‘We are all a bit safer’ – delight after Sunderland fire station U-turn

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YOU did it!

Sunderland is today celebrating the news that the city will keep its main central fire station following a shock U-turn.

SIGNED: Coun Tom Wright is handed the petition from Sunderland Echo deputy editor Richard Ord and MP Julie Elliott.

SIGNED: Coun Tom Wright is handed the petition from Sunderland Echo deputy editor Richard Ord and MP Julie Elliott.

In an unexpected move yesterday during a meeting of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, members agreed not to close Sunderland Central in Millfield and two other stations in Newcastle.

Almost 18 months ago, the organisation was given three ways of implementing budget cuts totalling millions of pounds, with one of the options leading to the closure of the three sites.

Ahead of the meeting, Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott and Echo deputy editor Richard Ord handed over a 34,000-strong petition calling for Sunderland Central not to shut.

The decision means that as well as Sunderland Central, Wallsend and Gosforth stations will not close, although 131 posts are expected to be axed and six appliances removed from service.

In the face of £8.8million cuts to its budget, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – about 20 per cent of frontline posts – in October 2013.

The announcement that Sunderland city centre would be covered from Farringdon and a new station to be built in Southwick immediately sparked protests.

In March last year, the authority announced the station, alongside those in Wallsend and Gosforth, had been handed a stay of execution and would not close until June 2017, with efforts being made to try to find the funds up to that date and a financial review being carried out every year in the meantime.

Now, they have been saved.

Mrs Elliott, who was earlier this month involved in a march through Sunderland city centre in support of keeping the station open, told the Echo: “I’m so pleased for the people of our city who have pulled together to point out the error of judgement from last year.

“We are a bit safer with this decision and it’s great, great news.”

Mrs Elliott’s main issue with the proposed closure was that those living and working in Sunderland city centre would not be kept safe should a major fire break out and a nearby station would not be there.

“People were worried and very shocked that closing the station could even be considered,” she added. “We’re a big city with an industrial port and high-rise buildings.

“There’s no way that a fire engine could get across the bridge from Fulwell into the city centre in six minutes.

“I love the people of Sunderland and they have come through on this. To the Echo and anybody who signed a petition or joined a demonstration, thank you very much.”

Speaking at the meeting at brigade headquarters in Barmston Mere, Washington, Coun Tom Wright, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority and St Anne’s ward councillor, said: “I would like to refer to the motion the authority passed at the February meeting last year.

“In this, the authority stated that we would ‘revisit the IRMP (integrated risk management plan) annually in light of future financial settlements from the Government” as it was our aim that station closures will only be considered as a last resort’.”

“I note the financial situation just discussed at the meeting, in particular two very positive areas; the increase in the council tax base which improves the authority budget by £330,000, we have also just agreed to increase the Council Tax precept by 1.99 per cent, again improving the long-term budget of the authority by £396,000.”

Coun Wright then proposed the following motion which was agreed by the Members.

“Today the Fire Authority have approved the budget for 2015/16 which has £726,000 built into it from changes in council tax base and precept, due to this I propose the authority authorise the chief fire officer to change the implementation plan for the Response Review, to implement Option One only, removing any station closures from the plan.”

l Firefighters across Wearside will walk out in a 24-hour strikes from 7am on February 25 in the latest stage of a long-running dispute over pensions.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says a number of fire authorities have failed to implement a parliamentary guarantee that firefighters aged 55 who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own would receive a full, unreduced pension or a redeployed role.

‘Great for Sunderland’

FORMER firefighter George Smith today labelled the news that the station had been saved as “great for Sunderland”.

Mr Smith, 66, a former member of the Auxiliary Fire Service from aged 18, collected 7,000 signatures himself after walking the streets around his Pallion home.

He said: “The Echo campaign has gone really well and now we’ve got what we asked for. Julie Elliott and others have worked really hard.

“When she asked for people to help I stepped in straight away, and hopefully I’ve done my bit.”

Union delight

UNION bosses have thanked Echo readers for their efforts in helping to keep the station open.

Our Hold Fire campaign sparked well over 30,000 signatures calling for Sunderland Central fire station not to close, and the drive has now achieved what it set out to do.

Secretary of Tyne and Wear Fire Brigades’ Union Russ King said: “This decision is extremely welcome.

“We’re over the moon and want to thank the members of the authority for making the decision.

“The cuts are still there in terms of the 131 posts and the loss of six appliances.

“But I would like to personally thank the Echo and Julie Elliott.

“In Sunderland last week people were queueing up to put their names on the petition, some almost fighting each other, and for that we can’t thank them enough.”

Sunderland firefighter and FBU rep Gordon Chalk has been one of those pushing the campaign over the past year.

He said: “I’m very, very pleased with this decision.

“It’s all been down to the campaign that the Echo has done with Julie Elliott.

“With the help of Julie and the Labour Party, the FBU have been fighting for a year now and we just never gave up.

“This will keep the people of Sunderland safe.’’