Re-think urged on Norfolk fire cover cuts
Fire chiefs were urged to think again on plans to cut the level of cover in Norfolk amid fears lives would be put at risk and the impact of proposals for thousands of new homes in the county had not been taken into account.
Around 80 firefighters from across the county took part in a demonstra-tion outside County Hall yesterday to protest at the planned changes which would see the number of crews reduced from five to four when Bethel Street station is replaced by the new Carrow Station, in Trowse in 2011, and shifting a full- time crew from Great Yarmouth to Gorleston to replace the retained cover.
Six retained stations – Cromer, Dereham, Diss, Fakenham, Sandringham, and Wymondham – will each lose two firefighters and there will be new smaller rescue vehicles, while a new second station is planned at King’s Lynn.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service bosses are looking to save £1.5m with a new safety plan which will see 42 posts lost across the county, including 24 in Norwich, 14 at Gorleston, and 12 in the six retained stations.
Jamie Wyatt, brigade secretary of Norfolk FBU, said firefighters had joined the protest because they were worried and angry about the cuts.
“These cuts could potentially lose 50 firefighters’ jobs,” he said. “If they cut these posts, cover will be affected. They are making cuts which are purely financial. Our main concern is the safety aspect both of the crews and the public. It will take longer to deal with incidents and there will be more delays.”
Brigade bosses said the changes would help deliver better response times to incidents for the first crews and boost cover in rural areas.
But opposition councillors questioned the plans and warned that lives could be put at risk, and they said a decision should be put on hold until it was clear if a new unitary council for the city would be created.
Labour councillor Colleen Walker said the changes failed to take into account plans for hundreds of new homes in Gorleston.
“This report isn’t factually correct, it’s somewhat flawed and the information is misleading,” she said. “These increases haven’t been considered. Nobody has consulted me as a county councillor, and nobody has mentioned what happens if Norwich becomes a unitary authority – Norwich will be split and that’s not been taken into account.”
Green councillor Andrew Boswell said the report contained too many baffling statistics.
“I find the statistics very difficult to unravel; these numbers mean nothing to us,” he said. “They need to be thinking about the future and putting in more services, not taking them away.”
Lib Dem councillor David Callaby questioned why the authority had paid £25,000 to consultants to draw up the change plans. “This piece of work should have been done by our own in-house employees,” he added.
Richard Elliott, chief fire officer, said: “Statistics can be baffling, I admit that, but what’s really important in terms of emergency response is how quickly you can get to the scene with that first fire engine. If you are going to make an impact on that incident, that really makes a difference.
“We are going to have another fire station at King’s Lynn, which will increase fire cover and the ability to make a first response, and in Gorleston you are going to get a quicker first response. You don’t need statistics to be able to understand that in Norwich it’s about getting the first response quickly where the greatest resource is.”
Members of the cabinet will consider the plans ahead of a public consultation in the summer, with a final decision expected later in the year.