As owners and operators of the weirs on the River Thames, we are responsible for keeping them in good working order and safe for our staff to operate and maintain. We regularly carry out engineering surveys to identify areas on each weir that may need repair or replacement.
We are replacing the paddle and rymer weirs because they can cause inherent long-term health problems. They can also have operational issues, be time consuming and potentially dangerous to operate.
The new weirs will be operated more rapidly, safely and effectively. They will preserve the existing biodiversity and appearance of the river.The proposed work has been controversial and very unpopular - much criticism levelled at the expense of replacing weirs that have worked for over a hundred years:
Villagers in Appleton and Eaton claim motorising the weir would be a waste of money and would removed a much-loved element of local history. “It will be a tragedy when they are replaced.
“Apart from the initial installation cost of an automated weir the annual running costs to provide power to the electrical systems and maintenance costs will be a small fortune.
“But now the Environment Agency seems bent on spending unnecessary millions to achieve the same result.
“It doesn’t make any commercial sense whatsoever.”And, with work soon to start on replacing the Northmoor Weir, we witnessed on this evening's local news - BBC South today - Tory MP Nicola Blackwood echoing similar views; arguing that she couldn't justify the expense to her constituents at a time of austerity, and complaining that no proper cost/ benefit analysis had been done.
Now, as anyone who follows the EU closely knows, anything to do with the environment, rivers etc will ring EU alarm bells - of the gigantic brass variety - particularly when "preserving the existing biodiversity and appearance of the river". And so it proves. Not only does river management come under EU Directive 2007/60/EC which:
...now requires Member States to assess if all water courses and coast lines are at risk from flooding, to map the flood extent and assets and humans at risk in these areas and to take adequate and coordinated measures to reduce this flood riskBut more specifically, as this Paddle & Rymer Weirs Replacement Programme Scoping Consultation Document makes clear the weirs fall foul of this EU required regulation (my emphasis):
The need for the project
The operation of paddle and rymer weirs is labour intensive. The Environment Agency has recognised that there are long-term health and operational issues associated with the operation of these paddle and rymer weirs, despite measures having been taken over the years to reduce the risks. A manual handling assessment (Williams 2009) concluded that there is a high risk of injury when operating these nine weirs because the guideline operational weights to be lifted/lowered as detailed in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 are significantly surpassed. The issues were highlighted during the 2007 floods, and could mean that the weirs cannot be operated effectively during periods of flooding.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 which is based on European Directive 90/269/EEC.
Unsurprisingly all of this goes unmentioned by the various local media outlets and not least also by Ms Blackwood. As a Tory A-lister - her eye is on promotion within the Cameron set - it simply wouldn't do to point out inconvenient EU truths.