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Fire service plans taken apart

Somerset County Council have written to the Fires Service taking apart their plans for cuts in Somerset. Council Leader, David Fothergill set out their concerns in a letter yesterday.

The Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service have managed to unite Somerset Councils, politicians and trade unions. Unfortunately all in opposition to their proposals to cut the number of fire engines serving Somerset.

In Mr Fothergill’s letter he points out:

  • The Safer Together plan set out by the service appears to have hardly accounted for the fact that Somerset attracts 11.4 million day visitors per year and 1.8 million overnight visitors (ONS 2015).
  • Somerset is a largely rural area with a high portion of agricultural activity and farm land. Has the Devon and Somerset Fire and included in their risk methodology, activities which carry with them additional risk and demand for fire resource e.g. Swaling and storage of potentially hazardous chemicals?
  • It was not clear from the consultation document what consideration had been given to pressures on DSFRS service delivery of the increase in traffic volumes on the M5 and A303 as well as the county highway network.
  • Given the proximity to Hinkley Point, the proposal to reduce the number of engines at Bridgwater is surprising. It is also concerning that Hinkley Point is not referenced in the consultation document and given the scale of the developments both at the site and in the supporting infrastructure.
  • In option 1 it states that there are nearby fire stations within a 15 minute radius able to respond. We would query this comment with reference to Porlock. The nearest fire resource to Porlock is Minehead, which in perfect travel conditions is under the 15 minute threshold, however, this route is served by a single access road which is frequently hindered by delays due to tourism, sheer traffic volumes and severe weather.
  • It was not clear from the consultation document whether DSFRS had considered options for closer working with other emergency services in terms of the potential for sharing buildings and other local assets.

The letter makes many more points, not all negative. For instance SCC praise the prevention strategy, pointing out it fits neatly alongside their own. But their are many more questions too. Have the plans accounted for the fact that in some areas of the Somerset coast more than half of the population is aged over 65?

It is all couched in polite language but in short the points raised drive a coach and horses through the logic behind the Fires Service plans. The plans appear to show an alarming degree of ignorance about our county.

Everyone has been too polite to mention the once new fire station HQ in Taunton, built at a cost of £8.9m and which has cost over £16m since in rent, utilities and management. But why should tax payers accept a reduced number of fire engines when the Fire Authority have been so profligate with our money, building themselves a fancy new and clearly, wholly unnecessary HQ, in the past?

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