Firefighters in Hampshire only responded to around 50 incidents in West Sussex a year, according to estimated figures from the county council.
The fire services in both counties have undergone reorganisations recently and David Barling, West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for residents’ services, was asked whether the implications for West Sussex had been looked at by UKIP group leader Sandra James.
At a meeting on Friday April 15, she questioned why the response to the Hampshire consultation was made by officers and not the cabinet member, and said she was a ‘little disappointed’ that the response was made ‘through the back door without any transparency for concerned local residents’.
Mr Barling said he was ‘not surprised you’re disappointed with my reply’ and explained that since Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service was a stand-alone authority it was appropriate for West Sussex’s chief fire officer to give a technical reply.
But this was not without his knowledge as cabinet member or without consulting residents.
A number of consultation responses in West Sussex had expressed concern that residents were not being taken into account because they lived over the border, but Mr Barling said: “That is not true and it was widely known not to be true.”
A meeting was set up with officers and both parish councillors on the county border and Chichester district councillors and proposals were explained in detail, and afterwards they wrote to WSCC to say they were reassured.
Although Emsworth was the nearest Hampshire retained station to West Sussex, firefighters from Havant are often the first to attend to incidents in West Sussex.
The original consultation proposed to downgrade the station Havant, but as a result of representations from WSCC and others this decision was reversed.
None of the changes would come in until at least 2019, and West Sussex had embedded an officer in Hampshire’s fire and rescue service to take an advisory role.
Mr Barling also explained that Hampshire firefighters only attended incidents in West Sussex approximately 50 times a year and most of the time this was not for critical incidents such as house fires.
In her written question before the meeting Ms James had asked for the average response times for the second and third engines attending incidents in each parish in both the Bourne and Midhurst divisions for each of the last ten years.
Mr Barling replied: “To ask me to provide an officer who is going to go through every parish record for Bourne and Midhurst for ten years is ludicrous.”
But Ms James said: “Residents of Bourne will feel let down by the response on your inability to give information on the level of attendance and performance for their division.”
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