Nick Herbert raises concerns about fire station closures
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has expressed his concerns about controversial plans to close the fire stations at Findon and Keymer.
The closures have been proposed by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSFRS) which says the retained stations are too quiet and can be covered by neighbouring stations.
But during a visit to the fire stations on Friday (1 October) Mr Herbert told firefighters that he did not agree with the proposed closures.
The proposals are currently subject to a public consultation and Mr Herbert has indicated that he will submit his formal comments ahead of the deadline on Friday (8 October) and is urging others to do the same.
The MP will also be meeting with County Fire Officer Max Hood to discuss the issue and to relay concerns raised by his constituents.
The County Council, which oversees the WSFRS, is already aware of Mr Herbert's views on the proposals after he raised concerns during a recent meeting with senior councillors and West Sussex MPs at County Hall.
Whilst he supported the Council's general efforts to identify savings, he questioned whether the plans to close the fire stations at Findon and Keymer, saving only £117,000 and £122,000 a year respectively - less than 1 per cent of the County's annual fire budget - were the right way to go about it.
Firefighters at the stations told Mr Herbert that the Findon and Keymer stations played a valuable role in providing cover beyond their immediate areas.
Whilst crews from Findon have attended incidents in Worthing and Ashington, crews from Keymer serve areas over the border in East Sussex.
After the crash on the A23 at Pyecombe in 2004 which killed eight people, it was a crew from Keymer that was first to arrive on the scene. They were also the first from West Sussex to arrive at the Grand Hotel in Brighton after it was bombed by the IRA during the Conservative Party Conference in 1984. A letter of thanks from Margaret Thatcher still hangs on the wall in the station.
The plans have attracted strong local opposition. In August, 200 people joined a protest march through Findon and nearly 100 people attended a meeting in Hassocks to make their views known to WSFRS managers.
Nick Herbert commented: "I appreciate that savings need to be made and I support the County Council who will have to make some difficult decisions in the months ahead. I do not question these proposals lightly. But the overall amount of money that will be saved by closing the retained fire stations at Findon and Keymer is very low.
"I hope that the fire service and the County Council will think again and find other ways to save the money. The situation reminds me of the debate over the proposed downgrading of our local hospitals - when the Primary Care Trust was eventually persuaded to go back to the drawing board, they found a better way to deliver the savings while protecting the local services. The fire service should do the same."
Mr Herbert added: "I think we should be promoting the retained firefighters, not reducing their role. They provide a huge proportion of our fire cover at very low cost. They are great value for money and they build strong links between the community and the fire service. These proposed changes are a step in the wrong direction."
A decision on the proposals from the WSFRS is expected in November and, if approved, they will be implemented next year.
Notes for Editors
1. For more information on the Fire Service's proposals and how to respond to the public consultation, visit http://tinyurl.com/34t7xk2. The proposals include the closure of three stations: Keymer, Findon and Bosham.