Welwyn Hatfield councillors voice concerns over future of fire service

PUBLISHED: 13:08 25 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:08 25 January 2019

Bins set alight across Wisbech in arson attack. Picture: NINA MORGAN.

Bins set alight across Wisbech in arson attack. Picture: NINA MORGAN.

Archant

Councillors from Welwyn Hatfield have voiced concerns about plans for the future of the fire service in Hertfordshire.

The county council, in its role as fire authority, has drawn up plans designed “to make Hertfordshire the safest county in which to live, work or visit”.

Those plans, in the draft Integrated Risk Management Plan or IRMP, include the possible relocation of fire stations, the reduction in the size of fire crews and changes to training.

They also include pilots to replace some traditional fire engines with smaller ‘rapid’ or ‘intermediate’ response vehicles.

At a meeting of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s Social Overview and Scrutiny Committee, on Monday (January 21), councillors expressed concerns.

Chairman councillor Helen Bromley encouraged all committee members to express their views as part of the county council’s ongoing public consultation.

She said: “I think overall the feeling from members was that there are a number of concerns regarding several aspects of the consultation.”

During the meeting, councillor Lynn Chesterman had asked the committee to back the Labour group’s response to the consultation, which calls for the plans to be abandoned.

That response says reducing crew size would be “irresponsible and dangerous” and would put residents and firefighters in increased danger.

It questions the response times on which the report is based.

It also suggests that the restructuring of the ‘fire estate’ is a “naked attempt to justify large financial cuts to the service” at a time when thousands of new homes are planned across the county.

It states: “This is a draft plan with untested and unqualified ideas lacking the level of substance required to justify the changes that would impact on the health and safety of the local populace.

“To consult on a draft plan so unquestionably unsound, demonstrates a complete abdication of responsibility by Hertfordshire County Council.”

Meanwhile, Conservative councillor Peter Hebden indicated he too had some concerns about the plans in the IRMP, suggesting some of the questions in the county council survey were “quite slanted that you can only give a favourable answer”.

Although Labour councillors had asked the committee to back their response, the committee decided not to respond as a group.

Cllr Bromley suggested that each political group should make their own response, and that members should make their own responses too.

“The more responses there are, the more views they have got to listen to, ” she said.

Following the meeting, a spokesperson for the county council said that while the plan did propose trials of alternative vehicles to create a mixed fleet, there would be a review process and any longer-term changes would go back out to consultation.

She said the council was keen to hear residents’ views, online at www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/consultations or at the public meetings

The final public meeting on the Fire Service proposals will be held at County Hall, in Hertford, on Tuesday 5 February, between 6pm and 8pm.

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