Welcome for rethink on coastguard plans

Campaigners have welcomed news that the Government has announced it is looking again at its planned shake-up of the coastguard service.

Campaigners have welcomed news that the Government has announced it is looking again at its planned shake-up of the coastguard service.

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UNION chiefs have welcomed the news that the Government is set to scale down its axing of coastguard stations.

It is feared the Humber Coastguard, which covers Wearside and East Durham, will no longer operate round the clock under plans to slash the number of centres.

Nationally, the proposals would see the number of local rescue stations cut from 19 to nine.

The closest 24-hour operational station could be as far away as Aberdeen.

However, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has now announced a re-think over the proposals and some earmarked for closure could now be saved.

Ministers have extended a consultation on the plans, to allow the Commons Transport Committee time to complete its assessment of the proposals.

Mr Hammond said he was re-examining the plans after media reports claimed the Government was making a U-turn on the proposals.

“We are looking again at the best configuration that will allow us to deliver those technological improvements, those working practice improvements and we will announce our conclusions to Parliament before the summer recess,” he said.

“It’s not about a U-turn, it’s about deciding how best to implement what will be a very a big change in how the coastguard operates.”

Mark Serwotka, Public and Commercial Services union general secretary, welcomed the news and said the “climbdown” was evidence of what can be achieved by community campaigning.

He said: “This is a body blow for the Government, which is reeling from the force of public outrage at ill-thought-out plans to slash the life-saving support that coastguards provide.

“It is not yet clear what any new proposals will include and there are still battles to be won to maintain vital local services that our members provide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The union, which represents 750 members in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said that cuts must not put lives at risk and force staff out of the service.

“We would expect new plans to be subject to proper consultation and negotiation,” said Mr Serwotka. “The campaign against these cuts has been inspirational and I am proud of the part our reps and members have played in it.

“Now is the time to keep up the pressure and show the Government we remain united, strong and determined to defeat these cuts.”

Tom Martin, Labour councillor for Hendon, has also raised fears about the cuts, which will see only four station remain operational round-the-clock.

“I’m pleased that the Government has taken notice of what people who live on the coast have said and have announced this re-think,” he said. “They know the risks to the seafarers and other users.

“The Humber is such a busy area and we need the coastguard, as well as other services such as the RNLI.

“I believe that lives will be put at risk if the cuts go ahead.

“In Hendon, the fishing community go out every day, that is their work, and we need to ensure their safety.”

@SunEchoJohnston