‘We did it!’ – Sunderland station saved after Hold Fire petition handed to chiefs

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SUNDERLAND Central Fire Station has been saved thanks to our 34,000-plus signature petition.

The petition opposing the closure of the station was presented to fire authority bosses at a meeting this morning.

A march and rally took place to protest against the closure of Sunderland Central Fire Station. The march began at the station with the rally and speaches in the Market Square beside the Bridges Shopping Centre.

A march and rally took place to protest against the closure of Sunderland Central Fire Station. The march began at the station with the rally and speaches in the Market Square beside the Bridges Shopping Centre.

The Echo collected 14,000 signatures in writing and online through our Hold Fire campaign, while more than 20,000 people have added their names to a collection organised by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott and the Fire Brigade Union (FBU).

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority chiefs held a meeting this morning to discuss the revenue budget for the next year, and voted to retain the station after seeing the strength of feeling from the public.

MP Julie Elliott tweeted: “WE DID IT! After the submission of our petition, the Fire Authority say that no T&W stations will close. Sunderland fire station is saved! I would like to thank the people of Sunderland for their support. Sunderland faces a safer future because of their actions.”

Sunderland Central, in Railway Row, was one of three stations earmarked for closure by the authority as it looks to save cash following £8.8million of Government cuts. The stations in Gosforth and Wallsend will also stay open.

At the same meeting this morning, members agreed to increase the Council Precept by 1.99 per cent.

Councillor Tom Wright, chairman of the Authority, 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 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.”

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – 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 Castletown 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.

A rally through the city centre last weekend was addressed by Julie Elliott, city council leader Coun Paul Watson and representatives from the FBU.

Coun Wright added: “It is important to note that the Authority still faces significant financial challenges ahead which we will need to address.

“Between 2010/11 and 2017/18 we will have lost a significant proportion of our funding, over £14m. These cuts are disproportionately high compared to most other Fire Authorities and the areas of greatest need, mainly Metropolitan areas, continue to see the highest level of overall cuts to their funding.

“The impact and size of the cuts will continue to be monitored to ensure the long term stability of the organisation. The Fire Authority’s number one priority is, and will always be, the safety of our staff and the public. We will continue to lobby against the financial reductions to prevent any future cuts to this excellent service.”