Coastguard closure plans attacked by MPs

Scrapping 15 24-hour coastguard centres and tug boats would leave Britain's coastline dangerously exposed, MPs have been told.

Transport Select Committee chairman Louise Ellman said the government's plans to cut the number of centres open 24 hours a day from 18 to three jeopardised safety.

The proposals include the closure of Great Yarmouth coastguard station. There would be three 24-hour coastgard stations, at Aberdeen, the Southampton/Portsmouth area and Dover, plus five sub-centres open during daylight hours - at Swansea, Falmouth in Cornwall, Bridlington in East Yorkshire, Belfast or Liverpool, and Stornoway or Shetland.

Presenting her committee's latest report in the Commons today, Mrs Ellman said: 'The overwhelming views of Members of all parties, regardless of whether their constituency happens to include a coastguard centre, has been one of deep concern.'

She admitted modernisation of the 'essential emergency service' was 'desirable', but said it was unclear if technology could compensate for the loss of local knowledge.

'Our main concern is about safety and the loss of local knowledge or situation awareness at coastguard offices that will inevitably occur,' she said.

'Reducing the number of full-time, maritime rescue co-ordination centres drastically would reduce the quality and rate of exchange of information, particularly at critical points when information must be passed swiftly to save lives.'

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She added: 'The proposals assume technology can replace local knowledge. We weren't convinced by that and believe this puts lives at risk.'

Mrs Ellman also levelled 'extreme criticism'' at ministers for preventing many serving coastguards from giving evidence to her committee.

She condemned the decision to scrap emergency towing vessels - tugs - which she branded 'unwise and short-sighted' and said 'quite literally invited disaster'.

Mrs Ellman said she believed it was 'deeply regrettable' the Government announced its plans without consultation, her committee could not support the proposals and called for 'substantial' changes to the coalition's plans, followed by a short consultation.

Commenting on the committee's report, transport secretary Philip Hammond said: 'I welcome the committee's recognition that the coastguard service is in urgent need of modernisation.

'The original proposals do not compromise safety and include increased resources for frontline rescue services. Reform will improve resilience in the system through improvements to IT and create better career opportunities for staff, as well as better pay and conditions.'

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