FURIOUS coastguards and local residents voiced their anger over plans to cut the emergency service in Bridlington.
More than 100 people attended a lively public consultation at Bridlington Spa on Monday evening, where current and former coastguards, rescue workers and members of the public fired questions at Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) representatives over the plans.
But the MCA struggled to explain the logistics of cost-cutting proposals which would see the Humber Control Centre in Limekiln Lane move to daytime-only coverage.
Now one local coastguard officer said the plans should be “taken back to the drawing board”.
The modernisation would see Bridlington’s station, along with 17 others like it around the UK, replaced with two larger 24-hour bases, called Maritime Operations Centres (MOCs) in Aberdeen and on the South Coast.
Bridlington would then become one of six ‘sub-centres’ around the UK that would only open during the day – which will see 20 people lose their jobs in the town.
Hundreds of people have already signed a petition in the town against the plans.
Paul Chapman, a coastguard watch officer in Bridlington and union representative for the Public and Communication Services Union, believes the plans value cutting costs over improving the service and have not been fully thought through – presenting a threat to safety.
“It was clear from the consultation that there was absolutely no support for the proposals, but I don’t believe that any concerns the staff or public raise are being taken into account.
“They need to start again,” said Mr Chapman, who also raised concerns about the lack of input from staff and unions before the MCA published
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“The main worry for everyone is safety. The MCA representatives had no statistics available to show that the two centres would be able to deal with all of the calls they might receive, and revealed there will be a greater dependence on technology, which is obviously prone to failure.
“They are pressing ahead without the statistics to show that the switch from 18 centres to two will be feasible, or whether one operations room could cover the whole of the UK.”
During the meeting, Coastguard safety manager Mike Bill and MCA regional director Tom Elder were continually asked for reassurances about how vital knowledge of local terrain will be transferred to two larger centres.
Mr Elder referred to the closure of a coastguard station on the Tyne in the 1990s as an example of how local knowledge can be transferred.
He insisted place names and local landmarks can be inputted onto databases and used alongside mobile communication technology in the event of an emergency call, although he conceded that there was a possibility that mistakes could be made during any transition.
Mr Elder also repeatedly argued that having all existing communications aerials around the country linked to both national centres, rather than to individual stations like Bridlington, will improve “resilience in the system”.
However, Mr Chapman thinks that this is a “buzzword” to support the MCA presentation.
One employee at Limekiln Lane challenged Mr Elder, claiming the station has had a mobile phone that has not worked for 18 months due to a lack of network coverage.
They questioned how the MCA would be able to implement a large-scale overhaul of its system if it could not solve such a minor problem.
Lesley Salisbury, founder of East Coast Seal Rescue, emphasised the importance of the relationship between the public and the coastguard, and fears it could be lost if changes go ahead.
“I think the Bridlington team are invaluable. I may have to go on a rescue at any time of the day or night, in dangerous conditions, and I always ring the coastguard first,” said Lesley.
“I’m not confident a new centre many miles away will understand the terrain on this part of the coast.
“It will certainly affect the safety of everyone who relies on the coastguard.”
A spokesman for the MCA said: “High ranking members of unions were approached with the principles of the plans, and throughout the consultation process we will listen to any concerns or suggestions.
“Local knowledge is important but will still be maintained through RNLI and other rescue crews, but the use of modern technology is just as important.”
Currently, all 18 stations need to be fully staffed at all times to deal with emergency calls, as all stations are not linked nationally.
However, the MCA say that under the new plans, workloads could be distributed more evenly from busier areas.
Public consultation on the plans will run until March 24.
Petitions against the plans are circulating around Bridlington, and can be found at the Free Press office in Prospect Street or online at www.gopetition.com/petition/42196.