Threatened fire station saved from the axe

Wallsend Community Fire Station.'REF 2101148467
Wallsend Community Fire Station.'REF 2101148467

A borough fire station threatened with closure as part of a funding cut has been saved.

Wallsend fire station was one of three stations in the region earmarked for closure last January as Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service looked to save £9m in its budget.

However, at a meeting on Monday, members of the Tyne and Wear Fire Authority agreed that Wallsend – along with Gosforth and Sunderland Central fire stations – would remain open.

Campaigners had battled to save the stations, which had been given a stay of execution last year after officials announced they would not close until June 2017, and Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, handed over a petition signed by 34,000 people against the closures.

They said lives would be put at risk if the closures went ahead and response times would suffer.

The Authority agreed that the stations would remain open due to a council tax precept rise.

Members agreed to increase the council precept by 1.99 per cent – boosting the budget by £396,000 – while an increase in the council tax base will also boost the budget by £330,000.

At the meeting Chairman, Coun Tom Wright, said: “The Authority stated that we would ‘revisit the IRMP annually in light of future financial settlements from the Government’ as it was our aim ‘that station closures will only be considered as a last resort.’

“The Fire Authority have approved the budget for 2015/16 which has £726,000 built into it from changes in Council Tax base and precept, due to this I propose the Authority authorise the Chief Fire Officer to change the implementation plan for the Response Review, removing any station closures from the plan.”

Coun Wright added: “It is important to note that the Authority still faces significant financial challenges ahead which we will need to address.

“Between 2010/11 and 2017/18 we will have lost a significant proportion of our funding, over £14m. These cuts are disproportionately high compared to most other Fire Authorities and the areas of greatest need, mainly Metropolitan areas, continue to see the highest level of overall cuts to their funding.”

Mayor Norma Redfearn said she was delighted the force of the arguments had been recognised and Wallsend Fire Station is to stay open.

“Like councils, fire authorities in the north have certainly been hit hard by government cuts and difficult decisions have had to be made,” she said.

“However today’s announcement reprieving Wallsend, Gosforth and Sunderland stations shows that the Fire Authority members have listened to campaigners and have found ways that will enable the fire service to continue to deliver one of the best and fastest fire and rescue services in the country.

“This is excellent news for the people of Wallsend and the north east community as a whole.”