Reading West MP Martin Salter has returned to the fray in the campaign against the Environment Agency’s plans to dispose of residential lock-keeper’s homes along the Thames. These plans were put on hold in June following an intervention by the then Waterways Minister Phil Woolas, who came down to Cookham Lock to meet the lock-keepers for himself. The meeting was organised by Mr Salter and the Maidenhead MP Theresa May.

However the E.A are set to recommence their Lock House Review in the New Year and Mr. Salter has written this week to the new Waterways Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies MP to warn him that the loss of residential lock-keepers will put lives at risk and to encourage him to put pressure on the E.A to drop their plans altogether.

In his letter Mr Salter said:

“I am writing, as promised, to update you on developments over the Environment Agency’s Lock House Review which proposes to evict 22 Thames lock and weir keepers from their homes and reduce the permanent lock and weir staff from 76 to 60. These proposals have generated massive public opposition and have been considered as dangerous and short-sighted by river users, waterways professionals and by almost every Thames Valley MP”.

He continued:

“There has been no proper assessment of the increased dangers to river users including boaters, anglers and walkers as a result of the loss of residential staff. I am currently compiling a dossier of the number of life threatening incidents which resident lock-keepers attended over the course of a year that have occurred at the 22 locks and weirs which will be unstaffed outside normal working hours. I and many other Thames Valley MPs have no doubt that, because of increased flooding and the dangerous nature of Thames weir pools, lives will be put at risk should these proposals be implemented. A resident lock-keeper can often rescue a person in the water or a boat swept onto a weir by a flood in a  matter of minutes whereas relief staff on call-out may well arrive too late to prevent a tragedy”.

Mr Salter also pointed out that there was very little likelihood of the E.A achieving any real savings through the disposal of the 22 lock houses and that, in any case, it was wrong to be reducing the standard of service to river users at a time when their navigation budgets have been boosted by both substantial increases in government grant in aid and inflation busting 12% hike in navigation licenses.

He said:

“The £200,000 or so of savings are fictional. No account has been taken of the amount of extra work carried out by resident lock and weir keepers which would have to be done in future by standby contractors or operational staff called out on premium rates of pay….. On top of this, boaters on the Thames are currently paying for an inflation busting 12% hike in their navigation licenses each year for three years. To put it simply the E.A is proposing to treat their staff appallingly, to endanger river users and to charge more money for providing a worse service”.

Mr Salter pointed out that the E.A had been strongly criticised in the recent Pitt Review of the 2007 floods for failing to give adequate flood warnings to 448 homes as a result of a breakdown in their telemetry systems. Part of the E.A’s case to reduce the number of resident lock-keepers was their reliance on a headquarters based telemetry system!