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The Jubilee River story (0933) - The Thames lock keepers issue (again) - October 2011 onwards

The issue of the Thames lock keepers and their houses has re-appeared. The EA will not replace leaving or retiring lock keepers and the vacant lock houses will be rented out.

In April 2008 the EA announced plans to reduce the number of Thames lock houses, but implementation was put on hold.

For some of the history please see - Lock keepers - Key facts and news    Also of interest - Private Eye - 16/5/2008

GMB Press release - 11/10/2011

EA response to GMB Press Release - 11/10/2011

Motor Boats Monthly 11/10/2011 (external link) http://www.motorboatsmonthly.co.uk/news/529890/ea-decides-to-rent-out-lock-keepers-houses

Letter to Philip Hammond MP from Harry Purchase: - 13/10/2011

e-mail to Adam Afriyie MP from Peter Mills - 16/10/2011

e-mail to Adam Afriyie MP from Ian Thompson - 17/10/2011

Letter to MPs from Mrs G Bolton - 17/10/2011

Letter from Mr J Wanamaker - 18/10/2011

External link to the Association of Thames Yacht Clubs - The Association of Thames Yacht Clubs including ATYC response

Windsor Express - 21/10/2011

Letter in Windsor Observer - 21/10/2011

Letter in The Times - 22/10/2011

e-mail from TMBA - 24/10/2011

Letters in the Times - 28/10/2011

GMB Press Release below (external link to source document)

Tuesday 11th October 2011

ENVIRONMENT AGENCY INCREASE RISKS OF FLOODING ON RIVER THAMES AND TRIBUTARY RIVERS BY DOWNGRADING FLOOD DEFENCES BY WITHDRAWAL OF NINE RESIDENT LOCK KEEPERS 

Taking away resident lock keepers from nine locks means being unable to provide adequate response to three adjacent locks upstream of Reading which could mean that the levels of rainfall seen in 2003 and 2007 would devastate Reading and surrounding villages in Oxfordshire says GMB lock keepers

 On Friday 7th October the Environment Agency decided to freeze the positions of up to nine resident lock and weir keepers on the River Thames and rent the properties they live in to residents not connected with the river. With effect from Monday 10th October the Environment Agency are actively looking to let these properties.

Lock keepers have warned that this increases the risk of flooding on the River Thames and its tributaries which constitute the most managed waterway in the UK. It goes against the conclusion of a 2008 review that resident lock keepers were essential for flood defenses on the River Thames waterway.

Lock keepers houses at seven of the locks in question are currently vacant, or will be vacant within the next few months. The houses are at Grafton, Cleve, Goring ( See picture on GMB website) and Whitchurch in Oxfordshire, Blakes Lock in Berkshire and Chertsey and Sunbury in Surrey.  The other two lock houses will become vacant when the present lock keepers retire.  Lock staff have been pressing management to fill the vacancies for resident lock keepers at Chertsey and Sunbury for some time but to no avail. 

In 2008 GMB lock staff overturned a then decision by Environment Agency to rent out the riverside lock keeper properties. Then they were backed by local MP’s David Cameron and Theresa May. In December 2008, the Environment Agency Director, Howard Davidson, gave assurances to MPs, river users and those living on the flood plain that keeping a resident Lock Keeper at each of the 45 sites along the River Thames was the most sensible way forward to manage the river as safely and efficiently as possible. After a full review had been carried out he told MPs that the key considerations to his decisions were mitigating against the risk of flood and response times to out of hours incidents.

Clive Smith GMB organizer for the lock keepers said “This further reckless attempt by the Environment Agency to lower flood defenses and risk flooding from the Thames has angered residents living near the river, Thames user groups and boat owners. The decision ignores the conclusions from the full review carried out in 2008 when the Agency told MPs that the key considerations on residential locks were mitigating against the risk of flood and response times to out of hours incidents.

At present resident lock keepers respond to incidents at lock sites within 15 minutes. With no one on site at nine locks this level of response would be impossible and the public will see the response change to the Agency's guideline of 2 hours. At times of flooding it could take staff a lot longer than that if roads are flooded. Thus the decision to take away resident lock keepers from these nine locks means that the Environment Agency may not be able to provide adequate response to three adjacent locks upstream of Reading. This means that there is a high likelihood of flooding of land and property even during periods of moderate rainfall.  The levels of rainfall seen in 2003 and 2007 would devastate the Berkshire town of Reading and surrounding villages within Oxfordshire.

