Norfolk fire stations and museums could be spared from axe - but only if council tax rises

Save Heacham Fire Station supporters outside County Hall, Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams

Save Heacham Fire Station supporters outside County Hall, Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

All Norfolk fire stations will stay open and the county's museum and library services will be spared from cuts, if council taxes rise.

The future of vital community services including fire stations and libraries in Norfolk could be saved from the chopping block - but only if council tax goes up.

County councillors have unanimously voted to remove £845,000 worth of cuts from their recommendations after a public outcry.

The savings could instead be made by raising council tax by 0.27pc, allowing at risk fire stations at Heacham, Outwell and West Walton to remain.

Fire stations and the future of libraries and museums are currently at risk because Norfolk County Council needs to save £111m over three years.

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But plans to close up to 11 stations across the county have been scaled back after Chancellor George Osborne opened the gates for council tax rises of up to 1.99pc.

During a consultation, over 3,000 responses and nine petitions totalling 16,000 signatures were collected. Five of the petitions and more than 13,000 signatures related to Norfolk Fire and Rescue service.

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There was overwhelming opposition to cutting the service, and deep concern over any cuts to museum or library services.

Harry Humphrey, ward councillor for Marshland South, said nobody wanted to see the closure of fire stations or loss of culture in the county.

'We need to preserve our heritage and not damage it,' he said. 'We can save money here and there, but we could be losing out in the long run if we go ahead with these savings.'

Chrissie Rumsby, ward councillor for Mile Cross, added all areas of the service should be protected.

'It is no good saving fire stations if there are no firemen in them,' she said. 'Some of the operational staff have to be there to allow the others to do their jobs.

'I would be extremely concerned over any loss of service.'

Chairman Paul Smyth, ward councillor for Swaffham, added recent events had changed the landscape of cuts.

'Both events in Paris and the recent flooding have emphasised we should give more thought to what these cuts would do to the fire service's ability to respond to multiple emergencies across the county,' he said.

Under proposals, new technology would have replaced around 47pc of all libraries staff in Norfolk, a plan which was called 'horrendous' by Cromer councillor Hilary Fox and postponed for a year to consider a pilot project in Acle.

'People are much more important than technology, and cutting jobs are terrible in any circumstance,' added Hoveton and Stalham councillor Nigel Dixon. 'We have got to think about other ways of doing things.'

Roy Harold, chief fire officer for Norfolk, asked for £300,000 of cuts to be taken off the table to lessen the blow to his operational support.

'It is not possible to simply find back office savings that do not have an impact,' he said.

'We are doing our level best to make the least worst proposals, and it is about making the least damaging cuts.

'To find £1.2m over three years is an extremely painful process in a very lean service.'

Campaigners had picketed the council offices calling for a halt to the cuts yesterday morning, but were restrained about their chances.

'This is not a victory, it is a first step,' said campaigner Tracey Swann. 'I see it as a positive step, but we are not home and dry. I am extremely grateful to everybody who signed petitions and contributed to the public consultation.

'On behalf of the firefighters I want to thank everyone who helped with this first step.'

A final decision will be made at full council on February 22.

Cuts taken out of recommendations:

-Operational support to Fire and Rescue service: £300,000.

-Redesign and closures of fire stations: £200,000.

-Reduction to Norfolk Arts Service Grants: £10,000.

-Museum Service lone working: £50,000.

-Reducing service standards for Norfolk Record Office: £66,000.

-Reducing opening hours for Norfolk Record Office: £20,000.

-Libraries spending on materials and staff: £199,000.

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