Vacant properties will be let out in a bid to cover funding gap

It’s been revealed that the Environment Agency (EA) is planning to let out vacant lock-keepers’ houses.

In a letter to the Waterway Working Group for the non-tidal Thames, Howard Davidson, director of the south east EA, explained that letting agents were invited to four houses on Monday with a view to renting out the properties.

Matt Carter, waterways manager, told Motor Boats Monthly: “Government funding has been cut and we must now look at ways to generate income, so we can continue to provide the best possible service to the public.

Carter said the move wouldn’t have “any impact on our current workforce or the round-the-clock service we deliver to our customers,” adding that the duties carried out by residents would now be the responsibility of other lock and weir keepers and residents nearby.

Tony Riley, administrator of the Thames MotorBoaters Association who published the letter breaking the news, said the move is like getting rid of the Beefeaters from the Tower of London; he believes the River Thames is a national asset. He said, “These interminable funding issues need to be resolved so the Thames can be maintained in the best possible way, benefiting all who enjoy the river.”
 
Recruitment for vacant resident posts at these houses has been frozen for now. “This decision does not affect our existing employees and we will not be asking any employees to move house,” explains Davidson’s letter.

“We have been managing Chertsey Lock site using other staff for some years now and we will take this approach at other sites where we rent the house,” Davidson wrote. “We are confident that because we will still have at least 36 residents, and over 20 relief lock-keepers, plus other waterway staff and operations delivery as back up, we will be able to operate the locks and weirs without any risks to safety or water level management.”

The EA revealed that income generated by letting out nine properties, combined with money saved from not filling each vacancy, would generate around £416,000 each year.

The vacant houses at Grafton (pictured), Cleeve, Sunbury and Cherstey will be the first to be let out. When the houses at Goring, Whitchurch and Blakes become vacant later this year, they will also be rented out. It’s expected two more properties will be vacated by the end of 2013, making a total of nine rental properties.

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