Government U-turn on UK coastguard cuts
The coastguard centre at the port of Milford Haven, which receives a large proportion of UK energy imports, is a beneficiary of the Government reversal.
The UK Government has partially backtracked on its radical plans to slash coastguard services, with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond telling the House of Commons that 10 centres would remain open 24 hours a day.
This represents a significant U-turn from earlier proposals to reduces the number of centres from 18 to 8, with only three of those to remain open 24 hours a day. The reversal follows a period of consultation during which some 1,800 responses were received and a 20,000 name petition delivered to Downing Street from Welsh objectors alone.
Welsh anger resulted in a decision for the Milford Haven and Holyhead stations to remain open but the Swansea station, which was to be downgraded under the original plan, will now be closed by 2015. Other stations to survive include those at Falmouth, Belfast, Aberdeen, Humber, Stornaway and Shetland. There will be a single new Maritime Operations Centre in the Southampton/Portsmouth area with a back-up facility at the existing Dover site, as well as a small station in London. Centres to be lost are Clyde, Forth, Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea.
The original proposals were called “seriously flawed” by an all-party House of Commons transport committee, which said evidence received during its enquiry raised serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if these proposals proceed”.
The maritime professionals’ union Nautilus International welcomed the partial U-turn.
Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said, ‘We are pleased that ministers have seen sense and recognised the immense concern that was generated by the original proposals.
“We also welcome the fact that they have accepted our suggestions for a more coherent national network of stations, all operating on a 24 hour basis, rather than the daylight hours only model initially suggested.
“However, we remain deeply disturbed at the continued uncertainty over the future of the emergency towing vessels stationed at key points around the UK coast and over the threat to the Marine Incident Response Group, which provides vital fire fighting cover for shipping in our waters. Until these issues are resolved satisfactorily, the risk to the nation’s maritime safety net remains.”
Changes announced last month will be subject to a new period of consultation extending from today until 6 October 2011. Specifically, these include the decision to retain Holyherad rather than Liverpool, the choice of Milford Haven rather than Swansea, the decision to retain stations at Shetland and Stornaway, and the decision to operate a single Maritime Operations Centre rather than two.
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