Norfolk fire service’s underwater recovery unit labelled a ‘vanity project’

The underwater search and recovery unit is set to close. Picture by Luke Powell (Archant).

The underwater search and recovery unit is set to close. Picture by Luke Powell (Archant). - Credit: Archant

A soon-to-be scrapped underwater dive unit has been described as a 'vanity project' which cost the fire service £500,000 to run.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service confirmed on Thursday that its underwater search and recovery team is to close this spring after funding was cut.

Set up in 2012, the unit assisted police in the recovery of evidence and the retrieval of bodies from the water.

But due to a reduction in the National Resilience grant, the county's chief fire officer David Ashworth said the team will close in the spring.

Today, the secretary of the Norfolk Branch of the Fire Brigades Union, Peter Greeves, said: 'We have more important things to spend money on,' he said. 'It was a vanity project and now that we have a new chief, he has realised we can't do this stuff, it costs too much money.

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'It was a phenomenal amount they ploughed into it. That money could have been used elsewhere.'

It is understood that since its inception in 2012, following a £27,000 grant from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, around £500,000 has been pumped into the unit.

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But in the past year, the number of call-outs it attended was fewer than 10.

A spokesman for Norfolk police said it will now have to rely on a recovery team from the London Metropolitan Police. The cost to hire the unit will come from the force's budget.

Chief fire officer Mr Ashworth said the reduction in the resilience fund would not affect other core services such as urban search and rescue, high volume pump, and the incident response.

Ten staff members are affected by the decision, but none of them is employed to solely to support the unit, so no job losses are expected,

'We looked at other ways to fund the team, but the funding gap was deemed too significant to cover,' Mr Ashworth said.

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