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Thames Flood Risk Up

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Environment agency proposed 2 hour response target for Thames Locks and Weirs will increase risk of flooding and endanger lives says GMB.

The costs and risks associated with replacing residential keepers with inexperienced agency workers have not been properly considered and will lead to a worse and more costly service says GMB.

GMB, the union for water workers, is to again step up a public campaign to alert the public of our member’s grave concerns on new proposals by the Environment Agency to end residential lock keeping along the River Thames. Last year GMB led a campaign to stop a proposal to rent out lock keepers houses to raise revenue. See notes to editors for GMB press release.

The Environment Agency has again made another proposal to end residential lock keeping in a new feasibility study. Currently for residential lock and weir keepers living on the river the response time to localised incidents is around 15 minutes. In contrast the feasibility study proposes a target of 2 hours.

GMB has already submitted a formal response to the company and will continue to resist any imposition or changes to current arrangements.

Frank Minal, GMB regional officer, said “This new feasibility study is flawed as it fails to properly identify costs and does not take into account information critical to public safety and flood prevention.

An examination of the study shows that the Environment Agency's claims of a £256,000 saving are vacuous. In particular the data provided fails to consider the last 12 months inclement weather and the potential for continued periods of draught or heavy rainfall which was identified as a major issue by the Environment Agency's Chairman, Lord Smith of Finsbury, earlier this week.

As far back as 2011 GMB offered suggestions which would have saved the Environment Agency £200,000 whilst improving frontline services and flood defence capabilities. These suggestions have been ignored.

It is clear that over the course of the last 12 months that rapid response times by residential lock and weir keepers have saved lives.  The proposed 2 hour response target will put safety on the river at high risk and increase the risks of properties being flooded.

The costs and risks associated with replacing highly skilled residential keepers with inexperienced agency workers have not been properly considered. The Environment Agency's proposals would lead to a worse service, which cost more money to operate. They are not in the interests of those living near or using the Thames. ”


Contact: Frank Minal 07713 079 930 or 01256 308 080 or GMB Press Office 07921 289 880 or 07974 251 823

Notes to Editors

GMB press release Monday 19th March 2012


It is likely that the current dry period will be followed by the sort of heavy rainfall which devastated the Thames flood plains in 2003 and 2007 and if this plan is implemented response times to 'out of hours incidents' will go from the current 10-15 minutes to 2 hours leading to serious flooding of homes

GMB, the union for staff at the Environment Agency (EA), is to consult members over the recent announcement by the EA that it will ignore objections from GMB and various Thames User Groups, and that it will go ahead with the renting out of five vacant lock-keepers houses with a review next year.

Clive Smith, GMB Organiser, speaking on behalf of both Resident and Relief Lock and Weir Keepers said, “These decisions are absolutely critical to those living within the Thames flood plains, those using the river recreationally or whose businesses depend on it. It is vital that any decision is based on fact, not fiction, yet that the Environment Agency has failed to provide accurate information.

Those living along the Thames will be aware that the likelihood of prolonged heavy rainfall, similar to 2003 and 2007, has been increased by a series of dry winters. The EA proposals would replace experienced Resident Keepers who are on site within minutes and make decisions based on years of "reading the water", with inexperienced staff from other departments, with little or no experience of water level management, who would hopefully be on site within two hours, if roads are not impassable.

GMB full time officials will meet with members of staff over the next two weeks to discuss the continuation on the campaign against these proposals. Since the first announcement of the policy in September 2010 the EA statements on the subject have been misleading and inaccurate.

However, in 2008 political pressure from all parties lead the EA to withdraw similar proposals when they conceded that a full residential service was essential for river safety. If this was true then it is still true.

GMB believes that EA claims on essential savings fail to stand up to scrutiny. Projected rental income has failed to take into account the basic internal condition of the cottages, as well as periods when the properties remain vacant. Though managers are keen to point out the savings they will make by freezing resident positions they have failed to include in their forecast the costs of employing additional relief keepers. The net effect will be an increase in employment costs not the £230,000 saving the EA has claimed.

Lock and weir keepers stand by their claim that the plan is unsafe and that it has the potential to put lives and properties at risk. The Environment Agency claims that these changes will not affect their ability to manage water levels as they have over 250 employees on standby. These claims are not creditable as there is not a single employee on standby who is trained or experienced in setting weirs to prevent flooding. It is resident keepers who respond to over ninety five per cent of all out of hours incidents within minutes and are obliged to remain contactable through the night, even on days off.

The lack of rainfall over the last year makes the concerns raised by GMB even more critical, as it becomes increasingly likely that the dry period will be followed by the sort of heavy rainfall which devastated the Thames flood plains in 2003 and 2007. If the plan is implemented response times to 'out of hours incidents' will go from the current 10-15 minutes to 2 hours.

The fact that the EA is using the current economic climate as a smoke screen is a disgrace. These proposals will destroy a valuable service and result in no real savings and GMB believes they should be scrapped as they were in 2008 following the campaign by GMB then."

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