Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Bangor coastguard base still on the radar

Scrapping of plans 'will save thousands of lives'

Campaigners who fought proposals to close a local Coastguard station are celebrating a victory fuelled by "people power" that will save thousands of lives, after government plans were scrapped.

Cost-cutting proposals by Westminster had sparked fears that the Coastguard station, based in Bangor, Co Down, would be forced to close - putting lives at risk.

The review of coastguard provision, carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, had proposed shutting more than half of the 18 coastguard centres in the UK. But a strong campaign receiving cross-party, Executive and public support, resulted in the plans being axed.

The government received about 1,800 submissions during the consultation.

The revised plans were announced after the House of Commons transport committee said it received evidence from coastguards raising "serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if these proposals proceed".

Speaking last night, campaigner Diana Gadd, who had worked as watch manager for 25 years with the coastguard, said it was "fantastic news".

"It is not an exaggeration to say that in my time working there the Coastguard saved the lives of thousands of people and this decision will save thousands more," she said.

"It is fantastic news for both the staff and the general public. It is a life-saving organisation, it would have been tragic if it had closed.

"This means it will be a much safer environment for so many people.

"A lot of work went into the campaign, many people had lobbied for it to remain open. It is common sense."

Transport secretary Phillip Hammond said the Bangor station will continue to play a "crucial role" as part of the UK coastguard network.

Earlier this year Mr Hammond brought transport minister Mike Penning, who was carrying out the review, to Bangor to see the work the coastguard station undertook.

"Senior coastguard officials in the Bangor station made a powerful presentation that clearly had a significant impact," Mr Hammond said.

"In my subsequent meetings with Mike Penning I continued to press the case and was always of the view that whatever the future shape of the coastguard service, Bangor had to be part of it."

Ian Graham, branch secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents coastguard workers, said the campaign is not over, with concerns remaining over staffing levels.

"It is a small step in the right direction. A tiny victory in what will be a long campaign," he said.

"It is still unclear how this will affect the staffing levels. There is very little detail in the documents we have seen.

"But the staff are very grateful for the assistance we received from MLAs and MPs and the joined up approach right across the political spectrum in support of maintaining the station 24/7."

The decision was welcomed by all the main political parties. North Down DUP MLA Gordon Dunne said it would have been a "fatal mistake" to close the station, putting lives at risk across Northern Ireland.

"This is a success story for everyone involved and I believe that the support of many across society certainly helped in the fight to save this vital service," he said. "It shows what people power can do."

DUP MP for South Down Jim Shannon said that the right decision had been made.

He added: "Those who use the waters around Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland coastline now have certainty that if they get into distress they will have a speedy response from our station in Bangor."

North Down UUP MLA Leslie Cree said: "This decision will come as a great relief to many people and is a victory for common sense and for the efforts of all those who lobbied for the retention of Bangor Coastguard station."

Sinn Fein MLA for South Down Willie Clarke said the Bangor Coastguard base was a "vital station".

"Any changes to the operational hours or the full closure of the station would have undoubtedly cost lives," he said.

"Today's announcement will see local knowledge and skills continuing to play a key role in search and rescue and maritime safety along these shores."

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