Since 2008 the Agency has actively sought to reduce its property portfolio by selling or renting out most of the Area Relief Lock Houses. These were based all along the river from Oxfordshire through Berkshire and into Surrey.  They were located near the locks for operational reasons so staff could respond to incidents within a matter of minutes.

Lock staff numbers have been hugely reduced over the last few years. This places a strain on the current workforce, therefore, not enabling the Environment Agency to fulfill its customer charter. Most of the sites are very remote. It is imperative that lock staff are retained as an operational resident for the safety of river users and properties. History shows that over the years many lives have been saved by having a lock-keeper on site.

 GMB, the union for lock staff on the Thames, has asked on several occasions for a detailed breakdown of the savings that the Agency claim they will make. To date this information has not been forthcoming.

There have been no negotiations between the Environment Agency and GMB on this matter. GMB know that once these properties are let a vital link in a flood defense chain that stretches back 200 years for the safe operation of the River Thames will be lost. “

End

Contact: Clive Smith GMB 07802 958 554 or 020 8303 3407 or Paul Maloney 07801 343839 or GMB press office 07974 251 823 or 07921 289880

Environment Agency response below - 11/10/2011

11 October 2011

Statement – Response to GMB news release on rental of vacant River Thames river side houses

Government funding for the River Thames is reducing, so to maintain our levels of service we need to become more efficient and reduce our costs, and raise more income where we can.

As part of a package of measures to reduce an existing £800,000 funding gap, we will not immediately replace nine out of 45 resident lock and weir keeper posts when they become vacant between now and the end of 2012/13.

Their duties will be covered by the rest of our  permanent lock and weir keepers and our seasonal staff, and the lockside houses will be rented out to generate much needed income.

With all nine houses rented, we estimate the overall benefit to our waterways budget to be £416,000. And we will still have 36 resident lock and weir keepers in post.

These arrangements have already been in place at four sites where the resident lock and weir keeper either retired or resigned; these are Cleeve and Grafton (both in Oxfordshire) and Chertsey and Sunbury (both in Surrey).

The change has had no detrimental impact on our operational performance or levels of customer service or safety, or on our ability to respond to accidents or flood incidents, either in normal working hours or out of hours. The river weirs will still be operated to protect communities who live along the river just as they were in 2003 and 2007.

We have a pool of more than 250 employees who are on call around the clock, and whose job it is to respond rapidly to incidents, wherever they may occur on the river.

There is no evidence to suggest that this move will have any impact on health and safety performance. People using the river are responsible for their own safety and in any emergency they should contact the emergency services. That is what we train our staff to do. 

This initiative is intended to make significant inroads on the gap in funding for our waterways operations without affecting our levels of service or impacting our employees.

Matt Carter, Waterways Manager said:

“Government funding has been cut and we must now look at ways to generate income so that we can continue to provide the best possible service to the public.

“Renting out the vacant houses will raise a significant amount of much needed revenue, without any impact on our current workforce or the round-the-clock service we deliver to our customers.

“At sites with rented houses, the duties normally carried out by the resident lock and weir keeper will be performed by our dedicated team o lock and weir keepers, including the other resident lock keepers nearby.”

Elisa Orchard
Principal Press Officer
Environment and Performance
South East
Contact:
0118 953 5173

Letter to Philip Hammond MP from Harry Purchase - 13/10/2011

To The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP

From Harry Purchase    13th October, 2011.

Dear

Here we go again with the eccentricities of the Environment Agency.   Your  Constituents in the Runnymede area are now extremely worried over the recent decision to rent out Lock Keepers houses.  In addition not to replace retirees.  (See the enclosed)

We are advised that as a result of Government cutbacks there is a shortfall of £800,000.  This is a mere dribble in the total budget of the Environment Agency.   £416,000is the amount  that the EA hopes to generate by way of rent is unlikely to be achieved immediately.   Because of locations it will take some time for potential tenants to emerge.

