More than 150 people attend Hatfield meeting over concerns for fire service
PUBLISHED: 13:44 03 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:54 08 August 2018
Over 150 people turned up to a meeting in Hatfield amid concerns that the Herts Police and Crime Commissioner’s fire service proposal would “put lives at risk”.
The Welwyn Hatfield Labour Group organised the meeting at Hatfield Roe Hill Hall to discuss Conservative David Lloyd’s plans after he submitted a business case to the Home Office.
The business case outlined how the fire service headquarters could be moved to the county police station in WGC, with WGC and Hatfield fire stations potentially closing and folding into the joint new base.
His plans sparked opposition from the county, borough and town councils, and saw Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps withdraw his support.
Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Kieran Thorpe, who attended the meeting, said: “His (David Lloyd) cut and shut plans are a real danger.
“It will reduce coverage, reduce service, and put lives at risk.”
Hatfield Town Council leader councillor Lenny Brandon expressed his thanks after over 150 people including Labour and Lib Dem councillors, residents and representatives of the Fire Brigade Union attended.
Mr Brandon added: “It was an monumental atmosphere and turn out.
“Last night showed how we can pull together as a community.
“What is more than obvious is this is the thin edge of the wedge.
“David Lloyd’s cuts to the police service has left moral within the force at an all time low, and now he wants to start on the fire service.
“The meeting was very positive with everyone in full agreement that we need to fight anything that may be proposed that will have a detrimental effect not only our fire service but our emergency services as a whole.”
Leader of Welwyn Hatfield Council Conservative councillor Mandy Perkins explained that no Conservative councillors attended but they “stand alongside councillors from all political parties in Welwyn Hatfield in our opposition to the proposals”.
Cllr Perkins said: “At the last council meeting it was a unanimous vote that we’re against the commissioner’s plans.
“We have acted appropriately and sent letters to David Lloyd, the home office and David Williams [Hertfordshire County Council leader] highlighting that we are concerned and against these plans.”
Firefighters also voiced their opinions at last night’s public meeting, saying the “cost-cutting” plans to close fire stations failed to take public safety into account.
And they said that putting the service under the same umbrella as the police could impact on the way the public see their fire safety and community work.
Daren Scotchford, secretary of the Hertfordshire Fire Brigades Union, said the PCC’s plans to close and relocate fire stations had been based on the distance, rather than risk.
He added that those plans should not have been drawn up without reference to a document known as the ‘IRMP’, which identifies long term issues, risks and other factors that need to be considered in future planning.
“It’s the public of this town who need to be able to scrutinise these plans,” he said. “They are your fire stations – they are your police stations.
“We are not here to cut and shut fire stations and police stations so it can cut the costs of these services without any account of whether its the right place for these resources to be.”
Meanwhile Hertfordshire FBU chairman Derek MacLeod said closure of fire stations would inevitably lead to longer response times.
“We have already seen the largest increase in response times of any Fire and Rescue Service n the UK,” he said.
Since the closure of the station at Radlett and Bushey, he said there was already a view that fewer fires were being contained within the room where they started.
He also suggested that taking the fire service away from Herts County Council was a step closer to a model where private companies – like Serco – could take over.
And he said the best thing Mr Lloyd could do would be to withdraw his application to the Home Office.
Liberal Democrat county councillor Barbara Gibson, who was among those attending the public meeting, said the county council was unanimously opposed to the takeover.
She said her biggest objection was that instead of being scrutinised by 78 councillors the service would be under the control of just one commissioner.
And although the work of the commissioner is scrutinised by the police and crime panel, she said this was “not fit for purpose”.
David Lloyd has argued that bringing the fire and rescue service under the same umbrella as the county’s police force would cut costs and enable better joint working between emergency services.
He has said the ‘co-location’ plans – which involve stations in Welwyn, Hatfield, Buntingford, Hitchin and Bishop’s Stortford – would improve public safety.
He also stresses that no re-organisation would go-ahead until there had been a full feasibility study and public consultation.
David Lloyd said: “There are no formal proposals to close any of the three fire stations in Welwyn and Hatfield.
“My business case for the Fire Service includes existing plans for developing Community Safety Hubs, which would bring together police and fire on purpose built sites, allowing them to work more effectively together, in modernised and improved facilities, to improve public safety.
“In the case of fire such improvement is vital to tackle issues around an increasingly aging estate.
“The Home Office asked us to provide specific examples as to how this might be achieved and one of those is the opportunity provided by the redevelopment of the Police HQ site in Stanborough.
“Police and fire representatives have been discussing possible options which could be progressed on that site.
“These include building a new Fire Service HQ on the site and co-locating the police and fire control rooms.
“They are also exploring the option of re-siting one or two of the existing three nearby fire stations in new facilities on the site.
“The exploration is at an early stage and a feasibility study would be required before any specific proposals were drawn up.
“If they do reach that stage they would be subject to an extensive public consultation.
“No proposal is being considered which would result in a reduction in the resource or coverage of the fire service in Welwyn and Hatfield.
“The aim of any proposals would be to provide new, modern and more effective facilities and improve the service to the public.
“Indeed, one of the benefits of having a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is that the public’s view would be at the forefront of decision-making.
“If the Home Secretary approves the governance transfer, my first step will be to have a conversation with the public about what they want from their Fire and Rescue Service in Hertfordshire.”
The Welwyn Hatfield Times has approached David Lloyd and Grant Shapps for comment.