Another ‘Disastrous’ EA Report
Louis Jankel reports on the ongoing saga of Thames lock-keepers
Since 2008, the Environment Agency has been toying with the concept of replacing River Thames residential lock- and weir-keepers with ‘runners’. The justification is that the EA thinks it can save lots of money by letting out the cottages. After much to-ing and fro-ing, with almost unanimous objection from users, a study group was instituted to justify the policy, using the four (out of 45) lock cottages already having non-waterway tenants. After two years, the EA report was published with ridiculous figures. Sadly, the remaining two of the original four users, who were participants on the study group, inexplicitly agreed with the report and its content.
The lock- and weir-keepers are represented by the GMB union and they were seriously upset by the glaring errors in the original study report. The GMB's own report casts aspersions on the EA staff who produced the study report. The EA has engaged an outside body to effect arbitration and produce a true and reliable set of data. To offer a balanced view, the GMB report, which will be included as evidence for the arbitration, has been made available to NABO. The summary and conclusions are given below. In these long winter evenings, reading the GMB report may bring you a greater understanding of the problems.
The damage that the report will cause is significant, as the powers-that-be are bound to incorporate the wildly ridiculous figures in intelligence gathering for the CRT viability plan. CRT can use the report to justify cost savings by elimination of lock-keepers in their entirety (CRT has no residential lock-keepers on any of its rivers). It is an important topic because losing residential lock- and weir-keepers reverses 160 years of history of the River Thames – just about the entire leisure boating period.
Section 1: Executive Summary
1.1. This report questions the River Thames Lock House Study Group Report and the EA’s intention to rent out nine lock houses on the River Thames to private tenants.
1.2. A number of concerns are raised in terms of safety issues, financial statements and questions around the viability of the study.
1.3. There are huge and far reaching implications regarding the safety of river users if further houses are rented out for private use. A reduction in the number of residential lock-keepers will inevitably lead to more dangerous situations and potential loss of life.
1.4. The proposed two-hour response target to localised incidents, compared to the current time of 15 minutes, will significantly increase the risk of flooding. Residential lock-keepers are on-hand to respond rapidly to rising water levels.
1.5. The EA’s claim of saving £32,000 in employment costs for each post are misleading and fails to reflect the true financial cost.
1.6. A comprehensive study of all 45 locks along the upper and lower Thames, rather than the very narrow study of eight locks, is necessary to make a detailed and conclusive analysis.
1.7. Dr Downward, a water management expert at Kingston University, has stated that: “The Lower Thames has been well-managed this winter. In my experience there is no substitute for local knowledge and having an instinctive feel for how the river flows.”
Section 7: Conclusions
7.1. GMB maintains that if the information, presented in this response, had been presented to the Lock House Study Group, the final outcome from the report would have been very different. The EA report does not provide a true picture of residential lock-keeping. It does not use all of the available information and uses selective data to draw incorrect conclusions about the relative costs of residential lock-keepers.
7.2. The EA’s view that there would not be an impact on the service from removing residential lock-keepers and increasing response times to incidents to two hours is simply untrue. In fact this will have a potential impact on loss of life which should be of grave concern to the EA. The EA needs to undertake a global study of 45 locks to ensure it does not underestimate the impact of removing residential lock-keepers, with serious consequences.
7.3. Rather than working backwards to achieve a pre-determined outcome, we call on the EA to work comprehensively with GMB and the Users Group jointly. Together we must ensure that any research is fair, untainted and fully representative of the impact of removing residential lock-keeping from the Thames. It is clear that without a more comprehensive empirical study, a coach and horses will be driven through the EA River Thames Lock House Study Report as it stands. The EA has failed to appreciate and use the most valuable commodity on the River Thames, its lock-keeping staff. GMB fails to understand why the EA has been so opposed to a joint approach or considering the representations made by staff during the study period.
7.4. In Lord Smith’s initial response letter dated 9 July 2014 (Appendix C) he mentions the concerns and allegations made by the GMB towards the EA regarding the credibility of the report and that the EA “take such allegations very seriously”. He also points out that the EA “is very keen to work with you and your colleagues to complete a full risk assessment”.
7.5. GMB was pleased to hear Lord Smith make this statement and we call on his successor, Sir Philip Dilley, to instruct EA managers to launch a comprehensive and open investigation into the activities of the EA regarding the Lock House Study Group Report and to order an independent audit of the figures and data that have been supplied to the River Thames Lock House Study Group. While this is happening we call on Sir Philip Dilley to put on hold any decisions
regarding residential lock houses until the investigation has been concluded and the results published.
7.6. GMB and its members will co-operate and contribute to this investigation.