Members of the public are being urged to have their say on proposals to change Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.
If funding cuts continue to increase, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) will see a budget deficit of £16m by 2020, and so has announced proposals for various stations in a bid to save around £12m.
With 51 stations across Hampshire, HFRS has prepared proposals to redefine how incidents will be responded to, including different vehicle and crewing models, to create ‘a more relevant and efficient fire and rescue service’.
HFRS is assuring people there are no plans to reduce the number of fire stations or impose front-line compulsory redundancies.
However the plans have raised fresh fears for those living in West Sussex, who are heavily reliant on crews from Emsworth and Havant fire stations.
This follows proposals last year by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to save around £1.6m from its budget for 2015/16.
Emsworth station is often mobilised into West Sussex, attending numerous incidents on the main arterial route of the A27 and B2148. The station could see a reduction from 12 personnel on shift to eight.
Emsworth currently has one ‘enhanced’ vehicle – a large engine which carries four to six firefighters.
Under the proposals this could become a first-response vehicle, which is smaller than a traditional fire engine and carries two to four firefighters.
Vice-chairman of the Emsworth Business Association, Alistair Gibson, said Emsworth firefighters were an integral part of the community.
“They raised a lot of money for Comic Relief during our Red Nose weekend,” he added.
“We would be really sad and disappointed to lose any of the crew, not just from a safety perspective. Our firefighters do a lot of good stuff in the community, not just putting out fires. Any reduction at the station would leave a large hole in the fabric of our community.”
West Sussex county councillor Sandra James said it was ‘outrageous’ councillors had not commented on the proposals.
Speaking at a meeting of the South Chichester county local committee on Tuesday, she said: “Emsworth has come out to support my division numerous times and I’m not going to sit here and have it any other way. I want the West Sussex website to carry the Hampshire FRS consultation so West Sussex people who are currently blinded can have access to it. The council should take this really seriously – people’s lives are affected by these things.”
Westbourne Parish Council chairman Richard Hitchcock told the committee the proposals could have a ‘dire’ effect on his parish. “There are many people here in West Sussex unaware of the proposals to reduce the service in Emsworth and Havant,” he said. “I would support a link on the West Sussex website so people know what is happening.”
Public consultation set to run until December
A PUBLIC consultation on Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s proposals will now run for 12 weeks, until December 4.
The fire and rescue authority will then meet on February 24 and any decisions the authority may then take would be implemented over several years.
These proposals were approved by the fire service’s governing body, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority, to go to a formal consultation.
Chief officer Dave Curry said: “The people of Hampshire will have the chance to make their voice heard on some incredibly important proposals that will shape the future of their fire service for years to come.
“We want to deliver an effective service in accordance with the needs of its local communities, ensuring that we match our resources to levels of known risk. In light of the changes in risk across Hampshire an potential financial challenges, it is vital that we remain relevant, become more efficient and provide the people of Hampshire with a first-class fire and rescue service.
“I strongly encourage Hampshire residents to take part in this formal consultation process and tell us what they think of the proposed changes to help us to provide the best possible service back to them.”
Residents are encouraged to take part either by completing the questionnaire online, requesting a hard copy, or attending a public meeting.
Public consultation documents are also available from various locations including Emsworth post office, Emsworth Dental Surgery, Village Dental, The Village Dental, enVisage, Emsworth Surgery and Southbourne Surgery.
Midhurst councillors were ‘misled’
ANGRY Midhurst town councillors claim they were misled during talks over cuts to the West Sussex fire service.
They believed West Sussex had researched and taken into account further possible cuts over the border in Hampshire before proposing to cut fire service in the Midhurst and Petworth area.
Communities in West Sussex along the county border including Midhurst, Rogate, Harting, Milland and Fernhurst, have always relied on co-operation between the fire services of the two counties to step in when fire engines are called away to incidents away.
Margaret Guest echoed the sentiments of other Midhurst town councillors when she told them: “When our fire service gave us a presentation on their proposed cuts we raised the issue of possible cuts in the Hampshire fire service asking if they had taken this into account and we were assured they had.
“I think we ought to remind them of that and make a response to West Sussex County Council.
“I think we should say we are very disappointed that we were misled in terms of supporting the changes local to us which were dependent on having support from neighbouring fire stations.
“West Sussex have not actually, in terms of their impact assessment, really gone into that level of detail and I think it is a great disappointment that they were not as thorough as they could have been.”
County councillor Gordon McAra said Hampshire Fire Service was having to save millions.
Hampshire fire stations along the border with West Sussex were losing seven of their nine fire engines from Petersfield, Liphook, Bordon and Grayshott.
He said Petersfield was set to become smaller than Midhurst fire station with one fire engine and a Land Rover.
Town councillors are contacting Petersfield Town Council to support any opposition to Hampshire fire service cuts.
They are also contacting West Sussex County Council expressing disappointment at the lack of detailed assessment before fire service cuts went ahead.
Under West Sussex Fire and Rescue’s service review, Midhurst fire station recently acquired a new high-tech P320-CP31 Scania vehicle, replacing the old water tender ladder based at the station.
The station will also have a new 6x6 vehicle to use when responding to incidents.
What do the proposals mean for West Sussex?
WEST Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said it would continue to work closely with Hampshire firefighters at incidents on the county border.
A spokesman said: “West Sussex residents should be assured that we will continue to work closely with colleagues in Hampshire, supporting each other at operational incidents close to the county border and ensuring a speedy and appropriate risk-based response when needed.
“The operating model for West Sussex was agreed after a public consultation in 2014, and there are no further changes planned at this time.”
However West Sussex county councillor Sandra James has voiced fears about the Bourne ward – which includes Southbourne, Thorney, Chidham, West Ashling, Hambrook, Westbourne, Compton, and Upmarden.
“My concerns are particularly focussed because this provision is currently serving the Bourne Division and is most often the first point of call for a fire call out, where time is of the essence and access to water in rural communities is naturally an issue,” she said.
“I have also learned of concerns from the firefighters’ perspective and the issue of their own safety with reduced manning numbers likely to attend incidents if these proposals are implemented.
“I will leave councillors to make their own judgement on this but my belief is that we should put our collective heads together to help preserve as much as we have currently.
“There may be tweaks but we should be minded to consider what the firefighters are concerned over and ensure residents are adequately protected.”
Some of the proposals in Hampshire:
n Petersfield fire station is at the junction of the A272 and the busy A3 dual carriageway and has the main London to Portsmouth rail line running through it. In 2013/14 the station attended 81 critical incidents. Petersfield has 20 firefighters on call, which could be reduced to 14. It has two enhanced vehicles which could become one enhanced and one first response.
n In 2013/14, Bordon attended 68 critical incidents. The station currently has one enhanced engine. The proposals are to switch this to an intermediate vehicle, with two fewer firefighters.
n Grayshott fire station supports Haslemere and attends any incidents at the Hindhead tunnel. Its enhanced vehicle could be replaced with a first response vehicle, with eight firefighters on shift instead of 12.
n Liphook fire station is on the West Sussex border and covers a section of the A3 dual carriageway. Liphook station attended 19 critical incidents last year. Its crewing numbers could be reduced from 12 to eight, with a first response vehicle replacing its enhanced vehicle.
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