‘50 pence a week’ council tax rise could maintain Norfolk fire service, meeting told

Lincs Fire & Rescue News.
Lincs Fire & Rescue News.
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Norfolk’s fire service could be maintained if as little as 50 pence a week was added to residents’ council tax bills, according to a senior fire officer.

The claim was made as managers sought to explain why Heacham’s fire station is among those at potential risk of closure during a parish council meeting last night.

And they urged residents to have their say when a public consultation into final proposals on the service’s future are published.

Earlier this month, a Norfolk County Council working group set out how fire services could be affected if budget cuts of up to 25 per cent are imposed.

The report suggested that as many as 11 fire stations across the county, including Heacham, Massingham, Terrington and West Walton, may have to close in the worst case scenario.

However, the meeting was told that the station in Outwell may be added to the list of those at risk of closure instead of West Walton because of difficulties in raising a regular crew there.

The document also suggested that fire engines could be removed from the Lynn North, Sandringham and Fakenham stations, and more than 200 firefighters may have to be made redundant.

Deputy chief fire officer Roy Harold said the county council, under whose management the fire service operates, had to find at least £110 million in savings over the next three years, the equivalent of 15 per cent of the authority’s budget.

He said the service was already the cheapest in the country, something he did not see as a “badge of honour.”

Asked by parish council chairman Michael Williamson how much extra cash was needed to maintain the service in its current form, Mr Harold said a rise of around 50 pence a week in council tax bills would fill the funding gap.

And Mr Williamson asked: “Why aren’t the council considering putting the council tax up by 50 pence per week and we can all sleep safely in our beds?”

Members of Heacham’s retained fire crew, who were present at the meeting, were praised by councillor Roger Drinkwater, who said: “This crew do a fantastic job and that’s why we don’t want to lose them.”

Crew members also questioned how the station’s closure could be justified in an area with a high population and a high risk of road collisions.

But Mr Harold replied: “The figures aren’t showing us that.”

He said that only four of the county’s fire stations are less busy than Heacham, while the village’s close proximity to the Hunstanton station meant the impact of a closure there would not be as great as if other stations were axed.

And, responding to suggestions officials wanted to close the station, he insisted: “We’re not doing this by choice.”

Tim Edwards, the brigade’ area manager for West Norfolk, added: “There isn’t a done deal. I hope it doesn’t go that far.”

Final proposals on the future of the fire service are expected to be published next month.

And Mr Edwards said they needed the public to show it wanted the service to be maintained in order to help strengthen the argument against cuts during the public consultation that will follow publication of the proposals.

Mr Williamson said: “Oh we will, don’t worry.”