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River users and Environment Agency extend lock house study

"We believe this is a sensible and prudent move that balances our need to stabilise our funding position with the concerns of river users

A joint study group set up to examine the future of lock sites on the River Thames is to extend its review by a year (until the end of March 2014), the Environment Agency and river user representatives announced.

The group, made up of boater representatives from the Thames User Group (navigation) and Environment Agency managers, is examining the management and operation of a number of lock sites on the River Thames to help understand the implications of renting vacant lock houses rather than housing resident lock keepers.

Environment Agency Chairman, Lord Smith, agreed to form the group after river user representatives expressed concern at plans to rent a number of vacant lock houses in 2011. Lord Smith has capped the number of lock houses to be rented at five whilst further study takes place.

The group said it had agreed at a meeting last week to extend the timescale of the study by a year as valuable information is still being gathered to support the most effective way to manage the navigation in the interests of all river users and local communities.

Michael Shefras MBE, co-ordinator of the Thames User Group and joint chairman of the study group, said:
"I am conscious that from the user side we represent the interests of all those who navigate on the Thames and the countless number who could be affected should control of the water diminish through management of the lock system.

"Whilst we are concentrating on a small number of locks to get a proper understanding of the financials covering these locks we are cognisant of the many social and practical reasons to have the lock houses and our study will not ignore any of the sites.

"The extension of twelve months will give us room to properly assess the complete scene."
Simon Hughes, Environment Agency manager and joint chairman of the study group, said:
"During a meeting of the joint study group last week we agreed that more information was needed before any conclusions could be drawn on the future of our lock sites. We have therefore extended the lock house study group for a further year.

"We believe this is a sensible and prudent move that balances our need to stabilise our funding position with the concerns of river users and we will continue to keep Environment Agency waterways staff, their union representatives, interested MPs and our customer representatives fully informed of progress."