Hopes that Heacham fire station could be saved from closure
- Credit: Ian Burt
A clear signal has been given by council leaders that people power could hand a reprieve to a Norfolk fire station which is at risk of closure.
And council leaders have also said they are keen that proposed cuts to transport for vulnerable adults are also dropped from a package aiming to save £111m over the next three years.
Norfolk County Council put forward £123m of cuts and savings through its Reimagining Norfolk consultation, which shut at midnight last night.
The authority received around 2,900 responses to that consultation, which the authority says is one of the highest ever received.
The council has received petitions about cuts to the Fire and Rescue Service, council transport for clients of adult social care, North Walsham Library and the Norfolk Historical Environment Service.
The EDP launched its Save Our Stations campaign when it emerged a potential 25pc cut to the fire service budget could see 18 fire stations shut.
Although the worst case scenario cuts were not pursued, the service is still facing a shake-up to save £2.36m. That includes changes to shifts, the loss of retained firefighter posts and the closure of two fire stations - Heacham and either West Walton or Outwell.
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Liberal Democrat Dan Roper, deputy leader and member with responsibility for the budget, signalled he believed a strong case had been made for not shutting Heacham,
He said: 'I am very grateful to those members of the public who have taken the time to give their views on council's future services.
'This has been a very open budget setting process with the council asking the public about a series of options rather than seeking their views on a fait accompli.
I am now confident that we can set a sound budget while also addressing the views of the public.
'There have been particularly strong cases made for preserving Heacham Fire Station, protecting transport for older people and maintaining Supporting People services. My advice to fellow councillors is that we can address these concerns and still deliver a sound budget.'
George Nobbs, Labour leader of the council, which is under the control of a Labour/Liberal Democrat/UK Independence Party administration, said he would also argue not to go forward with a proposal to stop paying for transport for older people using social services by 2019, which would have saved £4.8m.
He said: 'Many people have made the point to me that the council has done the right thing in a rural county by protecting post-sixteen transport to support young people and should do now the same thing for older people and protect transport services. I agree wholeheartedly with them and will argue that we do just that.
'While I cannot pre-empt council's decision, I am anxious to set people's minds at ease on this issue and let them know what the administration's view will be on this particular service.
'The Chancellor's proposal that we raise a proportion of council tax specifically for adult social care should allow us to preserve that service.'
Committees will now finalise their budget proposals over the next two weeks. A final report, along with committee budget proposals will be considered at the policy and resources committee of February 8, and that committee will make a recommendation to full Council which meets on February 22.
That council meeting will take the final decision about the council budget and the level of council tax for the coming financial year.
In Suffolk, the county council is also looking at ways of reducing fire service costs – including removing full-time firefighters from central Ipswich and relying more heavily on part-time retained fire crews.
The closure of one fire station – Wrentham, between Lowestoft and Southwold, is also mooted.