Friday, 10 July 2020

Decision day for village fire station

THE future of Wargrave fire station will be decided this month.

The Royal Berkshire Fire Authority postponed making a decision in December due to the general election as this could have changed the Government’s funding priorities for the public sector.

Members had been recommended to approve the closure of the station in order to help find savings of £422,000 from 2020/21.

It has been suggested that it could be replaced with a community safety hub to house police, fire and ambulance services.

The Wargrave fire crew had already been given one reprieve on the condition that they improved their availability to 60 per cent but they failed to achieve this due to the loss of several experienced firefighters.

In the first four months of this year, availability has not gone above 20 per cent and has been as low as 4.9 per cent.

The authority, which is currently facing a budget shortfall of £284,000 for 2020/21, will review the performance of the station at a meeting on June 25.

Chairman Colin Dudley said the budget was based on the station remaining open.

But he added: “We have had to go into our reserves to be able to afford it, like a lot of other authorities.

“The situation at the moment is that it is not coming up to the required standard of availability and while it is lovely to have a fire station at Wargrave, we do need to look at things pragmatically. If it is not available to respond to fires, then there is not a lot of point in having it. “

The Victoria Road station, which opened in 1903 and is the oldest in Berkshire, has been under threat since April 2017, when the authority decided to close it to save costs.

The decision was deferred for 12 months as a result of a campaign by Wargrave residents and to see if availability could be brought up. This was then extended for nine months in November last year.

The station, which is manned by retained firefighters, has a history of struggling to recruit and at one stage the crew’s availability was as low as 3.2 per cent.

The fire service has a response target of 75 per cent within 10 minutes of a call being made to 999 and Wargrave contributes to less than 0.1 per cent of this figure.

The authority said that if the station remained open for the next financial year them the shortfall would have to be met from the authority’s reserves.

Councillor Dudley said: “We have been looking at having a blue lights hub there but we are still awaiting results from a feasibility study. In the last three months there have been other things on people’s minds.

“Wargrave is quite small, so it might be more of a stand-by hub but members haven’t discounted it yet.

“It is really unfair not only on the residents to keep the decision in abeyance but also for the firefighters who work at the station because they want to know what their future is.

“We need to take a decision one way or another by having a vote and it will need to be a majority decision.”

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