SO, FINALLY, a small spark of common sense appears to have appeared at the Environment Agency – with the news that they have put on hold their controversial plans to sell off ten of the 57 lock-keepers cottages on the River Thames.
A storm of protest greeted the news – announced in April this year – about the proposed sell-off as a cost-cutting measure and I’ve received dozens of calls and emails from readers who are horrified at the way our dedicated and hard-working lock keepers face the threat of eviction from their homes just to save the Agency a few bob. (The same agency that’s just spent several million pounds building a new office for itself in Wallingford).
Now, after representations from MPs with constituencies bordering the river, from local councillors and hundreds of complaints from members of the public, the EA has announced that it is suspending plans for the sell-off until after a second, more detailed review which is expected to take six months.
Four lock-keepers’ homes on our stretch of the Thames were earmarked for the axe – Bell Weir at Egham, Penton Hook, Chertsey and Sunbury – and local folk have been quick to condemn the proposal.
The lock-keepers themselves have been banned from talking to the press by the Environment Agency but Susan Drewett, whose husband Stephen is the lock-keeper at Sunbury, is one of those helping to mount a campaign to get the Agency permanently to drop the idea of the sell-off.
Mrs Drewett is appalled by the way she and her family have been treated by the EA.
“We were told that our house at Sunbury was one of those on the list but they just didn’t seem to have thought anything through before making the announcement.
“We asked if they were going to increase my husband’s salary to enable us to buy another house and they said: ‘we don’t know yet.’
“Then we asked if we could buy the lock-keeper’s cottage ourselves. Again they said they hadn’t considered that option. We asked if we could rent it and they said: ‘possibly.’ But when we asked whether they’d be looking for a market rent or a lower one because we were staff they just said they hadn’t thought about that yet.
“The whole thing was just frankly insulting.”
The Drewetts have been in charge of Sunbury lock for five years but, before that, Stephen was a relief keeper who covered absences at three locks – Molesey, Sunbury and Shepperton – for 23 years. He’s always been passionate about the river.
Susan said: “He loves the outdoor life and meeting people who use the lock. Like all the lock-keepers, he understands the river and wants to ensure that it gets the best possible care. It’s his life. This plan is just wrong for the river.”
Mrs Drewett believes that the EA was surprised by the depth of feeling against the sell-off plan – and is now hoping that opposition will calm down while they undertake their ‘further review.’ If you want to make your views known, visit the excellent website www.saveourservice.org which explains in detail what the lock-keepers do and why it’s vital that they live on site.
There is an online petition for all who are opposed to the sell-off and, frankly, the more of you who sign up to it, the better.
Remember, the Environment Agency have only suspended plans for this sell-off. Let’s leave them in absolutely no doubt how we feel about their penny-pinching treatment of some excellent employees…