OFFICIALS from the Environment Agency have insisted health and safety issues mean they must update a weir, after an MP stepped into the row.

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood wrote to the Health & Safety Executive for clarification on whether Northmoor Weir, near Eaton – one of the last of its type on the River Thames – had to be replaced on safety grounds.

But an HSE spokesman said: “It’s not within HSE’s regulatory remit to make decisions on replacing this weir.”

The Environment Agency said it had a legal duty to its employees to replace one of the few remaining paddle and rymer weirs with a modern motorised weir.

But local residents, who consider the 115-year-old weir to be of historic value, say the change would be a waste of money.

Innes Jones, the agency’s area manager, said: “We now have three separate reports warning of long-term health issues for our lock-keepers in continuing to operate these weirs.

“As a responsible employer, we must not ignore this advice. We already ensure our lock staff receive the best manual handling training, but that cannot ensure their long-term health when operating the weirs.”

The law requires employers to do whatever is practicable to ensure the health, safety and welfare of staff.

Northmoor Weir is one of five remaining paddle and rymer weirs, which are unique to the Thames.

The weirs are operated by placing large wooden posts – the rymers – into the bottom of the river. To control the water flow, paddles of different heights are placed against the rymers.

Of the 44 weirs on the Thames, nine were worked by paddle and rymer but four have now been updated.

Eaton resident Mike Hill, of the Northmoor Weir Campaign, said: “There’s a health and safety risk in all aspects of life but training a lock-keeper is the most cost-effective way of dealing with it. Millions of pounds could be misspent in the name of flood protection and health and safety.

“There are growing numbers of people from Appleton, Eaton and Northmoor who want the EA to redirect their flood budget allocation to where the risk is greatest.”

Work at Northmoor, which is expected to cost £2.5m, will begin in March.