Coastguard closures scaled back

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by Laura Gibson

In another twist in the ‘modernisation’ tale of the Coastguard service, the closures of several stations have been called off.  The cuts had originally meant that the number of UK stations would be reduced from 18 to eight, with only three 24-hour stations covering the whole of the UK of which only one would be in Scotland.

But now Westminster Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has told MPs that three Scottish stations will remain open, Aberdeen, Stornoway and Shetland.  The Clyde and Forth stations will close some time between 2012 and 2015.

The original plan was to keep one station in Aberdeen and one more in either Shetland or Stornoway, but only the Aberdeen one would have been 24-hour, with the other operating during daylight hours only.  Now all three stations will stay open round the clock.

For Scotland, this means that nearly half of its coastguard cover will be removed, potentially putting many lives at risk.

The public consultation on the original proposals received a huge reaction, with 1800 responses.  First Minister Alex Salmond had previously written to the UK government to express his profound concerns over the “ill-thought-out” proposals.

SNP MSP for the Western Isles, Alasdair Allan said: “Above all it is a victory for common sense and for those who recognise that safety at sea is much more important than financial savings.  The Maritime and Coastguard Agency simply got it wrong in their proposals and have abandoned their ill-thought out plans”.  Mr Allan called the change a “huge victory” for campaigners.

Orkney and Shetland Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said: “Everyone in government from the Prime Minister downwards made explicit from the very start of the consultation process that ministers would listen to the concerns that people had over the MCA’s original proposals.  The announcement today shows that this was no empty promise”.

The MP added that he was “delighted” that ministers had listened to the feedback given by the public over this issue.

The closures which will still go ahead will have a huge impact on local communities, with possibly 40-50 jobs being lost.  It also means that there will be no local coastguard cover in Central Scotland, and any assistance would need to come from either Stornoway or Tyne.