Final battle to save Yarmouth coastguard station

Broads interests are making a last-ditch appeal to the Government to spare Great Yarmouth coastguard station from its planned cuts to the service.

Broads Authority chief executive John Packman confirmed at last week's meeting of the navigation committee that he had lodged the authority's objections ahead of the end of the second round of public consultation on October 6.

And Broads Hire Boat Federation chairman Paul Greasley last night pledged to beat the deadline with their own strong representations.

Meanwhile, concern that a loss of local knowledge could reduce the speed and efficiency of emergency responses on the waterways has also been raised by a senior figure in the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association (NSBA).

The government's original plans to cut the number of UK coastguard stations from 18 to eight have been watered down, but it is still envisaged that the Yarmouth station in Havenbridge House will be among seven to close.

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The government claims that by using the latest technology, coastguard coverage can be reconfigured to deliver a more integrated and improved service.

However, critics - including the coastguards' own PCS union - cast doubt on the wisdom of relying on coastguards in Humber to cover incidents off the East Anglian coast and on the inland waterways.

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Broads Authority head ranger Adrian Vernon said: 'We are very concerned and dismayed to hear about the planned closure of Yarmouth coastguard station.

'Our rangers have been in daily contact with the coastguards over many years and we find they provide the most efficient and friendly response service on the Broads.

'They have the local knowledge, expertise and communications to deal with Broads-based emergencies and they have even had to deal with incidents right outside their office on the riverside.'

He emphasised the importance of local knowledge on isolated parts of the Broads as very often people on holiday did not know where they were.

'We are concerned that no risk assessment or alternative procedures have been discussed as to how emergencies in the Broads will be properly dealt with in the future,' he said.

'There hasn't been a proper audit of calls, incidents, responses and risks nor any specific consultation with their search and rescue partners.

'We believe that local knowledge and teamwork will suffer, particularly at night when there will be less cover.

'The east coast is a busy shipping area and our rangers, who deal with incidents on Breydon Water on a daily basis, are some of the few local users who realise how much they do.

'We have been surprised there has not been more of an outcry from private users, both in the Broads and on the sea.'

Mr Greasley, a director of Wroxham-based Norfolk Broads Direct, said: 'The importance of local knowledge is highlighted by the fact that two or three years ago the rules were changed so that passenger boat skippers had to pass a local knowledge test - then they want to close the local coastguard station.'

Mike Evans, president of the NSBA, said: 'We certainly would not want to see anything that might interfere with the safety of boaters.'

Coastguards' union spokesman Steve Mann said his secondment to Yarmouth over the past three months from Solent had brought home to him the importance of local knowledge.

For a fuller debate of the issues see this edition of Anglia Afloat.

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