Quite honestly – a number of properties in your constituency will be at severe risk of flooding, certainly those adjoining our property.   In 2003 this whole area was flooded and  properties were inundated to a depth of 4’.   (Causing one resident to have a heart attack and die).

The remedy is simple.   Ask David Cameron to take £800,000 out of the foreign aid programme which we definitely cannot afford, and transfer that to the EA  possibly as a long term interest free loan.  Until such times as a thorough examination of the manpower needs at EA HQ (There is still plenty of room for a redundancy or two there).

It is appalling that this Government can give financial support to corrupt African States and ignore the perils facing UK Tax Paying Citizens.

Philip, once again we need urgent and direct action to stop this madness.

Sincerely,

 

Harry Purchase JP . FCA . FCIM...The Anchorage, Riverside, Temple Gardens, Thorpe Lea, North Surrey, TW 18 3 NJ.   / harrypurchase@aol.com

e-mail to Adam Afriyie MP from Peter Mills - 16/10/2011

Subject: Environment Agency disregard for Flood Risk population

Dear Mr Afriyie

I am writing to express my dismay and concern over the proposed action on the part of the Environment Agency to put vacant Lock Keepers houses up for letting as they become vacant. They have also stated that they will not replace lock keepers as positions become vacant.

As a riverside dweller who experienced serious flooding in 2003, I cannot accept that the Environment Agency fully understands the risks that such actions pose for those at risk from any future flooding. This added risk will exacerbate the situation regarding home insurance for those who live in the flood plain.

Whilst I understand the need to make cutbacks in the current economic environment, I cannot accept that the intention of the EA to leave weirs and locks potentially unmanned. History shows that the presence of a lock keeper has often made the difference between life and death.

The Environment Agency must be told that their intentions are completely unacceptable. Can I ask you, please, to take up this cause with the utmost urgency

Yours Sincerely

Peter Mills of Wraysbury

e-mail to Adam Afriyie MP from Ian Thompson - 17/10/2011

To: Adam Afriyie MP
Subject: Fw: RENTAL OF LOCK HOUSES AND REDUCTION OF PERMANENT LOCKKEEPERS

Dear Adam,

We return to the same subject you and other MP's discussed with the EA back in 2008, the principle is unchanged, further in depth scrutiny is required to establish the practical details of manning and safety levels are suitable for the proposals to be carried through, together with the appropriate level of  fully qualified assurances to all Thames riverside councils.

The bland press release issued by the EA is not good enough or the right instrument to over-arch the operational detail of the EA's intentions therefore we seek your support to halt progress on the release of the properties until the assurances sought have been received and accepted.

Trusting you can assist with this matter

Kind Regards,

Ian Thompson

Datchet Parish Council, Flooding Spokesperson. 

Letter to MPs from Mrs G Bolton - 17/10/2011

Dear Riverside MPs

RENTAL OF LOCK HOUSES AND REDUCTION OF PERMANENT LOCKKEEPERS

I was absolutely horrified to receive the attached press releases from the GMB Union and the EA regarding the proposed rental of lock houses and the reduction of permanent onsite lockkeepers on the River Thames.

I was regularly in touch with many of you in 2008 when the Environment Agency planned to sell the lock houses and after much debate, a huge public outcry at that proposal and a meeting at the House of Commons Committee Rooms the EA did not go through with the proposed sales.

So now the EA are again trying to destroy the heritage of the River Thames and put at greater risk from flooding thousands of lives, homes and businesses. 

Their current decision will make the situation far worse than the proposal in 2008. 

The safety of 1000’s of riverside residents, boaters and businesses will be compromised if this ill conceived plan were to go ahead. 

The EA’s statement that it would make no difference and not put flooding at greater risk is in my opinion inaccurate and untrue.

Of course it will!!

The EA do not plan to recruit new permanent lockkeepers when a post becomes vacant.  In this event there will be locks and weirs where lockkeepers are no long onsite for emergencies or at times of flood.  Therefore, if there is no lockkeeper onsite during a flood event the weirs cannot be operated properly. 

If a lockkeeper is not onsite it may be impossible for them to reach the lock and weirs due to the fact that the roads that they have to travel to reach them are flooded.

Weirs have to be operated sequentially and if they are not, as a result of there being no lockkeeper onsite, then thousands of residents, boats and businesses will be put at greater risk.

