A working party set up after controversial plans to rent out lock-keepers'cottages along the Thames has concluded there was "no operational impact of not having a resident ‘keeper on site."

The Lock House Study group report says not having a resident lock- and weir-keeper on site did not affect the Environment Agency's (EA's) ability to manage water levels or heath and safety risks.

But it does say not having a resident lock and weir keeper does have an impact on the overall look and feel of a site, especially through the winter months.

As previously reported by River Thames News, the study has already prompted a strong protest from the GMB. The union says the study is flawed and it does not recognise it or its findings. The union was not consulted by the study group. Read our previous story HERE

The report, seen by RTN, said the lack of resident on-site staff did affect the ‘look and feel’ of locks but said sites without a resident lock ‘keeper and with a rent-paying tenant living in the lock house, made a valuable financial contribution to the EA navigation budget.

The study group was set up in 2012 by the EA with representatives of Thames boating organisations following protests from boaters and calls in the House of Commons for the original plan to let an inital nine houses to be abandoned.

A freeze on no more than five rented houses was imposed while the study group compared the financial and operational performance of four locks with a resident lock-keeper to four of those without.

The pairs of sites studied by the group were:( sites with a resident lock keeper first in each case) :
Pair 1 Northmoor and Grafton
Pair 2 Benson and Goring
Pair 3 Old Windsor and Chertsey
Pair 4 Molesey and Sunbury

The EA says at the "non-resident" locks all the duties normally carried out by a resident lock keeper are carried out by full-time non-resident ‘keepers instead.

The report recommends a further assessment of the operational and financial risks and benefits associated with the replacement plan at a series of sites along a section of the River Thames. The agency should involve users and staff in the assessment. It further recommends the EA should address the possible deteroration in the look and feel of sites with out a resident. The report is currently with the EA chairman for consideration.

Among the report's other findings are:

* There is a net financial benefit to the Environment Agency of renting lock houses at sites without a resident lock and weir keeper.
* Income from let lock houses varied from £6,000 to £33,000.
* There was no clear impact on service provided against EA's Thames Customer Charter standards at locks without a resident lock and weir keeper. It admits, though, that boating organisations have refusd to recognise the service levels contained in the latst 2014 charter.

The GMB union is angry that incidents in which lock-keepers went to the aid of people in danger near, rather than at, the lock do not feature in the report.

See comments by the co-chairman of the study group - and a member of the group also explains why he quit in protest. Link HERE

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Story dated July 14th 2014

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