CLOSURE-threatened Sunderland Central Fire Station has won a stay of execution – for at least three years.
Fire brigade bosses say the city centre station, earmarked for closure due to multimillion-pound cuts, will remain operational until at least June 2017.
The move was today welcomed by MPs and union bosses and is being seen as an important milestone for the Echo’s Hold Fire campaign.
Julie Elliott MP, who has teamed up with the Echo in a bid to save the station, said: “I welcome the news that no station closures are to be considered for at least three years, subject to review.
“I’m pleased the fire authority has listened to the people of Sunderland and common sense has prevailed. However, significant cuts are still set to take place because of the reduction in funding being imposed by Central Government.”
Yesterday, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority set out, and approved, a four-year plan to implement changes to the service as the brigade fights to make savings of £5,449,689 in the face of £8.8million cuts.
It was agreed the plan to close Sunderland Central station would only take place in the final phase. The fire service say this will provide them with valuable time to monitor financial changes and assess the challenges they face.
A financial review will be carried out every 12 months up until 2017.
Dave Turner, regional secretary for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) said: “While we welcome the decision to safeguard the future of Sunderland Central fire station for three years, we are disappointed with the decision that will see the loss of two fire engines at stations in other areas.”
Bosses at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWF&RS) say they are confident the public would not be put at risk should the station close, with the city centre adequately covered by outlying Fulwell, Farringdon and Washington stations. However, in an interview with the Echo Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling did admit response times would be “slower”.
He said: “I have said from the start we could not make this level of reduction without it having an impact; I said back in October we would be slower.
“But we are the fastest responding service in the country and I still believe we will be the fastest responding after these changes.
“We will be slower, but it will not be unsafe.
“The impact and size of the cuts will continue to be monitored to ensure the long-term stability of the organisation.
“We will continue to fight the cuts and call on the continued support of MPs, local councillors and the public in the North East to lobby government to prevent any future cuts to this excellent service.”
The Echo’s campaign has already been backed by 9,000 people across Sunderland in just a few weeks, with many groups and communities across the city now getting involved.
We are urging more people to put their names to the petition in the hope of reversing the closure decision all together.