Belfast Telegraph

Scrap plan to shut Bangor Coastguard station, say MPs

By Tom Moseley

Government plans to close Bangor Coastguard station raise serious safety concerns and should be withdrawn, a committee of MPs has warned.



The Transport Select Committee has urged ministers to rethink the controversial reorganisation of the service, which could leave Northern Ireland without a Coastguard service.

Its findings, just weeks before the final decision is taken on the future of Coastguard stations, will leave Shipping Minister Mike Penning in no doubt about the dangers of the “drastic reduction” in bases, from 18 to 10.

Under the original proposals, 10 Coastguard stations would have closed, and of the remaining eight, five would operate in daylight hours only. Either Liverpool or Belfast would close.

Ministers have since signalled a scaling back of the cuts.

A new period of consultation will now begin, based on the select committee's report.

Its chairman, Louise Ellman, who will present the report to MPs in the House of Commons today, said the proposals were “seriously flawed.”

The report delivered a series of damning findings about the Government plans to curtail the number of Coastguard bases across the UK. It:

  • warned vital local knowledge would be lost.
  • identified potential weaknesses in the handover to proposed 24-hour ‘super stations' based in Southampton and Glasgow.
  • said the proposals were based on accident statistics that “do not tell the whole story”.
  • accused ministers of focusing too much on commercial ships, rather than leisure boat-users.
  • criticised Mr Penning for banning coastguards from giving evidence.
  • raised concern about the impact of the cuts on RNLI volunteers.

In their conclusion, the MPs warned: “Whilst we recognise the pressure on the Government to make financial savings, we cannot support proposals that reduce maritime safety.”

Ms Ellman added: “We found little support for the proposals and we have no confidence that the Coastguard will in future be able to respond to emergencies as well as they do now.”

Background

Public and Commercial Services Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This report is clear — the Government got it wrong and needs to start again from scratch with the full involvement of staff. It's totally unacceptable that the issues — which are often, by definition, matters of life and death — have been treated in such a high-handed manner by ministers and management.”

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