Flood fears over lock keeper cottage rent plan

Empty houses belonging to the Environment Agency at nine locks and weirs along the River Thames are to be rented out to the public.

The riverside cottages in Surrey, Oxfordshire and Berkshire were previously occupied by lock keepers.

The GMB union says losing lock keepers could lead to a slower response time and possible flooding.

The Environment Agency says it needed to make savings, and other lock keepers could perform the same job.

Houses vacant

The decision to rent out up to nine residential properties formerly used by resident lock and weir keepers along the Thames was taken by the Environment Agency on Friday.

Lock keepers' houses at seven of the locks in question are currently vacant, or will be vacant within the next few months.

The houses are in Grafton, Cleve, Goring and Whitchurch in Oxfordshire, Blakes Lock in Berkshire and Chertsey and Sunbury in Surrey.

Environment Agency waterways manager Matt Carter said there had been an an £800,000 reduction in government funding for waterways operations.

He said at Chertsey, Cleeve, Grafton and Sunbury, there had been no resident lock or weir keeper for some time.

"Resident lock and weir keepers are not on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are not obliged to respond to any incidents that happen outside of their normal working hours," he said.

"Instead, we have a pool of more than 250 employees who are on call around the clock, and whose job it is to respond rapidly to incidents, wherever they may occur on the river."

He said renting out the cottages would bring an extra £416,000 to the waterways budget.

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