The Environment Agency (EA) are intending to go back on their 2008 agreement to keep resident lock keepers at all 45 Thames locks.
In 2008 the EA announced plans to dispose of a number of lock houses along the Thames, with the consequent disappearance of resident lock and weir keepers. History is now repeating itself.
In October the EA announced that they intend to go back on this commitment by stating that currently vacant houses at Grafton, Cleeve, Sunbury and Chertsey, for which resident keepers had not been appointed, would be put on the market for rental. In addition, when houses at Goring, Whitchurch and Blakes become vacant later in the year, they would also be leased, to be joined by another two over the next few years.
We understand that the vacant resident posts associated with these houses have been “frozen”, with non-resident staff to take over. Although it is well recognised that the EA faces serious financial challenges, it is NABO’s view that the employment of resident lock-keepers remains of crucial importance to the safety and well-being of the river. It is a cost that must be paid.
The Thames User Group, Navigation (TUGn) and other Thames societies are actively challenging these plans and NABO is pleased to be associated with this campaign. We call upon the Agency to shelve the rental proposal and reinstate the fundamental principal of a resident lock-keeper at every lock.
In 2008, many organisations and individuals, including NABO, opposed the removal of resident keepers as they believed it would be detrimental to the safety of those who travel on and live nearby the river and that it would alter the character and traditions of the Thames. This argument has not changed for 2011.
After a substantial campaign in 2008 involving a wide range of organisations and with the support of many MPs, the EA agreed not to proceed with lock house disposal while retaining a lock and weir keeper at each of the 45 lock sites.
It looks like we have to fight the battle all over again.