Renewed call for views on Northumberland fire service changes

An example of one of the smaller fire engines being used elsewhere in the country.
An example of one of the smaller fire engines being used elsewhere in the country.

Northumberland County Council is reminding residents to give their views on proposed controversial changes to the fire and rescue service before the consultation deadline.

The local authority has been consulting on proposed changes to Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service since November.

As agreed at the budget meeting in February 2015, the service has to save £500,000 in 2016/17 on top of the £1.5million already cut over the last two years as a result of reduction in the council’s budget by central government.

However, they have proved controversial and the proposals have been criticised by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) while questions have been raised by parish councillors in Alnwick and Wooler.

Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett has defended proposed changes to the service, saying ‘we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater’, but, as we reported last week, an online petition has been launched against the ‘devastating’ cuts to the service.

Residents are being encouraged to have their say as part of the consultation before it closes on Monday, February 15. Senior officers from the service will be attending the January area committee meetings as part of the consultation process.

The dates are as follows: North – Monday, January 11, 6pm, Creighton Hall, Embleton; West – Tuesday, January 12, 6pm; Shaftoe Trust Primary School, Haydon Bridge; East – Wednesday, January 13, 6pm, Lynemouth Miners’ Welfare Institute, Lynemouth; Central – Thursday, January 14, 6pm, Morpeth Town Hall.

Dave Ledger, chairman of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Authority and deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “Due to cuts in government funding, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service is unfortunately required to make further savings of £500,000 which was approved by the county council in February 2015.

“We remain committed to providing a service that keeps our residents safe and our dedicated teams have worked tirelessly to ensure that the proposed cuts have the least impact on our communities.

“We truly value the opinion of Northumberland residents and so we are encouraging people to tell us what they think of the proposed changes through the consultation process if they haven’t already.”

Click here for further information on the consultation and to take part in the online survey.

The areas being consulted on are:

• Removing the retained (on-call) fire appliance from West Hartford Community Fire Station. The station will still have two fire appliances staffed round the clock. The retained fire appliance only attended 8.4 per cent of incidents within the last five years. There is also cover from Pegswood Community Fire Station.

• Replacing the second retained (on-call) fire appliance at Alnwick Community Fire Station and the retained (on-call) fire appliances at Ponteland, Seahouses and Wooler Community Fire Stations with smaller fire appliances. Alnwick will continue to have a retained (on-call) appliance as well as a smaller fire appliance. The smaller appliances can attend all of the incidents the larger traditional fire appliances can attend. With the introduction of flexible staffing arrangements, the appliances could respond to certain incidents staffed by less than four firefighters; as a result, it will increase the amount of times they are available and enhance the emergency response cover. The smaller appliances are also much more cost-effective to lease and run than larger traditional fire appliances.

• Closing Haydon Bridge Fire Station with cover to be provided by Hexham, Haltwhistle and Allendale Fire Stations. Over the last five years, there were only 96 incidents in Haydon Bridge and over half (57 per cent) of these incidents were small fires or false alarms. A third of incidents (33 per cent) within the Haydon Bridge area were attended by surrounding stations.

• More joint working with other fire and rescue services and agencies to reduce costs.

• There will be no changes to Pegswood, Hexham, Berwick, Allendale, Amble, Belford, Bellingham, Haltwhistle, Prudhoe, Rothbury and Holy island.