Belfast Telegraph

Coastguard station awaits fate

By Sam Lister

Coastguards at the under threat Bangor station will learn their fate within weeks, Shipping Minister Mike Penning has confirmed.



He insisted a decision over the future of the base, which faces being downgraded or axed altogether, would be announced by July 19 after being pressed by the SDLP over progress.

Although he reaffirmed the original proposals, which would mean just three of the UK's 18 stations would operate around the clock, would be reformed, the Conservative minister insisted doing nothing was not an option.

A second wave of the consultation process will then kick in and that is expected to last up to six weeks.

“We realise how emotive this subject is,” he said.

“I come from an emergency service background, so I know very well how emotive issues involving the emergency services in general are.”

But he added: “I do not think anybody in the Chamber or in the country would claim that the current structure has any logic at all.

“Everybody knew that these sorts of changes were coming down the line, however. The |previous government had the |current proposals on their desk.

“We knew in advance, therefore, that we needed a reconfiguration of the Coastguard service, so that we have the resilience, training and communication systems that are required, as well as a pay structure that is fit for the 21st century.”

Mr Penning added: “Of course I am going to be accused of doing U-turns, cartwheels and so on, but I said, and the Secretary of State said, that these proposals were not set in stone and that the consultation is a proper one.

“I said from day one that what comes out the other end of this consultation process will not be what we go in with, but that we cannot end up with the status quo.

“The service has to modernise, it has to have proper resilience and it must be fit for the 21st century.

“The Government will announce their conclusions before the summer recess — as we have said all the way through, they are likely to be different — and then I will reopen the consultation.”

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Last year, Shipping Minister Mike Penning unveiled proposals that would see only three full-time Coastguard stations in the UK — Aberdeen, Southampton and Dover. Five sub-centres will open during the day, and one of those will be at either Belfast Lough or Liverpool. Closing the centre would leave Northern Ireland without a locally-based Coastguard service and that possibility has angered people in the area.

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