I DO despair sometimes when hearing about the Environment Agency’s plans. The current proposal not to replace resident lock keepers along the non-tidal Thames and to rent out their vacant homes – including those at Chertsey and Sunbury Locks – is a case in point.
Yes, I know, finances are under pressure with every public body and, yes, they need to carefully consider how to spread ever-thinner resources around – but I just don’t accept the argument that such a decision will not increase the risk of serious flooding on the river.
The GMB union, which represents many EA employees including lock keepers, has declared that a decision not to replace resident keepers will increase the risk of flooding because, in the event of serious rainfall upriver, the floodwaters have to be handled by opening weirs in a particular order. And if EA staff are not on site then there is an increased risk that weirs will not be opened in a timely fashion and the water will have nowhere to go but over the banks.
That claim was rubbished by EA area manager Innes Jones who described it as ‘scaremongering and irresponsible.’ (I wonder if Mr Jones lives on the banks of the Thames?)
He denied fewer lock keepers would increase the risk of flooding. He said: “It is a reasonable concern but I have lots of staff on the Thames – 450 – and when we have a flood on the Thames we have lots of notice because it is a big river. Weirs are always fully open long before the flood water arrives”.
In return, a GMB official argues that there are only 50 members of EA staff who are trained to work on weirs. He said: “In the event of flooding weirs have to be opened in an exact order and if people cannot get to the locations there will be problems.”
It’s not only home owners who live beside the river who could be at risk – out of control floodwaters could potentially threaten boats moored all the way down the river – not to mention activities like sailing and rowing.
The Association of Thames Yacht Clubs – an organisation representing 50 clubs along the river – has urged the Environment Agency to think again about its proposals.
At a meeting of the ATYC at Windsor Yacht Club on Wednesday, October 19, club representatives unanimously called for a moratorium on the plans for 12 months and backed association officials to put forward an alternative financial plan together with suggestions on how the Agency can save money to fill a black hole in funding.
After the meeting, chairman Michael Shefras said: “We believe there are other ways of saving money to avoid the draconian measures being proposed by the Environment Agency.
“If we have a bad winter I cannot see how floods could be managed if the proposals go ahead. I hope common sense will prevail.”
Everyone needs to make their views known as strongly as possible in the hope that the Agency will back away from what could be a disastrous move.
If you live near the river, have a boat on it or take part in leisure activities on our stretch of the Thames (between Bell Weir and Teddington Locks, why not come along to the next meeting of the Thames River Users’ Group at the Thames Motor Yacht Club in Hampton Court on Tuesday, November 1at 8pm, when an EA official will be present, to let them know your views.