An MP has reignited the lock-keeper debate by sending a scathing letter attacking the EA's proposals

Martin Salter, MP for Reading West, has stepped up pressure on the new waterways minister, Huw Irranca-Davis MP, by claiming that the Environment Agency’s proposed Thames lock-house sell-off would “put lives at risk”.

In a letter sent to Mr Irranca-Davis regarding the plan to sell or let out 22 lock-keeper cottages on the Thames and reduce permanent lock and weir staff from 76 to 60, Mr Salter said: “There has been no proper assessment of the increased dangers to river users including boaters, anglers and walkers as a result of the loss of residential staff.

“I am currently compiling a dossier of the number of life threatening incidents which resident lock-keepers attended over the course of a year that have occurred at the 22 locks and weirs which will be unstaffed outside normal working hours.

“Lives will be put at risk should these proposals be implemented. A resident lock-keeper can often rescue a person in the water or a boat swept onto a weir by a flood in a matter of minutes whereas relief staff on call-out may well arrive too late to prevent a tragedy.”

Mr Salter also poured cold water on claims by the EA that the move would save the navigation authority a substantial amount of money. He said: “The £200,000 or so of savings are fictional. No account has been taken of the amount of extra work carried out by resident lock and weir keepers which would have to be done in future by standby contractors or operational staff called out on premium rates of pay.”