were picking up, this has happened which could finish us.”

Mr Wenn has also questioned the Environment Agency’s relatively low asking price.

“We gave the government over £100,000 last year,” he said. “So over the course of 10 years, that could go to over one million.

“Our plot has a guide price of £60,000, so it doesn’t make any sense.”

One of the owners of the Hotel Water Nimf, Stuart Fowler, has also hit out, branding the potential sale as “insane”.

The riverside hotel has enjoyed a successful first year in the city but could too be forced to move on if the Environment Agency has its way.

“God knows where we would go,” he said. “There’s a level of insanity behind it all.

“From a cash flow basis, the amount of money that the three businesses bring in over the course of a year far outweighs the one-off payment they will receive.

“The problem we have got is the lack of thought going into this decision. Bridge Boats could go bust and it’s the only boat hire service left on the river.”

Mr Fowler also says the sale would have a detrimental effect on tourism in the area.

“The Environment Agency is not considering the bigger picture,” he added.

“They’re not considering the companies that operate on the river and the effect it will have on tourism in Ely.

“Our customers love what we do. We have people visit Ely just to come and see us, and the businesses along the river bring in over 2,000 visitors every year.”

The Environment Agency’s ad, fronted by Nottinghamshire estate agency Fisher German, describes the land as “123.97m of riverside mooring located in the Cathedral City of Ely, Cambridgeshire,” with a grass verge and towing path.

The Environment Agency says that the land is being sold as it is no longer needed.

A spokesman said: “The land is being sold as it is no longer required by the Environment Agency. Government rules state that, all surplus land and property should be disposed of in a way that achieves the best value for the taxpayer.

“We took independent advice and the recommendation was that sale by tender is the most fair and transparent way to achieve this.

“Since this land was first identified as being surplus in 2016 we have been in discussion with the business owners occupying the land to keep them informed throughout this process. All the business owners will have an opportunity to bid for all of the lots on offer.

“We have taken measures to mitigate the immediate effect on the businesses should their bids not be successful, which will allow them to make alternative plans.”