This move is a false economy; other areas need to be looked at to find the savings that the EA say they need to make.

How many unlicensed boats are currently on the river?  How many superfluous staff are there in the EA offices?  How much is being wasted on excessive expenses?  The solution to making savings is certainly not to lose vital front line staff.

I appreciate that the country is in recession and that cutbacks need to be made but not at the risk of lives, homes and businesses.

The flooding that occurred in 2003 and 2007 to homes, residents, businesses and more importantly the loss of life was at enormous cost to the economy - far greater than the savings that can be made by the action the EA proposes.

Where is the EA business plan for this poorly thought out scheme?  Are the EA moving into the property rental market?  What costs will be incurred in updating these properties for rental?  What costs will be incurred in maintaining these properties?  What expenses will be incurred?  What happens when tenants renege on their rents?  What health and safety issues are involved with renting properties by deep water?

It is naive to say that this is a good way of saving money.

In 2008 a meeting at the House of Commons Committee Rooms agreed that selling these properties was wrong.  What has changed?

Why are the EA employing summer and relief lockkeepers through a recruitment agency and not through their own HR Department?  This must be at huge extra cost. 

Prevention is cheaper than cure.  Having almost abandoned river maintenance, will it take another flood disaster to focus the EA?  Not to replace permanent resident lockkeepers is madness and will extensively increase the risk of flooding.

The River Thames system relies on prompt and accurate weir adjustment at any time, a control process that will be put at risk by the EA proposals. 

The River Thames is our national heritage and we need to look after it and manage it correctly or we will suffer the cost and consequence of increased flooding. 

It is essential that there are permanent residential lockkeepers onsite at all times.

Please let me know what you intend to do regarding this appallingly bad decision that the EA have made.

Yours sincerely

Gillie Bolton (Mrs)

Letter from Mr J Wanamaker - 18/10/2011

Dear Sir

Once again the lockkeepers’ cottages are under attack from the Environment Agency.

In 2008 the lock cottages were saved from being sold because of the huge swell of public support.  Now the EA intend to rent the lock cottages out as they become vacant and not replace permanent resident lockkeepers as they leave.

Whether you are a boater, a walker, a home owner or just an occasional visitor to the River Thames the job the lockkeepers do is vital.  Officially, they are not on duty 24/7 but in the event of a problem they invariably turn out – Do we hear them protest – NO!

The lockkeepers’ legacy is threatened yet again – Do we hear them protest about that – NO – because they have been threatened with the sack if they say anything to the media.  So it is up to all of us to help the lockkeepers and save part of  our national heritage.

If there is flooding at night, who turns out to change the weirs?  Who maintains the beautiful lock gardens and paths?  Who helps novice boaters in trouble?  Who is on hand to combat vandalism?  Who is on hand to deal with emergencies such as boats on fire? 

Without resident lockkeepers the whole ambience of the river will be at risk.  At times of flooding the risks will be far greater.

This penny pinching scheme to reduce the number of resident lockkeepers is nothing short of vandalism by the bean counters.  If economies have to be made and, I agree that they do, the EA big bosses in their shiny glass offices and their minions concocting manic schemes on their computers must be first to go.  Front line staff, resident lockkeepers and river maintenance workers must be protected at ALL costs.

Yours faithfully

Jim Wanamaker

Windsor Express 21/10/2011

Windsor Observer 21/10/2011

The Times - 22/10/2011

e-mail from TMBA - 24/10/2011

On 24 Oct 2011, at 15:19, Tony Riley wrote:

> Hello Ewan,

> I would be grateful for any help you might be able to provide in publishing a link to my website www.tmba.org.uk

> You will find quite a lot of information about our aims and objectives

> on the site including several discussion papers like:

> http://www.tmba.org.uk/?page_id=143  and  http://www.tmba.org.uk/?page_id=428

> Let me know if you need any further info.

> Thanks and regards

> Tony Riley

> Administrator - Thames MotorBoaters Association

Motor Boats Monthly 11/10/2011 (external link) http://www.motorboatsmonthly.co.uk/news/529890/ea-decides-to-rent-out-lock-keepers-houses

Letters in the Times 28/10/2011

 

Lock keepers - Key facts and news