MORE than 100 people turned up to a meeting of the River Users’ Group, section eight (RUG8) at the Thames Motor Yacht Club at Hampton Court last Tuesday (November 1) and sent a clear message to the Environment Agency demanding a rethink on its proposals to freeze the recruitment of lock keepers and to rent out lock side houses left empty by retiring keepers.
There appears to be a strong groundswell of opinion all the way along the non-tidal Thames against the plan, which the Agency says has been forced on it because of Government cuts in funding that has led to an £0.8million shortfall in its operating budget.
Mike Shefras and his colleagues at RUG8 are putting forward an alternative plan, which suggests other ways in which the Agency could make savings, including further reducing back office staff.
Now everyone understands the reality of the economic situation – we all know you can’t spend money you haven’t got if you want to stay solvent.
But it seems to me that the Agency is gambling with the safety of people who live by the river and who use it for their recreation. The EA dismisses claims that not having resident lock keepers will increase the risk of flooding. The Agency argues that it has a team of relief keepers – all weir-trained – who will be promptly dispatched to the weirs along the Thames to lift the sluices well ahead of the arrival of any flood water coming down from the upper reaches.
But what happens if there is a major problem with travelling – a bad accident on the motorway which closes the road; a gale that blocks roads with fallen trees or a flu epidemic that lays those relief keepers low?
Severe flooding is a risk if they insist on going down this route.
Resident lock keepers, apart from expert knowledge of their stretches of the river, are also well placed to protect their locks and weirs from vandalism – there have already been examples of metal theft from EA yards – how long before the wide boys turn their attention to the weirs?
I know you can’t legislate for every eventuality but I do hope common sense prevails and that the Environment Agency – and the Government – listen to the genuine concerns of their constituents.
If you’re as worried about this as I am, please write either to your local MP or to the Environment Agency at their Reading HQ – or preferably both.
MANY thanks to the lovely lady from Staines (who did not want to be named in Riverwatch) who contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in having a look at some old magazines about the river – called simply Thames – that she was about to throw out.
I took them off her hands and they made fascinating reading. One issue, dated October 1949, had the following snippet from its section entitled Clubs and Waterways:
“A cable of greeting went to its first Commodore, Mr A H Roberts of Weybridge, now on business in Pakistan, when Desborough Sailing Club, with headquarters on D’Oyly Carte Island, celebrated its first birthday.
“The Commodore, Mr T Ellice-Clark of Shepperton upheld the club’s handicap class…he said the club now had 137 members and 70 boats.”
I wonder how many current members of Desborough remember those days?