Opinion was divided over plans for a new £5.45 million marina beside Watermans Park in Brentford as they went on display for the first time last night.

Most visitors to a public exhibition at Watermans arts centre agreed something had to be done about the state of the unlicensed moorings.

But while some loved the plans for a new 26-berth marina, others felt the site and the boats already there could be tidied up for a fraction of the cost.

Supporters said anything was better than the 'junk-covered wrecks' which they said give such a bad impression of Brentford.

But opponents described the plans as 'gentrification' and another step in the town's transformation into a 'rich man's playground'.

Under the plans, the existing boats would be removed and a new marina built, with power and fresh water provided and all vessels connected to the sewage system, unlike at present.

A small section at the east of the park would be requisitioned to provide car parking and storage space for the new boat dwellers, and a gap in the moorings would offer a view to the opposite bank of the Thames.

Moorings at the proposed marina beside Watermans Park, Brentford
 

There are also plans to improve the park and create a new wildlife habitat but the council wants to hear what changes members of the public want there.

The site is a former gas works and contamination to the foreshore, where significant coal deposits built up over the years, would have to be remedied so piles could be driven into the riverbed to support the boats.

The estimated cost is also swelled by the legal fees the council anticipates it will run up removing the existing boat dwellers, who claim to have been there for up to 20 years.

There are two transparent boxes at the exhibition, one marked 'like' and the other 'don't like', into which visitors can drop tokens to make their views clear. As of 6.15pm last night, the 'likes' were ahead by 14 to seven.

However, that count did not paint the whole picture, as some of the 'likes' claimed they would be just as happy with a cheaper compromise in which existing boat dwellers are allowed to remain in return for tidying up their boats and paying mooring fees and council tax.

Among the questions yet to be answered are what the mooring fees - income from which will be shared with the Port of London Authority (PLA) - will be. A figure of £1,000 was last night being bandied around by some visitors, which they claimed would price out key workers.

The council, which hopes to submit a planning application next April, also has yet to decide whether the existing boat dwellers, including teachers, nurses and a lawyer, will be given first option on berths at the new marina.

* The plans will remain on display at Watermans, in High Street, Brentford, until the council consultation ends on Saturday, November 22. There will be another public meeting there this Saturday (November 1), from 11am-2pm, with staff on hand to answer any questions. You can also view the proposals online and have your say at www.hounslow.gov.uk/consultations

WHAT VISITORS HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE MARINA PLANS

Shirley Rollitt, who lives in Brentford, said: "I don't think it gives a good impression of Brentford. When you have so many people buying new houses why should they be faced with this bringing the area down?

"When I first came here there was a gasometer at the site and I don't think what's there now looks much better.

"I want the boating history of Brentford to be preserved. I would hope there would be space for those who are already living there but not in the barges that are there now.

"I like the plans but the one thing I worry about is access because traffic is already terrible."

John Coles, of Kew Bridge Road, Brentford, said: "I'm very much in favour. At the moment it looks terrible mess with these wrecks, many of which are covered with junk. They're an eyesore and they need to go.

"I think this would help with the regeneration of Brentford, while recognising its character as a waterway town.

"It's important if this marina is built the site is properly maintained because the park isn't very well looked after at the moment. There are broken seats and the notice board's damaged."

A Brentford resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "I'm worried about them driving piles into the riverbed to support the boats because it could release toxins left over from the site's days as a gasworks, when a lot of coke was delivered here. I think if boats were able to just site on the riverbed it would be less damaging."

A boat owner living at the site, who declined to give his name, said: "They should look at former councillor Ron Bartholomew's low cost option which was previously proposed to licence the boats and tidy them up so they can stay.

"People have been living here for more than 20 years and claim they own the land below the boats.

"There's a precedent in the case of Ashmore v the PLA*. Any court case would take a few years and cost a lot of money.

"At a time when the council's making huge cuts this is a very expensive project to be undertaking. They say they're going to spend about £5m but I think it will cost closer to £20m.

"We've got three nurses, a doctor, two teachers, musicians, boat makers and a lawyer living here. Many of them are the key workers we need in London.

"All the boats along this stretch of the river were originally unlicensed. Until the 80s they pretty much gave away licences but when the most recent moorings were licensed in the 90s, the boat owners had to pay about £100,000.

"Now it's become prohibitively expensive. The only people who would be able to afford it would be rich jet-setters who would probably live here part time.

"The people who live here now help police the park and ensure it's safe for everyone to use, which wouldn't happen if you got new people in with no attachment to the area.

"A lot of people like the higgledy piggledy nature of the boats as they are now. If it's just gentrification and only rich people can afford to live on the boats it would mean the sterilisation of Brentford."

* According to reports at the time, Rupert Ashmore won his case against the PLA over ownership of the land beneath his boat at Battersea in 2009. However, that ruling was overturned the following year at the Court of Appeal.

A Brentford resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "I've lived in Brentford for 30 years and when I first came here there were definitely no boats.

"I don't think they started coming in dribs and drabs until about 20 years ago.

"In a way I quite like the look of the boats because it's a bit bohemian but some of them over the years have been abandoned and it's started to look like a bit of a dump.

"One day I went to the park and there was someone swinging an axe cutting wood on the pathway.

"I would like people to be given the opportunity to stay, provided they paid their dues.

"If they are allowed to stay they would have to tidy themselves up good and proper and it would have to be properly monitored."

Another Brentford resident, who also declined to be named, said: "It's deeply depressing that everywhere loses its character and becomes a rich man's playground. It's the destruction of London's character."

Another Brentford resident who would not give her name said: "Something needs to be done to regulate the moorings but we would be interested to know if there's a possibility of a compromise allowing the existing boats to stay if they were tidied up."