After one of the most comprehensive and popular consultation processes I have ever witnessed, the Conservative administration at Suffolk County Council has seen fit to ignore the general public by ploughing ahead with the bulk of their proposed cuts to the Fire Service.
This is a climax that is both disappointing and predictable.
It is deeply shameful to have belittled what was an unprecedented response to a public consultation by ignoring the overwhelming majority who said that they did not want the Fire Service to be cut at all.
While changes have been made, with Sudbury avoiding any cuts and Wrentham station remaining open – and I must take a moment to congratulate local residents in Sudbury for waging a great campaign over the last few months – the cuts in both the number of fire appliances and firefighters still remain for Ipswich, Bury and Lowestoft.
This increases the risk to people, property and businesses in these towns, but also across the County.
As things presently stand response times are not being met and it goes without saying that cutting the service will only make matters worse, particularly for the response times for second appliance to attend. More importantly, there are large fires – such as the fire that devastated parts of Sudbury just last year – that require a minimum of three engines to be on scene to enable the firefighters to do their job as safely and effectively as possible.. By removing third engines from the three largest towns in the County, the Conservative administration is effectively cutting the backbone out of the service.
This affects everyone.
In Sudbury, when the Great Fire devastated much of the town centre, it was only with the timely arrival of additional engines to augment the local service, which was already engaged in fighting the fire, that with great effort the firefighters were able to get it under control. By taking an engine from Ipswich, as well as Bury and Lowestoft, the Suffolk Fire Service will struggle to cover the large swathes of the County that are reliant on an on-call service.
There will, inevitably, be a greater need for appliances to come from neighbouring on-call stations, which quite often are taken off the run as there are insufficient on-call firefighters available on particular days or at particular times. This is exacerbated by on-going problems in recruiting and retaining on-call firefighters.
And I haven’t even gone in to the implications these cuts will have in Ipswich, Bury and Lowestoft themselves. Projected increases in population of these three major centres, and the inherent rise in traffic congestion problems – especially if it involves negotiating your way over a bascule bridge, as is the case in Lowestoft – have not really been taken into account.
The need for swift coverage from three or more engines in increased in these larger conurbations, not only due to the increased population size and the greater density of buildings, but also due to the numerous high-rise residential and commercial buildings that exist in each town, such as at the Waterfront in Ipswich.
I, and the rest of the Labour Group, will continue to fight these cuts for as long as possible. But only with the help of the 17-20,000 people across the county that stood up to fight these cuts through the consultation and petitions can we truly hold the administration at Suffolk County Council to account.
Cllr Peter Gardiner, Opposition Spokesperson for Public Protection, Suffolk County Council