BOAT bosses say Maldon could lose its iconic Thames barges if council plans for a huge hike in mooring fees get the green light.

The historic barges are one of the town’s biggest tourist attractions, drawing many visitors to Hythe Quay.

But mooring fees could almost double – forcing owners to look for new homes for the historic vessels.

Topsail Charters, which is based at the quay, says Maldon District Council is planning a 94 per cent rise from £3,250 to £6,308 over the next three years.

The firm says the increase could see barges going out of business.

Owner Paul Jeffries says the council is looking to make money in the wrong places and is urging the authority to rethink the proposals.

He said: “The council are proposing quite a huge hike in our mooring fees for all the Thames barges here at Maldon.

“At the moment we have the full support of the Independent councillors and we need to get support from the Conservative councillors to stop this happening because the consequences are really catastrophic.

“The price of running the barges is already a lot.

“If we take money out of the barges which goes towards running maintenance, mooring and upkeep costs, it leaves the barges very vulnerable.

“The option that people are already looking at is to move to different berths away from the quay.

“It will have a fundamental impact on Maldon.”

Mr Jeffries planned to attend a strategy and resources committee meeting yesterday in a bid to sway their decision.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, he said: “We’ve got such a strong case. We have a good chance of swaying them back.

“If we can get the council on our side and see reason, then that would be good.

“They are our representatives. They are elected for the good of the town and this is obviously not good for the town.

“Hopefully the council will realise the huge economic contribution the barges bring to Maldon.

“If the barges go, jobs will go, the attraction will go, and people won’t see Maldon in the same way.

“We’re hoping they see this side of it and squash the idea.”

Mr Jeffries claims more than 10,000 people a year sail on the barges and even more come to see them.

He added: “All of that generates money for the council and a number of people are supported by the barges.

“People associate Maldon with the barges, there’s a complete unseen economy that the council have ignored and that hasn’t been accounted for.

“They’re looking to gain funds in the wrong places – they need to be working with local businesses rather than working against us.”

Council leader Adrian Fluker said the proposal to end a “longstanding preferential discount rate” for moorings for the Thames barges had been discussed with barge operators.

He said the plan was to phase in increases with a review after two years.

Mr Fluker said: “The phased approach to these increases allows time for operators to adjust their own business models to incorporate the additional costs and to make the most of marketing opportunities available in the area.

“The council has made it clear to them that it continues to be committed to preserving the unique heritage of the area and values the barges as an attraction in encouraging tourism to the district.

“Even if the revised mooring fees are approved they have been benchmarked and they have been found to be competitively priced, based on the facilities available.

“The council recently invested £480,000 on repairs and improving the facilities available to vessels on Hythe Quay. Officers will also be looking at future maintenance needs to ensure the quay continues to be fit for resident and visiting vessels to use. ”