'Flood risk' with Thames lock keepers cuts

Flooding along the River Thames The Environment Agency plans to cut 1,500 posts nationwide

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The risk of flooding along the River Thames may increase if the Environment Agency cuts the number of lock keepers, a union has warned.

The GMB union says it understands "substantial" cuts are planned.

But the agency has insisted any changes would not affect its ability to respond to flooding incidents.

There are 43 resident keepers along the Thames - helping to control water levels - with about the same number working between different sites.

The union says it thought plans to reduce staff numbers had been rejected, but now believes the proposals are back on the table.

'Running the river'

Frank Minal, from the GMB, says: "I think the argument is if you take away the facility of residential lock keepers, what impact is it going to have?

"The lock keepers have been wading around in 3ft of water helping local communities and local people around their localities and that is the sort of thing that would, to all intents and purposes, take a lot longer to respond to [if cuts are made].

"At the end of the day, they are the face of the government at the coalface running the river."

The Environment Agency (EA) has said 1,500 posts nationwide are likely to go this year as it seeks to save money.

It says the detail of how different teams will be affected has not yet been finalised.

In a statement the agency says: "The planned reductions in posts will not affect the Environment Agency's ability to respond to flooding incidents and the Environment Agency will minimise the impact on other front line services through the changes."

The EA said it was unable to comment further at this stage but says it will engage with unions, staff and customers over the coming months.

The GMB says it will fight what it describes as "disgraceful and unpopular changes".

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