Belfast Telegraph

Coastguard station could get a lifeline in Government rethink

By Sam Lister

Ministers are poised to scale down their plans for a radical shake-up of the UK Coastguard service that could have left Northern Ireland without a dedicated base.

While Government sources insist there will not be a U-turn on reforms, some concessions are being considered, including keeping more bases open round-the-clock.

Changes to the proposals are also understood to include closing fewer stations, which will fuel hope among campaigners fighting to save Bangor.

The Belfast Lough emergency centre was earmarked to be downgraded to daylight-only operations or closed altogether under Shipping Minster Mike Penning's plans.

But he was forced to extend the consultation period on the plans. Under the proposals, just three 24-hour operational centres — at Aberdeen, in the Southampton/ Portsmouth area and at Dover — would remain.

The number of Coastguard staff would be slashed by more than a third from nearly 600.

A Department for Transport spokesman refused to rule out claims the plans are being re-thought.

He added: “We will not comment on speculation about the outcome of our consultation.

“Our proposals are in response to a long-overdue need to bring the way Coastguard rescues are co-ordinated into the 21st century, making this vital rescue |service stronger, more resilient and improving its services at the front line.

“This need will not simply go away, but this is a genuine |consultation exercise and the |Government is committed to taking all points of view into account before deciding how best to proceed.

“This is why an extension of six weeks was recently announced to give those who wish to respond the maximum opportunity to |do so.”

But it is understood the Government is still determined to |modernise the service and |introduce the use of modern technology.

It is claimed that the current set-up is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Shadow Shipping Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: “We were |concerned about the level of cuts initially proposed and are pleased that the Government appears to be reviewing its plans.

“The wholesale closures and redundancies were and remain extremely worrying for all |involved in shipping and sailing.”

Background

The Government plans to reduce the number of Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) bases from 18 to eight.

A consultation which ended last month set out proposals to “modernise Coastguard services for the 21st century”.

Belfast Coastguard (based in Bangor) was threatened with closure as it was pitted against Liverpool to remain as one of five sub-centres.

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